Dr. Derrell Acon (he/him)
Director of Engagement and Equity - Long Beach Opera; Black Opera Alliance; New Works Forum Arts Equity Specialist OPERA America
Los Angeles, CA
Fulbright scholar Dr. Derrell Acon is a dynamic performer, scholar, and activist who has over 15 years of experience in the equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) space. He continues to establish himself as a leader in classical music, education, and ethnic studies as relates to the role of the artist-activist.
Dr. Acon is an Mellon Foundation grantee and frequent presenter throughout the U.S. at conferences for the National Association for Ethnic Studies and NANM, and internationally at venues in Europe and Africa. He has been lecturer and equity consultant at The Chautauqua Institution, Portland Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, The Industry LA, and Des Moines Metro Opera. Dr. Acon is the Director of Engagement and Equity at Long Beach Opera and the New Works Forum Arts Equity Specialist for OPERA America. This October, he will teach an 8-course seminar entitled “Viva VERDI: Why Giuseppe and Gang Would be BLM Activists.”
Internationally, Dr. Acon has worked with institutions on EDI concepts and how to build infrastructure that supports such work. He has also worked on behalf of the State Department with hundreds of foreign Fulbrighters and toured with the Peace Corps to HBCUs to gauge entry barriers into the Fulbright Program.
Dr. Acon has served as trustee of Lawrence University and used his role as fiduciary to the $320 million endowment to ensure that equity and inclusion were centered in all decision-making and oversight processes. He is a frequent consultant, advisor, and panelist in the fields of opera and ethnic studies.
Veronica Chapman-Smith (she/her)
Director of Community Initiatives - Opera Philadelphia
Veronica Chapman-Smith has worked in Opera Philadelphia’s administration since 2016. Ms. Chapman-Smith was integral in the development of Opera Philadelphia’s Backstage Pass; a workforce readiness program for technical theater. Along with running the Backstage Pass program, Mrs. Chapman-Smith runs Opera Philadelphia’s Teen Voices of The City Ensemble (T-VOCE); a free choir open to all teens in the Philadelphia area. In 2020, Mrs. Chapman-Smith became Opera Philadelphia’s Director of Community Initiatives, overseeing Opera Philadelphia’s educational programming and community partnerships. She is also an integral part of the organization’s anti-racist initiatives. Mrs. Chapman-Smith is currently completing a Diversity Leadership Certificate at Temple University.
Mrs. Chapman-Smith started in the opera world as a singer. She studied vocal performance at Temple University where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After her studies, she spent the next 16 years singing roles for various opera companies across the United States, from smaller groups like Ash Lawn Opera Festival to larger organizations such as Lyric Opera of Chicago. She has maintained firm roots in Philadelphia, performing small roles and singing in the chorus for Opera Philadelphia, and singing in concerts and recordings with the contemporary choral group The Crossing, including the 2018 Grammy Award winning recording The Fifth Century. With an extensive performing background Mrs. Chapman-Smith brings access to artists and opportunities not easily available to the participants of both programs. Mrs. Chapman-Smith continues to perform as a soloist on a local and national level, as well as being a member of Opera Philadelphia’s chorus.
Debbie Chinn (she/her)
Executive Director - Opera Parallèle
El Cerrito, CA
Over the past 25 years, Debbie has held executive leadership positions as Executive Director of Opera Parallèle and Carmel Bach Festival, and as Managing Director at CENTERSTAGE (the State Theater of Maryland), California Shakespeare Theater, and Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey. She has served as a strategic consultant for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Ventura Music Festival, and Philip Glass’ Days and Nights Festival. She is Board President of Theatre Bay Area, one of the largest service organizations for theatres in the U.S., and she serves as Audit Chair of the Board of the San Francisco Community Music Center. Her advisory roles include being on the Advisory Council of West Edge Opera and on the Leadership Council of the National Small Business Association, a nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C. with 65,000 members across every state and industry in the U.S. Her past board affiliations include Theatre Communications Group, the Association of California Symphony Orchestras (Board President), and Network of Ensemble Theatres. Her transformative leadership work is featured as one of 13 case studies in “Creative Social Change: Leadership for a Healthy World” in the International Leadership Association Series which assembles thought leaders to reimagine leadership in building a healthy, sustainable, and equitable world.
