An Artist's Journey


An Artist's Journey

By Brooklyn Presta

Through the years, Arts-FI has not only impacted communities from New York to Kansas, it’s also left a meaningful mark on the lives of each artist. Performing with the group is one constant during years of rapid change and personal milestones – everything from graduations, new friendships, jobs, and engagements. Here, several of the artists share their stories.  

Maria Im

Violinist Maria Im was one of the first members of Arts-FI, signing up immediately after talking to Kristen about a wild idea for a project she had. As if performing and traveling for the last several months weren’t keeping her busy enough, Maria also recently got engaged!

On her favorite part of performing with Arts-FI
There's such an immense amount of respect and unity in the group. I've never experienced a situation where a group of such strong, independent, and talented artists bonded immediately and worked off one another with a natural rhythm. I love working with the high school students we meet and seeing the shift of attitudes and interest as we spend more time with them.

What she’s learned along the way
The students taught me to push forward when someone may seem to be uninterested. When you really invest in those individuals when they seem to be the most disconnected, that's when there's the biggest breakthrough.

The biggest rewards
Being able to be a part of something that betters the community and society through our work with the students and presenting a work of truly creative and unique ideas has been an incredible experience. 

Kyle Weiler

This will be dancer Kyle Weiler’s third year performing and working with Arts-FI. He also recently graduated from The Julliard School with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance in May 2016! This summer, Kyle worked as an actor and apprentice at Theatre Aspen in Colorado. 

A whirlwind summer
[At theater Aspen], I performed in two shows (almost 60 performances!) and understudied the one man play Buyer and Cellar. During my time there, I choreographed a musical and helped create and perform in an evening showcase with my fellow apprentices. I also hiked a lot and met amazing people. 

Learning to listen
With Arts-FI, I’ve learned the importance of truly listening to the group and each individual before responding. Listening before responding is fundamental in any group, but when working with such motivated, accomplished artists, it is beyond imperative because you don't want to miss anything. You never know who will contribute the next wonderful idea. 

Arts-FI is a common thread each year
I like that Arts-Fi has been a wonderful constant the past three years. I adore the people so much. It has been a joy watching everyone's life and career unfold, to share in the victories, and to help each other during the difficult chapters. I respect and trust each one of them, and working with those two things is incredibly rewarding.

Cleo Person

Dancer Cleo Person has been an artistic member since the organization was founded in 2013. She recently graduated from The Julliard School and is embarking on life post-college! The lifestyle change also opens up some time for playing soccer again, a favorite hobby. 

Surprises from the community
Other people’s connection to what we’re trying to create always surprises me. If we’re being true in our art making, other people's connection to it is really just a signifier of their connection to their own humanity. And yet it always tends to strike me in a powerful way when some audience member or participant from a workshop gives us feedback that they felt something really strong and directly related to their own personal experience because of what we’ve created. 

Returning each year
It’s incredible to recognize that the way we can collaborate and share with each other though poetry and our art creates a space for us to continually learn more about ourselves and our experiences as human beings. I think this has also been the most rewarding aspect of my involvement with Arts-FI and why I want to return each year. 

Tiare Keeno

Tiare Keeno, a dancer, is staring her second year as an artistic member. This spring, she graduated from The Julliard School and was also offered a two-year contract with MGM Productions to be a part of a new show being created in Macau, China in 2017! 

During a serious time of planning for the future…
It's a real treat to come together with Arts-FI and have the freedom to simply play and create! Even with the responsibilities of our performances, workshops, and events, we continue to approach everything with so much passion and love for the arts so nothing feels like a burden, but rather a luxury that we can indulge ourselves in while continuing to grow as artists. 

Continually learning from the workshops
I'm always so excited to see what the students have to say. I'm continuously learning from what they share and I love hearing from their different perspectives. It's thrilling for me to see that moment when their eyes light up because they understand something in a poem or when they open up and begin to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment. 



Jake Nelson

A baritone singer and actor, Jake has been with Arts-FI since the very beginning.

Seeing students light up
I love when students’ eyes spark when they're learning something exciting. Our group has an incredible knack for opening minds up.

The energy of each year
Every year has a renewed energy because all or our artists go out into the world and soak up information – they return to bring forward the piece we choose [for our summer tour] into a new light. All of our years of intense training collide to make something beautiful.


