In Pursuit of the Creative Life: Featured Participants

Shirlette Ammons

Shirlette Ammons
Musician, Self-Employed/Associate Producer, Markay Media Productions/Record Label Owner, SugarQube Records
Durham, NC
I'm a musician who has recently delved into the world of documentary television and filmmaking.

Shirlette Ammons is an associate producer for the Emmy and Peabody award-winning docu-series A CHEF’S LIFE, which is in its fourth season and airs on PBS stations throughout the country. She is also a writer and musician whose body of work includes two collections of poetry, three music projects and numerous collaborations with artists of various genres and international tours throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Shirlette’s most recent musical project, Language Barrier, features guest appearances by Meshell Ndegeocello, The Indigo Girls and others. Her music has recently been featured in Vans Shoes’ “Truth X Vans” digital campaign. Shirlette also co-founded SugarQube Records in 2016 along with her twin sister, Shorlette. Shirlette is a Cave Canem Fellow, an alum of the Next Level Program an international hip hop diplomacy program of the U.S. Embassy and UNC Music Department where she taught hip hop lyricism in Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia. She is a recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award.

Group portrait of five formally dressed African American men and six African American women

Afro Blue
Vocal Jazz Ensamble, Howard University
Washington, DC

Afro Blue, was founded in the spring of 2002 by Connaitre Miller, Jazz Voice Coordinator at Howard University. Singing music similar to the styles of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, The Manhattan Transfer, and Take 6, while adding their own unique sound, this dynamic “vocal big band” has performed to wide critical acclaim. Afro Blue reached the top four on The Sing-Off, NBC-TV’s a cappella group competition, joined the legendary Bobby McFerrin in selections from his Grammy-nominated VOCAbuLarieS album during the 2011 D.C. Jazz Festival and has appeared in concert multiple times with world-class jazz pianist and Howard university alumna, Geri Allen. 

Afro Blue has been featured on NPR in a segment of All Things Considered, a Tiny Desk Concert, and an hour-long Christmas special titled “An Afro Blue Christmas” which aired nationally during the 2014 & 2015 holiday seasons. Afro Blue has established a continuing relationship with The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts having opened for The Manhattan Transfer and Jon Hendricks; performed with The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops under the direction of Marvin Hamlisch; and shared the stage with former Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, Dr. Billy Taylor.

Headshot of a young man with long swept back hair in a striped shirt

Jake Berglove
Finalist, Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for high school students
Minneapolis, MN

Jake Berglove is a Minneapolis songwriter undertaking various creative projects while in school full-time at the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management. He also volunteers at the campus radio station and interns at an independent concert promotions company as a concert photographer and digital marketing assistant. Music and songwriting has always been a form of catharsis for Jake and he strives to balance lyrics between tangibility and honesty, along with passion and meaning. 

Portrait of African American man - Chuck Campbell

Chuck Cambell & The Cambell Brothers Band
Sacred Steel Guitar Gospel Band
Henrietta, NY

The Campbell Brothers present a compelling, rich variety of material from the African-American
Holiness-Pentecostal repertoire with a new twist: the growling, wailing, shouting, singing and swinging voice of the steel guitar, played as you have never heard it played before.

Pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell and his lap steel-playing brother Darick are two of the finest in this tradition. Rounding out the band, which has been playing together for nearly two decades, is a high-energy rhythm section featuring brother Phil Campbell on electric guitar and his son Carlton on drums.

Agnes Chavez - short haired white woman

Agnes Chavez
Artist/Educator, The Paseo Project
El Prado, NM
Artist/Co-Director of The Paseo, a participatory art festival in New Mexico, at the intersection of art, science, technology and social practice, transforming community in the process.