Destiny Coleman (she/her)
Director of Education and Artistic Administration - Opera Columbus
Destiny Coleman is the Director of Education and Artistic Administration for Opera Columbus. In this position, Ms. Coleman coordinates all education and community engagement programming, serving over 14,000 students and families per year; oversees the annual Cooper-Bing Vocal Competition; and serves as lead administrator. In 2017, Ms. Coleman received the Sir William Osler, MD, Award from The Ohio State University Medicine and the Arts Board on behalf of Opera Columbus, in recognition of her leadership in the Columbus arts community and for her commitment to bringing the performing arts to the medical center’s staff and patients. In 2018-2019, Ms. Coleman received acclaim after she conceptualized, created, and directed The Voice of Freedom and The Journey, A Celebration of Music Inspired by African-American Culture. Both community engagement programs were centered around diversity and inclusion, offering over 60 artists of color opportunities to perform. In 2020, she was recognized as an emerging leader in the arts and awarded the Next Up Columbus Award by The Columbus Young Professionals Club.
As a mezzo-soprano, Ms. Coleman has performed with The Ohio State University Lyric Opera Theatre Program, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Heather Headley, and the world-renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli. Ms. Coleman holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from The Ohio State University and a Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University.
She recently participated in Opera Europa’s 2018 Opera Management Course in Poznań, Poland, and is a current participant of the YWCA Leadership for Social Change Program.
Khori Dastoor (she/her)
General Director - Opera San José
Bay Area, CA
Khori Dastoor, General Director Opera San José, oversees all aspects of artistic planning and business operations for the company. Among her missions are renewing Opera San José’s commitment to developing and curating emerging talent and elevating the company as a vibrant artistic incubator in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Prior to this appointment, Ms. Dastoor served as Director of Artistic Planning.
She previously served as Associate Director of the Packard Humanities Institute, responsible for arts, music, and archaeology initiatives, and as Director of the San Francisco District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Ms. Dastoor received her Bachelor of Music from New England Conservatory and completed doctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, earning the Dean’s Award for the School of Arts and Architecture.
Ras Dia (he/him)
Arts Producer and Curator
New York, NY
Ras Dia is an arts administrator who specializes in multi-disciplinary arts programming. He is the Assistant Producer of the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody- and Emmy-award winning Live in HD series, and Creative Producer of Heartbeat Opera’s Breathing Free, a digital theatrical film and curricular program which highlights the intersection of social justice, mass incarceration, and cultural equity in the classical arts. He most recently served as Associate Producer for MTT25: An American Icon, a virtual tribute to Michael Tilson Thomas presented by the San Francisco Symphony, in addition to helping produce the Jessye Norman Memorial Celebration for the Met and the Ford Foundation, with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Renée Fleming, Anna Deavere Smith, Gloria Steinem, and many others gathering to pay tribute to the remarkable artist.
He is the Programming Director of Thresh, whose work has been presented by Guggenheim Works & Process, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Glimmerglass Festival, and Silkroad, and is the Production & Finance Manager of Contemporaneous, which has been presented by Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, PROTOTYPE Festival, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Bang on a Can. Additionally, he currently serves as Special Advisor on Arts and Advocacy for Humanitarian Causes to the United Nations Association of El Salvador.
Ras is the former Managing Director of the New York City Master Chorale, and has worked in marketing, development, production, and administrative roles with National Children’s Chorus, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, where he produced the Artists-in-Residence program, and co-created SAUCE, a series of artist sessions in partnership with Radeberger Pilsner and Sweet Reason CBD, and The New School’s MA TESOL Outreach Program, where he supported immigrant, survivor, and refugee communities across New York City.
Sandy Feliciano (she/her)
Events and Volunteer Manager - Atlanta Opera
Sandy Feliciano is the Events and Volunteer Manager for The Atlanta Opera, where she facilitates over 50 key fundraising and stewardship events each year, including the annual Gala. In 2020, she planned the Opera’s 40th Anniversary Gala, its most successful fundraiser to date, netting over half a million dollars for the organization.
Since moving to Atlanta last year, Sandy has become an active member of the Atlanta community, serving as the Vice President of Public Relations for St. Maximilian Kolbe Toastmasters and Vice Chair of Marketing and Communications for Hispanic Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs. She volunteers as a mentor for the Latin American Association and as an Adjudicator for the ArtsBridge Foundation’s Georgia High School Musical Theater Awards.
