Staff Bios

Lex Leifheit, Executive Director
Lex Leifheit became executive director of  SOMArts (South of Market Arts, Resources, Technology and Services) in October 2008. Since that time, major initiatives have included the following:

-Opening up the curatorial proposal process and establishing a year-long incubator for community-based exhibitions, the Commons Curatorial Residency Program

-Paying off $40k in debt and establishing an operating reserve for the long-term financial health of the organization

-Building an individual donor base from <10 people to more than 200 in four years.

-Leveraging numerous technology partnerships—including the Bay Area Video Coalition’s Neighborhood News Network, and the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program—to extend the reach of arts programming and support services.

In addition to producing and presenting over 70 events annually, SOMArts serves more than 100 Bay Area nonprofits each year with production consultation, venue and accessibility services, staging, and fiscal sponsorship. Ongoing partnerships were established to offer free professional development for artists on a monthly basis.

Also during Leifheit’s tenure SOMArts has made significant improvements to the facility and renegotiated a long-term lease for its satellite space at Pier 70.  Infrastructure initiatives have included extensive board development, implementation of extended benefits for staff, and strategic surveying of artists, clients and curators.

Previous employers include Wesleyan University’s Green Street Arts Center and Center for the Arts in Middletown, Connecticut, as well as the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. Leifheit has served as a grants panelist for Cultural Equity Grants and public art selection in San Francisco and for the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a regular speaker at Bay Area universities and symposia and a contributing writer for arts publications. In 2013 she had the honor of being one of 12 “up and coming” voices in the arts who were selected for The Arts Dinnervention Project, a gathering conceived of by Barry Hessenius and supported by WESTAF.

She lives in San Francisco with her husband Dan McKinley and their son Ewan. Back to staff directory

Melorra Green, Curator for Inquiry and Impact
Melorra Green, M.A.Edm is a curator, artist, radio show host, and community activist. She is a native of Memphis, TN and has called San Francisco home for 14 years. A graduate of Tennessee State University in Nashville, the Academy of Art University where she received her Bachelors of Arts in Motion Pictures & Television, and the University of Phoenix where she received a Masters of Arts in Education. Before joining SOMArts, she was the Visual Arts Coordinator for the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. In addition to serving as the Curator for Inquiry and Impact at SOMArts, she is also a member of the Arts Providers Alliance of San Francisco Executive Committee and the San Francisco Graffiti Advisory Board.

Along with her twin sister, Melonie Green, Melorra has been curating creative art experiences and traditional exhibitions for over seven years. Together they have a niche and love for bringing worlds of obscurity together to create a beautiful cohesive message that leaves the viewer feeling inspired and included and the creator feeling empowered and appreciated.

She loves all genres of art, hats, bowties, music (Latin and afro-beat), and Ethiopian and Japanese food.

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Alex S. Lukas, Director of Facilities & Technical Operations
Alex S. Lukas, born and raised in Salinas, CA, has been a Bay Area resident since the late 90′s.  He’s been active as an experimental musician and practicing sound & video artist since his teenage years, performing regularly and showing occasionally.  Alex attended both BFA and MFA programs from the California College of the Arts in Film, Video, Performance and Media Arts, respectively. Back to staff directory

Zach Slater, Interim Director of Technical Services
Bio coming soon. Back to staff directory

Rene Yañez, Director of Special Projects
René Yañez is an artist, curator and producer who lives and works in San Francisco Bay Area. A founder and former Artistic Director of Galería de la Raza, Yañez was one of the first curators to introduce the contemporary concept of Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the United States. Since the early 1970s, René Yañez has been instrumental in establishing the Day of the Dead as an important cultural celebration. Active as both a visual and performing arts curator, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. Yáñez is widely recognized for his innovative art projects that promote a greater awareness of our culturally diverse city. He has curated numerous exhibitions including the art exhibit “Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge.” The collection features works by Chicano artists from around the United States. During its five-year, 15-stop tour, “Chicano Visions” was shown simultaneously with its companion cultural exhibit, “Chicano Now: American Expressions.” In 1998, he received the Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership from the San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area. He remains a strong role model and vital cultural force in the San Francisco arts community. Back to staff directory

Jess Young, Director of Communications & Community Engagement
Jess Young coordinates outreach efforts and serves as the social media voice of SOMArts Cultural Center in her role as Director of Communications & Community Engagement. Before joining the team at SOMArts in 2011, she was an Outreach Fellow for the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and conducted and edited interviews for Aorta, a radical arts magazine featuring a diversity of emerging and established female, queer and transgender artists. She has taught professional development workshops for ArtSpan’s Make Your Art Your Business series and California College of the Arts’ Career Summit on topics such as growing your fanbasem selling art online and equity in community outreach. In 2013–14 she served on the curatorial review panels for 2 x 2 Solos at Pro Arts Gallery and the group exhibition Queer Prophesies. She is the curator of a group visual art exhibition and evening of performance Second Helpings, which opens at SOMArts on June 7, 2014 as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Back to staff directory

LaVette Virden, Bookkeeper
Mother, daughter, sister, auntie, cheerleader, Mom and Bookkeeper is La Vette P. Virden. As a native child of Frisco she has lived in many neighborhoods through out the city, Haight-Ashbury being her most favorite as it gave her a sense of style and freedom to BE without inhibition…though she has always hated being skinny so some shyness came from that. Her grandmother, Enola D. Maxwell was Executive Director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House for 28 years thus her introduction into the nonprofit world. She has been a little kid running around playing hide-n-seek to program participant, program coordinator, and bookkeeper for several non-profit organizations such as Booker T. Washington Community Center, Cultural Odyssey, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House and SOMArts. Her hobbies are reading, dancing, chocolate, shopping at flea markets and, just recently, boxing. Back to staff directory