Agnes Chavez is a Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist and educator, working at the intersection of art, science, technology and social practice. She partners with scientists and creative coders to explore our relationship to nature and technology through data visualization, sound and projections. In 2015 she was invited to exhibit at the prestigious Havana Biennial in Cuba and is currently working with a team of physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland, to design a multisensory installation for the visitor center that visualizes the flow of data from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator.  Agnes is part of the interdisciplinary and collaborative founding team of The PASEO, the first outdoor participatory arts festival in Taos, New Mexico, which brings projection, performance and installation art to the streets of this classic artists’ colony and has revitalized the community in the process. Agnes is also founder of Sube, a comprehensive, multisensory language program that has been used to teach more than half a million kids worldwide. She is the recipient of the New Mexico Women in Technology Award in 2011 and the Educational Innovation in the Americas (INELAM) prize in 2006.

Eric Deggans

Eric Deggans
NPR TV Critic
Washngton, DC

Eric Deggans is NPR’s first full-time TV critic, crafting stories and commentaries for the network’s show, including Morning Edition, Here & Now and All Things Considered, along with writing material for and the website’s blogs such as Code Switch, Monkey See and The Two Way. He came to NPR in September 2013 from the Tampa Bay Times newspaper in Florida, where he served as TV/Media Critic and in other roles for nearly 20 years. He is also author of Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, a look at how prejudice, racism and sexism fuels modern media, published in October 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan.

He guest hosted CNN’s media analysis show Reliable Sources several times in 2013. That year, he also earned the Florida Press Club’s first-ever Diversity award, honoring his coverage of issues involving race and media. He has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from The Media School at Indiana University and received Legacy awards from both the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists’ A&E Task Force. The NABJ’s award was an honor bestowed to “seasoned A&E journalists who are at the top of their careers.” Eric also serves on the board of educators, journalists and media experts who select the George Foster Peabody Awards for excellence in electronic media.

Eric joined a prestigious group of contributors to the first ethics book created in a partnership between Craiglist founder Craig Newmark and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Developed as Poynter’s first ethics book for the digital age, The New Ethics of Journalism was published in August 2013 by Sage/CQ Press.

Born in Washington D.C. but raised in Gary, Ind., Eric has contributed as a pundit or essayist to many media outlets, including: CBS This Morning; The Insider (syndicated); CNN Tonight; The NewsHour (PBS); ESPN’s black-focused website The Undefeated; TV One’s Unsung; The Tom Joyner Morning Show (syndicated radio); Washington Watch with Roland Martin (TV One); Showbiz Tonight (HLN); Hannity and Colmes and Fox and Friends (Fox News Channel); and a host of public radio platforms, including KPCC, WNPR, WBEZ, and many more.

Named in 2009 as one of Ebony magazine’s “Power 150” – a list of influential black Americans which also included Oprah Winfrey and PBS host Gwen Ifill – he was selected to lecture at Columbia University’s prestigious Graduate School of Journalism in 2008 and 2005. He has also lectured or taught as an adjunct professor at DePaul University, Loyola University, George Washington University, California State University, Indiana University, University of Tampa, Eckerd College and many other colleges.

His writing has also appeared in the New York Times online, Salon magazine, Ebony magazine,, the Washington Post, Village Voice, VIBE magazine, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, EMMY magazine, Newsmax magazine, Rolling Stone Online and a host of other newspapers across the country.

Susan Devalle

Susan Delvalle
President & Executive Director, Creative Capital Foundation
New York, NY
Creative Capital supports innovative and adventurous artists across the country through funding, counsel and career development services. Our pioneering approach—inspired by venture-capital principles—helps artists working in all creative disciplines realize their visions and build sustainable practices..

Susan (Suzy) Delvalle is the president and executive director of Creative Capital, an innovative arts foundation that adapts venture capital concepts to support individual artists. Creative Capital provides each funded project with up to $50,000 in direct funding and career development services valued at $45,000, for a total commitment of up to $95,000 per project. Suzy is the former executive director of the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling. Previously, Suzy served as director of external affairs at El Museo del Barrio in New York, where she secured the museum's first major city, state and federal funding including over $35 million in capital support and a three-year, $2 million capacity-building grant. She also worked for American Composers Orchestra following a career in consumer banking and advertising. She served as Adjunct Faculty at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies and as a Guest Lecturer in the Arts Management program at The New School. She was born and raised in Curaçao and speaks Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento.