Previously, Sandy was the Marketing and Patron Services Manager of the Savannah VOICE Festival for four years, where she led marketing initiatives and oversaw front-of-house staff for over 25 events during the three-week festival. Sandy holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of South Florida and a Certificate in Graphic Design from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
Miguel Flores (he/him)
Technical/Production Administrator, Stage Manager, Production Manager
I have worked with Long Beach Opera, IU Opera, Memphis Opera, Opera Del West, MIT Music and Theater Arts, and Boston Conservatory.
Gabrielle Nomura Gainor (she/her)
Communications and Public Engagement Manager - Seattle Opera
I am a communications manager with a passion for storytelling, community engagement, and racial equity. I am focused on building and amplifying Seattle Opera's civic engagement and anti-racism efforts. My communications work on Madame Butterfly ('17) was praised in The New York Times' 2019 opinion piece, "Classical Opera Has a Racism Problem." I create content for social media and the Seattle Opera blog, contextualize operas through lobby displays, and help to develop community-engagement events at the Opera Center. I have also shared expertise as a cultural consultant for Portland Opera and Edmonds Center for the Arts, and I have spoken on the NPR affiliate KUOW regarding Asian cultural stereotypes in The Nutcracker. My professional goals are to help shift culture toward racial equity through the arts and representation onstage.
Carlos García León (he/they)
Individual Giving Manager - Cincinnati Opera
Carlos García León is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian who is currently the Individual Giving Manager for Cincinnati Opera. In this position, they are in charge of stewardship, cultivation, and engagement of donors who give $3,500 or below. Pre-COVID, Carlos helped with the November Gala and became the liaison to the Cincinnati Opera’s Guild. Post-COVID, they were a part of the Artist Relief Fund, set to compensate contracted artists and artisans from the financial burden by raising over $500,000 and starting the Virtual Opera Chats program designed to engage patrons with diverse artists and stories.
Carlos earned his Bachelor of Music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Bassoon Performance and a Communications Minor and went on to the University of Cincinnati to earn his Master of Arts in Arts Administration and a Master of Business Administration. In addition, Carlos is a spoken word artist, having their written work publish in local and national zines, and performing in local open mics.
Carlos was born in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico and had a passion for music early on. However, their drive for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice developed over the years through experiences in various music organizations. Carlos continues learning and working to fight for cultural equity and justice in their work and the music field.
Sarah Geocaris (she/her)
Associate, Guild Board and Chapters - Lyric Opera of Chicago
Experienced Development Associate with a demonstrated history of working in the performing arts industry. Skilled in Board Management, Editing, Public Speaking, Fundraising, and Event Planning. Strong professional with a Master of Music focused in Voice Performance from Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. I aspire to manage a foundation one day.
Aliana de la Guardia (she/her)
Co-Artistic Director - Guerilla Opera
Aliana de la Guardia is a first generation Cuban-American and enjoys a multifaceted career of both artist and administrator. She is a co-founder of Guerilla Opera, an ensemble member and now co-artistic director, with which she has produced more than fifteen world premiere operas with roles tailor-made for her ferocious stage presence. She was recently selected as a protégée for OPERA America’s Women’s Opera Network Mentorship Program for Women in Opera, paired with Lee Anne Myslewski from the Wolf Trap Foundation. She is also the recipient of a Public Art Learning Fund grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts to pursue mentorship with Double Edge Theatre. She is the owner and founder of Dirty Paloma Voice Studio in Haverhill, MA, treasurer of Granite State National Association of Teachers of Singing, and is on the Haverhill Multicultural Festival 2020 planning committee. Aliana has a BM in vocal performance, emphasis in opera and an MM, vocal performance from the Boston Conservatory.
Jonathon Hampton (he/him)
Administration + Publicity, Singer, Voice Teacher
Jonathon Hampton sings alto, tenor and baritone, specializing in early opera, oratorio, and choral music, in addition to conducting, voice training, art administration, and solo work in African-American spirituals, jazz and contemporary repertoire. He’s been a chamber opera soloist in Purcell's “The Fairy Queen” with Big Apple Baroque, Siegel's “Brother Brother” and Diebes's “WOW.”
