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Returning to REAL

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

2021-22 Racial Equity in Arts Leadership Cohort Named

Together with Vanderbilt’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy, Metro Arts congratulates and welcomes the 2021-2022 cohort of our Racial Equity in Arts Leadership (REAL) program!

Selected from a competitive pool of applicants, these eighteen cohort participants represent thirteen Nashville arts and cultural organizations, who will come together to learn about race, equity, and ways to enact change within their personal practices, their organizations’ structures, and in the larger arts community.

2021-2022 REAL Cohort Members and Organizations

Alex Wong creates music to help people remember who they are and show themselves to the world. He is a Latin GRAMMY-nominated artist and producer known for his work with Delta Rae, Vienna Teng, and Ari Hest, among others. Alex’s music has been featured in movies The Last Song and The Lincoln Lawyer, TV shows True Blood, Ray Donovan, and One Tree Hill, and commercials for Google and Aquafina. Alex recently curated and performed two virtual benefit tours featuring AAPI artists MILCK, Ruby Ibarra, Amulets, Surrija and Tom Prasada-Rao as well as Ben Sollee, Ruthie Collins, Garrison Starr, and others. The tours raised $10,000 to help organizations fighting anti-Asian hate via Alex’s current releases include The Elephant and the Seahorse, an album about his relationship with his own memory, as well as KIVALINA, an album inspired by stories of climate change.

Ali Tonn directs educational programming at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, including all content developed and provided in the Museum’s Taylor Swift Education Center. Ms. Tonn began work at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the fall of 2005. Since then, the education division has seen a 350% increase in participation with current engagement reaching over 100,000 individuals each year. The opening of the Taylor Swift Education Center in 2013 enabled the creation of new programs and services for students, teachers, and family audiences directed by Ms. Tonn. A videoconference lab in the center allows for virtual support to schools and community organizations far from Nashville, with partnerships for schools in New York City and Los Angeles. Locally, Ms. Tonn helped develop the partnership with Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Chair Productions with the joint-creation of String City: Nashville’s Tradition of Music and Puppetry, showcasing Nashville’s traditions of country music and puppetry arts. She played a key role in the creation and launch of the 2017 Community Counts: Museum Admission Program for Locals enabling wider museum access for area residents. Ms. Tonn’s work has been recognized through awards from the American Alliance of Museums, Tennessee Association of Museums, and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society of Key Women Educators, and has served as a grant panelist for Tennessee Arts Commission.

Ms. Tonn holds a B. A. in Music and Music History from the University of Kansas and a M. A. in Arts Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to joining the museum, Ms. Tonn worked with the Madison Civic Center in Wisconsin where she directed children’s programs; the Manhattan School of Music where she supported the Graduate Program in Orchestral Performance and facilitated the Conservatory’s Community Outreach efforts; and the W.O. Smith Community Music School in Nashville where she taught flute, piano, and music theory, created instructional materials, managed volunteers music teachers and assisted with various other operational needs.

Amanda Autry is passionate in promoting sustainability, joyful when serving people, and inspired by those who invest in Turnip Green Creative Reuse's mission.

Amber McCullough has served Southern Word for five years, first as Director of Partnerships and currently as Director of Marketing and Communications. Previously, she worked for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education focused on improving educational outcomes for all Tennessee students. She is a graduate of Belmont University, where she focused on education policy, and Lipscomb University, where she received a Master’s in Civic Leadership and received a Scholars Symposium award for her project exploring the disconnections between schools, businesses, and nonprofits in meeting the needs of students. Amber is married married with two young kids and she spends her free time reading and writing.

Andrés Bustamante @andresbustm is an interdisciplinary artist born in Cali, Colombia based in Nashville, TN. He attended Watkins College of Art followed by a self-taught, experimental practice. Curiosity is a catalyst to malleable mediums, exploring the abstraction in human emotion and human existence. Informed by his immigrant experience at a young age which led him to existential questions about reality, exploring concepts of human divinity as a reflection of the unseen, and researching the abstract mystery of life reflected in psychonaut journeys. Unquenched awe and wonder inspire his creative process. Bustamante is passionate about community empowerment, mental health, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the visual arts. To provide opportunities for underserved communities to engage in creative play, nurturing awe and wonder. Empowering communities with art fund-raisers, workshops, and murals via his organization, Persona Contemporary @personacontemporary