Delvalle holds an undergraduate degree from Bentley University and a master's degree from New School University's Robert J. Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy.

Rob Giampietro

Rob Giampietro
Creative Lead, Google Design, Google
New York, NY
Leading design outreach for Google; shaping Google's approach to design systems and thinking.

Rob Giampietro is a designer and writer. He is currently creative lead for Google’s Material Design and design outreach team in New York. Recent research has touched on a range of topics, including the relationship of movement to interaction, the history of visual identity and branding in the arts and the future of the museum in the digital age. His essay on the rise of graphic design MFA programs, School Days, was published in the Walker Art Center’s Graphic Design: Now in Production catalogue in 2011. Rob also serves as a thesis advisor for RISD MFA Graphic Design. From 2010–15 he was principal at Project Projects, where he led interactive and identity projects for clients in art, architecture and the cultural sector. Project Projects won the National Design Award in Communication Design in 2015. As executive board member and vice president of AIGA/NY, he organized programming that included a historic conversation between Wim Crouwel and Massimo Vignelli and a free series of talks by emerging designers at the Soho Apple Store. Rob was a 2013 MacDowell Colony Fellow and the 2014–15 Katherine Edwards Gordon Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

Sammy Hoi

Samuel Hoi
President, Maryland Institute College of Art
Baltimore, Maryland

Samuel Hoi is president of Maryland Institute College of Art. He is an advocate for integrating entrepreneurship training into art and design education, and for broadening the role of creative professionals as drivers in social, economic, and cultural advancement. Formerly, he was president of Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where he launched the annual Otis Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region and California. He has shepherded new academic initiatives involving innovative partnerships and community engagement that place art and design education in real life context. As dean of the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C., he created a visual arts program serving inner-city youth that received a National Multicultural Institute Award and a Coming Up Taller Award from the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities. He serves on and chaired the boards of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and United States Artists (USA). He also serves on the board of National Arts Strategies (NAS) and the National Advisory Board of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). He was decorated in 2006 by the French government as an Officer of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

Kemi Ilesanmi

Kemi Ilesanmi
Executive Director, The Laundromat Project
New York, NY
The Laundromat Project brings arts, artists, and arts programming into neighborhood spaces, to amplify the creativity that already exists within communities.

Kemi Ilesanmi is the Executive Director of The Laundromat Project, which brings art, artists, and arts programming into everyday spaces, to amplify the creativity that already exists within communities. With nearly two decades’ experience in the cultural arena, she is inspired by the immense possibilities for joy and justice at the intersection of arts and community. Prior to joining The LP, she was Director of Grants and Services at Creative Capital Foundation where she supported the work of American artists making adventurous new work. From 1998-2004, she was visual arts curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. While there, she organized several exhibitions, including The Squared Circle: Boxing in Contemporary Art, and ran the visual arts residency program. In 2015, she was appointed by the Mayor of New York City to the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission. She also serves on the board of EMC Arts. She is a graduate of Smith College, New York University, and Coro Leadership New York.

Eric Liu

Eric Liu
Founder & CEO, Citizen University
Seattle, WA
Founder & CEO, Citizen University and Executive Director, Aspen Institute Citizenship & American Identity Program

Eric Liu is an author, educator, and civic entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Citizen University, which promotes and teaches the art of great citizenship through a portfolio of national programs (, and the executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program. Eric is a regular columnist for and a correspondent for His books include the national bestsellers The Gardens of Democracy, and The True Patriot, co-authored with Nick Hanauer. Eric’s most recent book is A Chinaman’s Chance, published in July, 2014. Eric served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. After the White House, he was an executive at the digital media company RealNetworks. In 2002 he was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders of Tomorrow, and in 2010 he was awarded the Bill Grace Leadership Legacy Award by the Center for Ethical Leadership. A board member of the Corporation for National and Community Service, he is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.