More to come: new artists help Arts-FI continue to evolve

This season, Arts-FI welcomes two new artistic members, visual artist Valeria Lombo and cellist Nathan Chan. Nathan is thrilled to join his colleagues in multiple works featuring the cello and piano, as well as chamber music for piano trio and voice. “I've always believed in the power of learning about other disciplines in order to bring new ideas and perspectives into your own,” Nathan says. “Arts-FI captures this philosophy so amazingly by involving so many artistic worlds: music, dance, acting, spoken word, and the visual arts. “ Introduced by former artistic member and cellist Colin Stokes, Nathan is a seamless addition to the talent and passion driving Arts-FI, approaching the upcoming Kansas Tour with excitement and an open mind. 


Nathan’s ultimate goal to unify communities with the arts perfectly sums up Arts-FI’s guiding mission. “I think the most amazing thing about the communities we live in is that there are always advocates and activists for anything. I think our goal as artists should be to recognize where there are possible intersection points between any two communities and bring them together via projects. “


Meet Composer Sam Reising


Meet Composer Sam Reising

Written By: Sam Reising

Helloooooo, Kansas! My name is Sam Reising and I’m the composer working with ArtsFI this year. There is nothing quite like ArtsFI, and I am honored I was asked to contribute music for their latest project and that I get to collaborate with these amazing artists. I am so happy they will be able to bring this project to you to experience firsthand--it is quite remarkable.

I am definitely a planner, and as such, most of my compositional process is actually a lot of planning before I actually write any music. Vocal music adds an interesting wrinkle into this process where I am provided with source material I did not create: the text. That means that before I can write any music, I first need to digest and understand the poem I am setting, including its structure, meter, and theme. This deep analysis is incredibly rewarding for me as a composer, because once I get started writing the music most of the elements of the piece are derived directly from the text itself. The connection that emerges between text and music is one of the many reasons why I love writing vocal music.

As I analyzed “The Sleepers” I realized that the poem is, at its most general level, a compelling exploration of humanity. The poem begins as the narrator is transported across many and varied souls, eventually focusing in on the stories of several particular people told throughout the main sections of the poem. The stories all vary in length, subject matter, and viewpoint, though the narrator maintains a consistent voice. The poem soon takes a step back from the vignettes to reveal the broader emphasis that whatever gender, race, class, or other disposition one is, we are collectively still all the same--we are all human. As Whitman says, “The soul is always beautiful.”

Despite the poem’s length and complexity, during my analysis I was instantly drawn to two juxtaposed sections that dealt with polar opposite subjects: love and hate. In the first, the narrator recounts a story their mother told them of when a red squaw visited her parents’ homestead. The red squaw did not stay long, but the mother quickly came to love the squaw’s beauty and grace. After the squaw left, the mother continued to hope that one day she would return. Although the squaw never did return to the homestead, the memory of her always remained with the mother.

The second section which immediately follows the red squaw portion of the poem recounts a slave’s hatred for his master. The section boils over with contempt for and indictments against the slave owner. Slavery was certainly a touchy subject when the poem was first published in 1855, which is why it is quite remarkable this passage appears in the original edition of The Leaves of Grass (though it was removed in subsequent editions).

Writing the music for these two very distinct and unique moments in “The Sleepers” was a lot of fun and a very organic process. A lot of what you will hear is derived both directly from the poem and from simple harmonic progressions overlayed with each other (even the more cacaphonous moments of the piece).

Working on this project with this group of artists has been one of the most rewarding collaborations I have ever had. I can’t wait for you to see and hear what ArtsFI is putting together around “The Sleepers,” and to hear my piece in the context of everything else.


Meet Cellist Nathan Chan


Meet Cellist Nathan Chan

WRITTEN BY: Nathan Chan

Hi everybody! My name is Nathan Chan and it gives me enormous pleasure to share with all of you that I will be joining the Arts Fusion Initiative as your cellist this year! A huge reason why I am so excited to be a part of ArtsFi is because of how transformative and informative my encounters with other disciplines have informed the way I view and create music. This vision is at the core of ArtsFi and this year’s project is sure to be an amazing one.

My musical life started when I was 3, through the art of conducting. As a child born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, my parents would put on LaserDiscs (the older ancestor to the DVD) featuring conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. Using a chopstick as a baton, I would do my best in emulating these legends who became my musical heroes. 