Brandi Coates is a Nashville native, and graduated from Cumberland University in 2017 with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art and Design. As part of her studies and career development, she was heavily involved as a college advisory board member, intern and paid teaching assistant at the Frist Art Museum, where she is currently the Engagement Coordinator as well as lead chairperson for the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DIEA) Taskforce. While her job is to work closely with educators, community partners, teens, and college interns, she engages with young professionals on the PENCIL Emerging Leaders Board (ELBo), advocating and investing in resources that help ensure the success of teachers and students in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

As a way to continue to have an impact on her alma mater and its surrounding community, Brandi was unanimously accepted as a board member on the Cumberland University Alumni Association Board of Directors in October 2020. In April 2021, Brandi graduated from Tennessee State University with her Masters of Education degree in Instructional Leadership with a concentration in Career and Technical Education . As she continues to grow in her profession, Brandi hopes to gain more partnerships and create opportunities that will develop pipelines for diverse students who have an interest in art education and museum careers. Brandi enjoys reading, drawing, painting and listening to music in spare time.

Daniel Jones (he/him) is a Nashville-based producer, writer, and director passionate about facilitating creative storytelling, diverse narratives and shared live arts experiences that ignite social change. He is the Producing Artistic Director of Kindling Arts, Nashville's radically unique independent arts incubator, where he facilitates the development and production of interdisciplinary works by Middle Tennessee-based artists. In less than four years, Daniel has worked with more than 150 local artists to produce over 35 unique performance events (including several virtual productions during the Covid-19 pandemic) which have collectively generated more than $25,000 for local creative workers. Daniel is also pleased to serve as the Manager of Artistic Programming at OZ Arts Nashville where he has supported hundreds of local, national, and international artists and performers, including artists from New York, Chicago, Japan, Brazil, and beyond. Daniel also serves as Vice President of the board of Tennessee Presenters, a collective of professional performing arts organizations throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. A native of Knoxville, TN, Daniel received his BA in Theatre Studies and Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College in Boston.

Danielle Myers is a multi-disciplinary designer, letterer, and the inventor and founder of Bookbelts. Originally from South Florida, Danielle has a BFA in Graphic Design from Florida Atlantic University and has been in the Nashville area for five years. Her primary focus is branding with sub-focuses in publication, exhibition, and environmental design. Her work has been featured in Art in America, at the University of Miami, the University of Florida, and other higher learning institutions. In addition to working for the Frist Art Museum, some of her recent clients include the Overtown Music and Arts Festival, City of Houston, and the Engine for Art, Democracy and Justice at Vanderbilt. Danielle’s gain goal for this program is to learn how to create an equitable environment that promotes people to be their full selves in every situation. To see Danielle’s work, visit To learn about Bookbelts, visit

Drew Ogle has served a non-profit leader for almost two decades, with 15 years of that being exclusively in the arts. In 2006, he co-founded Encore Theatrical Company in Morristown, TN, and served as its managing director until 2017. From 2012 to 2017, he also served simultaneously as the executive director of the Rose Center Council for the Arts. He spent a year as general manager of Florida Repertory Theatre before joining Nashville Rep in 2018. He holds a masters degree in Arts Management from the University of KY and a certificate in transformational nonprofit leadership from Notre Dame University.

Erin Boddy seeks to be creative in all things: whether it's working with others in the community, connecting with nature or baking pastries! Through receiving her masters of education from Vanderbilt's Peabody College, Erin found that doing community engagement work is what excites and empowers her most! With a background in working with folks who have obstacles finding resources and meaningful work, she seeks to create a safer and more equitable space for all who call Nashville home. Turnip Green's education and programs has given Erin the space to develop programming that is inclusive to all and gives opportunity for students, youth and adults to learn about environmental resourcefulness and being creative with the resources we have.

Isabel Tipton-Krispin is an arts administrator and is currently the Board and Employee Relations Manager at Nashville Ballet. Isabel received her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre (focus in sound design) from the University of Tennessee and a graduate certificate in Arts Administration from UCONN. In her role at Nashville Ballet, Isabel has worked with many aspects of the organization, including board governance, development, arts operations, project management, strategic planning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion leadership. Isabel is also the co-president of the Emerge America’s Young Leaders Cabinet and was the former Volunteer Field Director for Elizabeth Madeira’s 2020 state house campaign in District 63.

Lauren Bufferd was born in Massachusetts in 1960. She has an undergraduate degree in art history and a graduate degree in library science. She has worked in Chicago and Nashville as an archivist, a librarian, and a museum collections manager. Lauren has been the assistant director at the Parthenon since 2006 and is currently the acting director. She is married with two adult sons. Lauren also writes book reviews for BookPage and is a volunteer DJ at WXNA. Lauren loves living in Nashville and is proud to be a civil servant.