Debra Bok, Fiscal Sponsorship & Administrative Office Manager
Debra Bok graduated from Mills College in the late seventies and moved directly to San Francisco, enthralled by the emerging alternative music scene. Participating in music, performance and writing as a member of Modern Masters Recording’s Danny and the Parkins Sisters, all-girl rock band Wild Women of Borneo and the San Francisco Women Writers Workshop (SFWWW), she performed at classic venues such as Club Generic, The Sound of Music, Mabuhay, Elbo Room, Modern Times Bookstore and more. She contributed to three collections published by SFWWW: Anima in 1998, Dirt in 1990 and Land of Extremes in 1991.

Debra Bok started volunteering at SOMArts in 1995, coordinating mural projects and applications. As she took on more reporting and grant management tasks, she joined the SOMArts staff. She now manages the SOMArts fiscal sponsorship program, helping emerging and established artists and arts groups seek funding, support and stability for their artistic visions.

She also runs the volunteer program at SOMArts, and manages SOMArts’ Dia de los Muertos annual school tour program. Having raised two children in San Francisco’s public school system, she loves helping provide field trips and cultural enrichment to some of the city’s underserved schools.

As the upstairs admin office manager, reporting and grant management are still part of Debra’s duties at SOMArts. She handles issues pertaining to human resources, insurance and compliance and is the staff liaison to the SOMArts Board of Directors.
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Mary Molly Mullaney, Technical Services & Events Office Manager
Mary Molly Mullaney is a second generation San Francisco native, raising a third. If she hadn’t lost her fearlessness once she became a mom, she would probably be a taxi cab driver since she knows the city like the back of her hand. She comes from a family of “closet” artists that “keep their day jobs,” and loves to work on her arts and crafts at night. She started out as a drama major in college, but quickly ran from that department when she couldn’t take acting like a ping pong ball seriously. She ended up getting a bachelor’s degree with a double major from California State University, Sacramento, in Communication Studies, Media Production, and Film Studies with an emphasis in Screen Writing. Mary Molly came to SOMArts as an intern in 1999 for the Tech Services Department, and hasn’t left since. She worked her way up from Stagehand to Office Manager to Events Manager. She loves being surrounded by all the art and diverse performances that come through SOMArts’ galleries and theatre, and especially helping the diverse cultural celebrations throughout the city with the Tech Services Dept. Back to staff directory

Cathie Anderson, Building Manager & Technician
Cathie Anderson works in production management of special events and as a stage lighting designer. Highlights of her career include working as the Assistant Production Manager for Blaisdell Center, Honolulu’s largest entertainment facility, and as a Convention Service Manager for Moscone Center’s in-house audio visual department. She also worked as Brava Theater’s Rental Production Manager and remains as their in house lighting designer and technical advisor. Cathie has extensive experience in event coordination and working with a wide variety of artists, technicians, vendors, security, house and union personnel. Events have included intimate settings for 50 persons to larger arenas with over 8,000 attendees. Today she continues to be active in freelance lighting design, and is very happy to have discovered and become part of the team at SOMArts as a Lighting Technician and Building Manager. Back to staff directory

Katie Gilmartin, Building Manager & Technician
Katie Gilmartin’s checkered past includes stints as a miserable graduate student, buoyant union organizer, bona fide sex researcher, and deeply engaged college professor. She attended Oberlin College and Yale Graduate School, then for over a decade taught cultural studies. Her adult venture into printmaking began shortly after receiving her doctorate, with an urgent quest to relocate pleasure. Gilmartin became utterly smitten with printmaking as art and as craft, and eventually surrendered her academic life. In 2000 she assumed care of Chrysalis Print Studio at SOMArts, where she now teaches linocut and monotype classes and works as a building manager. She founded City Art Cooperative Gallery and the Queer Ancestors Project, which is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between young LGBTQ people and their ancestors. In 2014 Cleis Press will publish her first novel, Blackmail, My Love, an illustrated noir mystery set in 1950s San Francisco. Check out her rave reviews on yelp, and her artwork at katiegilmartin.com. Back to staff directory

Dion Reiner-Guzman, Building Manager & Technician
Dion Reiner-Guzman is a SF native also raised in San Diego & Mexico. Dion has been an employee of SOMArts since 2001 building stages since age 16. He has been DJing 8+ years under the aka Dion Decibels. A graduate of Ex’pression College For Digital Arts he has been recording/mixing/producing music & doing live sound for 5+ years. Back to staff directory

Rio Yañez, Building Manager & Technician
From the moment he was conceived in an artist’s studio, Rio Yañez’ fate as an artist was sealed. Born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, Yañez is a curator, photographer, and graphic artist. As a curator he is a frequent collaborator with his father, Rene Yañez, and the pair have been developing exhibits together since 2005. He has exhibited in cities ranging from San Francisco to Tokyo. His re-imaginings of Frida Kahlo have included the Ghetto Frida Project, a series of prints, writings, and performance pieces featuring a thugged-out Kahlo. Yañez is also a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the world’s most dangerous tortilla art collective. Back to staff directory