Anita Norman, a young African American woman

Anita Norman
2014 Poetry Out Loud National Champion
Arlington, TN

Anita Norman is a second year student at Yale University where her credits include For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, WORD–a spoken word collective, and the 2014 International Storytelling Festival. Other credits include the 2014 NBA Cares poetry slam champion, and the Mason Temple Martin Luther King ceremonial poet. Anita was the 2014 National Poetry Out Loud champion. She is from Memphis, Tennessee by way of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Maeva Ordaz

Maeva Ordaz
2015 Poetry Out Loud National Champion
Anchorage, AK

Maeva Ordaz is currently a sophomore at Columbia University, where she studies financial economics. She competed in the NEA’s National Poetry Out Loud competition throughout high school, and won the national competition in 2015. She was born and raised in Alaska, but spent most of her summers living with family in Mexico; the strikingly different cultures and ways of life  which she experienced are the basis for many of her poems.

Questlove - african american man with a large afro

Member of The Roots and Musical Director for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Philadelphia, PA

DJ, drummer, member of The Roots, designer, and musical director for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He is also a music producer and author, most recently of something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs. In addition, he recently became a strategic advisor and first ever artist partner for Pandora. Questlove also collaborated with Pandora to launch Questlove Supreme, a three-hour radio show curated and produced by the four-time GRAMMY winner. Beyond these endeavors, Questlove co-produced the GRAMMY Award winning Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton, alongside Alex Lacamoire, Bill Sherman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tarik "Black Thought" Trotter. He is set to co-executive produce The Hamilton Mixtape, which will be released on December 2nd.

Questlove made his way into the culinary world with his signature "Love's Drumstick." Currently, he is hosting a series of Food Salons with world-renowned and innovative chefs at his Financial District apartment in the NY by Gehry building. Questlove has appeared as a Guest Judge on Top Chef Season 11, his interest in food and his own culinary endeavors have been featured on the cover of New York Magazine, in Food & Wine Magazine, Bon Appetit, and seen on The View, Watch What Happens Live, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He is a Celebrity Ambassador for Food Bank For New York City, is on the City Harvest Food Council, a board member of Edible Schoolyard, and the first Artist-in-Residence at the Made in NY Media Center. Questlove is also a Founding Member of the CAPA Foundation in Philadelphia.

Diane Ragsdale

Diane Ragsdale
Doctoral Candidate, Researcher, Blogger, Consultant, Self-Employed
Rotterdam, Neatherlands
Doctoral candidate (researching the relationship between the commercial and nonprofit theater in the US), arts blogger (Jumper on, consultant, speaker, editor, writer, and lecturer.

Diane is currently a doctoral candidate at Erasmus University Rotterdam focused on the relationship between the US commercial and nonprofit theater. For the 2016-2017 academic year, Diane is Arts Writer in Residence for the Keenan Institute at UNCSA. She provides a range of consulting/training services to the arts and culture sector and is a frequent provocateur or speaker at arts conferences. From 2004-2010, Diane was a program officer for theater and dance at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and, before that, managing director at On the Boards (Seattle). Her most creative act this decade was leaving the big foundation, moving to Holland to marry a Dutchman with two daughters, and returning to school mid-life. This love-inspired leap put Diane on the path of the unforeseen. It led to panic but also new creative acts—most notably, starting a blog (Jumper), learning to cook, designing a course on beauty, and spending a year on the road in order to give as much time as possible to walking, reflecting, writing, and communing. This six-year, slow-as-a-tortoise act of creative destruction has at last begun to lead her to approach place, work, money, time, relationships, responsibilities, and life-in-general in a fundamentally different way. 

Michael Rohd

Michael Rohd
Director, Center for Performance and Civic Practice
Tempe, AZ
I am a theatre artist, process designer, facilitator and capacity builder working at the intersection of art and community around the US.