Leah Sherry is an educator, environmentalist, and artist with an impressive collection of pets, rocks, and pet rocks.

Meagan Rust is an arts educator and interpretative planner from Nashville, TN. She is currently the Interpretation Director at the Frist Art Museum, where she has created award-winning interpretative materials and public programs, including the Emmy-nominated community engagement project and public performance NICK CAVE: FEAT. NASHVILLE. She has a Master of Arts from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts from Lipscomb University. She is also a member of the Association of Art Museum Interpretation and has served on its convening committee since 2018.

Micah-Shane Brewer is the Producer of Nashville Repertory Theatre. He has worked professionally as a theatre director, actor, musician and educator. Before joining the Rep, he was a professor at the University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee. He was the founding Artistic Director of Encore Theatrical Company in East Tennessee as well as a company actor with the Clarence Brown Theatre Company. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Tennessee.  He is a member of Actors' Equity Association.

Nicholas Gulick, M.S., ICF-ACC, is the Director of Grants at Tennessee Performing Arts Center, a Nashville-based nonprofit arts organization dedicated to excellence in the performing arts and arts education, and Principal Empowerment Coach for his namesake executive coaching and consulting firm. At TPAC, Nicholas oversees grants-related activities to support the center's diverse programming and nationally recognized education programs, manages arts advocacy initiatives, and serves as a member of the Diversity, Inclusion, Access, and Equity Committee, a staff-led initiative to create a more equitable institution. Beyond TPAC, Nicholas is the creator of "Coaching Your Donors to Give: Relationship-Building Skills for Fundraisers," a program developed to empower professional fundraisers through powerful coaching skills.

A strategic leadership, communication, and learning and development consultant, Nicholas works with organizations to harness their "people potential" and advance their missions. Previously, Nicholas was the Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager for Nashville Ballet. An active member of Nashville in Harmony, he served most recently as secretary of the board of directors and chaired its strategic planning committee. A native of McMinnville, Tennessee, Nicholas holds the M.S. in Strategic Communication and Leadership from Belmont University, a B.A. in Music and B.A. in Speech Pathology from the University of Tennessee, and a graduate certificate in Performance Coaching from Lipscomb University. Nicholas resides in Franklin, Tennessee, and enjoys traveling, cooking, sipping fine teas and craft gins, and strengthening an embodied awareness practice in his spare time.

Nikki Walker is a native Nashvillian and is currently the Education & Programs Manager for the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM). She obtained her Bachelor’s in Communications from Tennessee State University and her

Master of Education in Organizational Leadership & Communications from Belmont University. She has 9 years of experience working in education, having worked in MNPS and various non-profits such as PENCIL, YMCA, NAZA, and the East Nashville Hope Exchange. Nikki is passionate about education and ensuring that all students receive a fair and equitable education, and she is excited that she can continue that pursuit through the REAL cohort. She currently resides in Rutherford County with her husband Allen and seven-month old baby, Ava Joi.

Rosie Forrest is the Director of Community Engagement with OZ Arts Nashville where she oversees educational and community partnerships that connect OZ Arts with the Greater Nashville area; specifically, Rosie’s work cultivates free workshops and masterclasses that bring together local and visiting artists, arts-integrated STEAM learning for both youth and educators, and special artist-led in-depth conversations for the public. Combining a background in educational programs with artistic development, Rosie has served as director for Vanderbilt Summer Academy, director of creative writing for Interlochen Center for the Arts summer programs, and dramaturg for Chicago theatre institutions, including The Goodman Theatre, Northlight, and Steppenwolf Theater Company. Rosie has taught undergraduate writing courses ranging from composition and rhetoric to hybrid genres and playwriting at Vanderbilt University, Northwestern, and DePaul among others. Rosie is a member of the Metro Nashville Public Schools STEAM Advisory Council, an active partner with PENCIL, and she holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire.


Launched in 2015, REAL saw more than 70 participants from the Nashville arts community complete the six-month curriculum. In March 2019, four years of REAL cohorts’ experience and expertise culminated in a REAL Symposium at Vanderbilt, where 212 attendees experienced three dynamic days of learning, teaching and inspiration.

The partners then took a hiatus, extended by the events of 2020, to reimagine the program. The new iteration of REAL, bolstered by a National Endowment for the Arts grant of $50,000, will focus on deeper cohort engagement over a longer period of time. After completing a series of focused Friday seminars and learning sessions over 20 weeks, and a full day of Crossroads Antiracism training, selected cohort members will have the opportunity to continue to meet and receive funding for project design and implementation through spring and summer 2022.

To learn more about Racial Equity in Arts Leadership, visit

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