Highlights of his oratorio solos have included Vaughan Williams's “Fantasy on a Christmas Carol” with California Symphony, Mozart's “Requiem” with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra and Durflé's “Requiem” with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. Hampton has recorded albums with Cappella SF, American Bach Soloists (ABS), The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Schola Cantorum San Francisco, New York Film Chorale, Cornell University Glee Club and The American Boychoir. He performs frequently with ABS, Cappella SF, San Francisco Symphony Chorus and Schola Adventus.
Additionally, Hampton has been a principal conductor for Tactus SF, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, San Francisco Youth Chorus, Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Early Music Society and Grace Church in Newark, Cornell University Alumni Singers and the Cornell Chorus and Glee Club Summer Ensemble.
His arts administration work has served many of the aforementioned organizations, in addition to Carnegie Hall, in education, communication, and business management roles.
Briana Elyse Hunter (she/her)
Marketing and Communications Director - Bare Opera
New York, NY
Briana Elyse Hunter described by the NY Times as “a radiant mezzo-soprano” and Opera News as “a mezzo-soprano of astounding vocal and dramatic range,” is rapidly emerging as an artist to watch. Her previous credits include Blue (Mother), Carmen (Carmen, Mercédès), La tragédie de Carmen (Carmen), Little Women (Jo), Xerxes (Arsamenes), Die Fledermaus (Prince Orlovsky), As One (Hannah after), and La traviata (Flora). She won the 2018 EncoreMichigan Wilde Award for “Best Performance in an Opera” for her portrayal of Gertrude Stein in Ricky Ian Gordon’s 27. She has been on the rosters of New York City Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, The Santa Fe Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Knoxville Opera, UrbanArias in D.C., American Opera Projects, Opera in the Heights, I SING BEIJING, Sarasota Opera, El Paso Opera, and Music Academy of the West where she sang the title role of Carmen under the tutelage of the great Marilyn Horne. She recently made her Lincoln Center Theater debut in their gala performance of Camelot starring Lin Manuel Miranda. Next year she is poised to make her Kennedy Center debut with Washington National Opera as Mother in Blue by Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, and return to the role of Carmen at Opera Orlando in a brand new production set in Haiti. Lookout for her in Bare Opera's Fall 2020 virtual production in The Decameron Project.
Ishan Johnson (he/him)
Associate Director of Development - Chicago Opera Theater
Ishan Johnson is currently the Associate Director of Development for Chicago Opera Theater, overseeing individual & planned giving, and special events. Previously, he served as Manager of Auxiliary Relations for Chicago History Museum, where he raised more than $1 million for the institution. His career in philanthropy began with Snow City Arts. He is a graduate of the AFP Chicago Fellows program, was awarded the 2019 Chamberlain Scholarship, and now proudly serves on their Board of Directors as chair of the IDEA Committee. Ishan holds a Vocal Performance degree from Boston University, and held a professional career as an opera singer for more than a decade.
Kenneth Kellogg (he/him)
Singer, Voice Teacher, Administration
Since completing the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera and the Domingo-Cafritz Emerging Artist program at Washington National Opera, Kenneth has kept an active performing schedule in the US and Europe. While taking on many traditional bass roles such as Leporello, Osmin, Colline, Sarastro, Mephistopheles, he has become know for taking on new contemporary works. Most recently, the role of the Father in Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s opera, Blue, was written for him as well as a new Symphony based on the speeches of Barack Obama, A More Perfect Union by Paul Frucht.
While maintaining and active performing schedule, Kenneth is also involved in consulting, helping companies and leaders address issues surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and advocating for rights and fair treatment of artists as partners in creation.
Jason Lynch (he/him)
Technical/Production Administrator, Lighting Designer
Jason Lynch is a Chicago-based lighting designer for theatre, dance, opera, and other live performance art. He is also the recipient of the 2019 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award which recognizes emerging theatrical designers within the Chicago area and is honored to have his recent work on an immersive 360° production of THE WILD PARTY at the Denver Center featured in American Theatre Magazine. Credits include: FANNIE (upcoming), SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY, LOTTERY DAY, HOW TO CATCH CREATION (asst.) and AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (asst.) (Goodman Theatre); CHOIR BOY (upcoming), GUARDS AT THE TAJ (assoc.) (Steppenwolf); HAIRSPRAY, BLACK ODYSSEY (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); FEEDING BEATRICE (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis); A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2, A DOLL’S HOUSE, THE WILD PARTY, DRAG ON (Denver Center); CLUE (upcoming), SKELETON CREW (Alley Theatre); WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN (upcoming), FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN (Dallas Theater Center).