Michael Rohd is founding artistic director of 17-year-old ensemble-based Sojourn Theatre. He leads the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, a national resource for artists and communities working together to build civic equity, health and capacity.  Current projects include The Catalyst Initiative, a national program supported by The Andrew Mellon Foundation, and Local Landscapes, through which he collaborates with Arts Councils at the State and Local level around the US. He recently accepted a Professorship at Arizona State University’s Herberger Insititute for Design & Art, where he, Liz Lerman and Daniel Bernard Romain are launching a think tank/action space called the The Ensemble Lab. He is author of the widely translated book Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue.   In 2015, he received an Otto Rene Castillo award for Political Theater and The Robert Gard Foundation Award for Excellence. He was the 2013-2016 Doris Duke Artist-in-Residence at Lookingglass Theater Company in Chicago.

Kiran Singh Sirah

Kiran Singh Sirah
President, International Storytelling Center
Jonesborough, TN
To enrich lives and build a better world through the power of storytelling, to forge connections and promote cultural understanding around the world, to nurturing world-class talent, to inspire and enrich people’s lives everywhere through the power of storytelling, and through the National Storytelling Festival, considered the world’s premier storytelling event.

Kiran Singh Sirah is president of the International Storytelling Center (ISC), an educational and cultural institution dedicated to enriching the lives of people around the world through storytelling. ISC organizes the world’s premiere storytelling event, the National Storytelling Festival, and supports applied storytelling initiatives across a wide variety of creative industries. Prior to his appointment at ISC, Kiran developed a number of award-winning arts, cultural and human rights in cultural centers across the UK. As an artist, folklorist, teacher, and advocate for social justice, he emphasizes his interest in “the power of human creativity, arts, storytelling and social justice, and the notion of a truly multicultural society.” An advisory member to UNESCO and a Rotary Peace fellow, he has developed educational programs and publications, articles, talks and conference papers about interdisciplinary approaches to relationship building in communities and around the globe. In 2012, Kiran was invited to give a keynote address at the RI- United Nations Day at the UN headquarters, entitled Telling Stories That Matter- A project that encourages the use of arts, culture and diverse storytelling within the international peace building community.

Rise Wilson

Risë Wilson
Director of Philanthropy, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
New York, NY
Director of Philanthropy at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Risë Wilson is committed to lifting up the value of creativity in our every day lives. She is the founder of The Laundromat Project, which mounts topical and timely art programming in local laundromats as a way of amplifying the creative power available in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Harlem, and the South Bronx. Risë was recently appointed the inaugural Director of Philanthropy for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in order to help shape the foundation’s grant-making priorities and to fulfill its belief that art can change the world.

Caroline Wollard

Caroline Woolard
Artist & Organizer, BFA MFA Ph.D
Brooklyn, NY
I co-create art and organizations for the new economy

Caroline Woolard makes art and institutions for the new economy. Her method enjoins objects to their contexts of circulation. She builds sculptures for barter only as she also creates international barter networks that continue to grow; she fabricates model Shaker housing and she also convenes organizers of community land trusts. Her multi-year, collaborative projects include (2008-present); (2009-present); and (2014-present). Recent commissions include WOUND, Cooper Union, New York, NY (2016); and Capitoline Wolves, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2016) and MoMA Studio: Exchange Café, New York, NY (2014). Group exhibitions include Crossing Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (2014); and Living as Form, Creative Time, New York, NY (2011). Woolard’s work has been supported by residencies at MoMA, New York, NY (2014); Queens Museum, Queens, NY, (2014); and Watermill, Water Mill, NY (2011) and through fellowships at Eyebeam, Brooklyn, NY (2013); and the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH (2009). She is a lecturer at the School of Visual Arts and the New School, a project manager at the worker-owned design firm and is a member of the Community Economies Research Network, and the board of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Her work will be featured in Art21’s New York Close Up documentary series over the next three years.