Jason is a proud member of The Association of Lighting Designers and alumnus of The Santa Fe Opera.
@jasonlynch.design // www.jasondlynch.com
Siddhartha Misra (he/him)
Lead Guest Services Associate - Opera Philadelphia
I bring a diverse background as a performer and analyst to the challenge of connecting presenters with their audiences. My passion for data science started with assembling the evidence in an opera score, and finding the narrative through which to communicate an artistic idea to an audience. That thirst for knowledge and interpretation has led to work with PowerBI and, more recently, machine learning, neural networks and data modeling.
I am a team leader within our box-office staff at Opera Philadelphia, and a problem solver within our CRM database, Tessitura. Other recent experience emphasizes data visualization, exploratory data analysis, and linear/logistic regression. Consistently successful with project management, incorporating new initiatives, strategic planning and event planning.
Michael Ortiz (he/him)
Technical Director - The Santa Fe Opera
Santa Fe, NM
I am entering my 18th season with SFO. this will be my first as the Technical Director. My goal is to help diversify opera and modernize the repertory.
LaRob K. Payton (he/him)
Administrative Specialist, Coordinator - Lyric Opera of Chicago
Founder and Artistic Director - Hearing in Color
I have organized events that open a dialogue between the arts and community through music. I have developed a concert initiative called “Hearing in Color” which was founded on the principles of knowing that classical music is not for any one group, and that it often neglects to showcase composers and artists of color and of marginalized groups. As the founder and artistic director, I have worked to lead community events at least twice a year, curating the programming, hiring artists, and measuring the impact of each engagement with the community. At Lyric, I hire speakers for engagement events such as panel discussions and pre-opera talks, I am program lead for Youth Opera Council and I work closely with Chicago Public Schools in ensuring them bus scholarships to productions. Recently, as the country awakened to the injustices against Black people and Lyric hurried to respond effectively, I led our IDEA Working Group to formulate a letter of actionable steps presented to Executive Leadership and the Board. Holding Lyric accountable for its commitment to IDEA, the letter outlines systematic, organizational, and artistic changes to consider for the advancement of the company as a whole. Above all, I am extremely passionate about the arts and I believe it's both important to be a leader, educator, and an excellent team member and student. I have committed to bring these ideals with me in every work space and environment.
Kamala Sankaram (she/her)
Co-Artistic Director - Experiments in Opera
Praised as “strikingly original” (NY Times) and “new voice from whom we will surely be hearing more” (LA Times), Kamala Sankaram writes highly theatrical music that defies categorization. Recent commissions include the Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Opera on Tap, among others. Awards, grants and residencies include: Jonathan Larson Award, NEA ArtWorks, MAP Fund, Opera America, the Civilians, HERE, the MacDowell Colony, and the Watermill Center. Known for her work with emerging technologies, her recent genre-defying hit Looking at You (with Rob Handel and Kristin Marting) featured live data mining of the audience and a chorus of 25 singing tablet computers. Sankaram, Handel, and Marting also created all decisions will be made by consensus, a short absurdist opera performed live over Zoom and featured on NBC and the BBC3. With librettist Jerre Dye and Opera on Tap, she created The Parksville Murders, the world’s first virtual reality opera (Samsung VR, Jaunt VR, Kennedy Center Reach Festival, “Best Virtual Reality Video” NY Independent Film Festival, Future of Storytelling, Salem Horror Festival and the Topanga Film Festival.) Also a performer, notable appearances include the LA Philharmonic, LA Opera, and the PROTOTYPE Festival, among others. Kamala is the leader of Bombay Rickey, an operatic Bollywood surf ensemble (recipient of two awards for Best Eclectic Album from the Independent Music Awards). Dr. Sankaram holds a PhD from the New School and is currently a member of the composition faculty at SUNY Purchase.
Alexa Smith (she/her)
Chief of Staff - Manhattan School of Music
New York, NY
I am the current Chief of Staff at Manhattan School of Music where I oversee special programs for the Office of the President. I serve as the Director of the Cultural Inclusion Initiative and am the school's government liaison. I created the Black Creator's Initiative at MSM which creates opportunities for Black creators (composers, librettists, directors, performers, writers, etc.). I am an MBA candidate at Boston University and hope to pursue a career in executive leadership in the performing arts.