Soon after, I began my formal musical career with the cello when I was 5 years old. My love for sharing my passion has only grown from then. One of the most life changing experiences I ever had was the opportunity to record a Beatles cover album with the legendary soul singer Roberta Flack. As a classically trained musician, I had never played any form of pop music; to be swept into her musical world changed the way I think about all art. It made me a more receptive citizen of our artistic world and I feel my experience with ArtsFi will change me as well.

This year, we are going to be performing reflections on the great American composer Walt Whitman’s “The Sleepers”, first published in 1855 yet continuously revised until his death. The poem explores the identities and stories of people and family through the landscape of one’s dreams. I interpret it as exploration of humanity itself and the necessity for empathy we need in order to delve into the subconscious and life. It is so alive and real at moments whilst deeply dark and penetrating in others. 

A poem like this enables the capacity and the opportunity to take it in many directions. I am so eager to explore new pieces of music for me like the Poulenc Cello Sonata, which has one of the most beautiful openings in the cello literature. Or soar with the breathtaking third movement of the Ravel Piano Trio, which most certainly exhibit the qualities of stillness that occur during sleeps and dreams. 

I am equally eager to discover how dance and visual elements will fold into the images we portray. For example, ArtsFi dancers Cleo Person and Kyle Weiler are colleagues and friends from The Juilliard School; I have been so lucky to see their crafts in person. They are truly amazing artists that exhibit their creations with absolute integrity, affection and creativity in its purest forms. 

I am so excited to meet all of you who will be participating in the workshops and attending the concerts in Garden City and Lawrence. I know my inaugural year with ArtsFi will be an absolute blast. I can’t wait!


Visual Artist: Valeria Lombo


Visual Artist: Valeria Lombo

Written By: Valeria Lombo


I’m a storyteller and I’ve been creative and passionate about design all of my life. After finishing my BA in Film, I specialized in motion graphics and video compositing, working mostly for cultural and educational projects in my hometown. I had the great opportunity to work on educational videos for the Gold Museum in Bogotá, and create a video an introductory video for The Planetarium. Aside from these projects I developed an enthusiastic interest in drawing and printmaking, which led me to take the most daunting risk I’ve ever taken… to come to NYC for a Master’s in Fine Art. 

My experience here has been fantastic and I’ve greatly evolved both as a visual artist and as a person. There’s nothing that brings more happiness to my life than meeting inspiring people and sharing my experience. Working with ArtsFI has been a privilege, allowing me to expand the impact of my work; and connect with artists and communities that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I believe that projects that engage communities through art truly effect a positive change in the world.

I’ve loved Walt Whitman since Leaves of Grass (1855) and was deeply moved with The Sleepers, because it’s about empathy and trust. The uncertainty of life and trusting in that which one cannot predict is a subject that obsesses me. How can I put such feeling into a visual experience? I thought about compassion and faith. Whitman recognizes us as the same while we’re sleeping, while we’re vulnerable and unconscious -while all of our thinking models are suspended, and we’re merely flesh and bones housing a calm spirit. I played Chopin and draw for hours, emptying myself from the fear of the unknown and evoking the unraveling of darkness.

Initial sketch

Initial sketch

First I visualized the image for The Sleepers in black and white, but life is more complex than a binary. My objective was to represent our differences in shapes and colors, but stating at the same time that we’re essentially the same. I thought about balance, and I’ve been maintaining it throughout the visuals and design; a balance between light and dark, emptiness and fullness, uncertainty and security. 

I, as Whitman, had however to differentiate myself from the rest. I’m taking the position of the watcher, the narrator, the third person, the witness. That’s when the blue color came in (check out the show for the final version!). I wanted to represent a presence flowing with everything else, participating in everything as a wanderer; as I actually feel; somebody that can connect with everyone but doesn’t belong, that is just passing by, a foreigner.


ArtsFI & NYU: Softening into our Humanity, Together


ArtsFI & NYU: Softening into our Humanity, Together


Written by: Cleo Person
Dancer | Choreographer

Arts Fusion Initiative’s first professional development workshop with faculty members of NYU’s school of nursing - June 2nd, 2016

We recently facilitated a professional development workshop of sorts for faculty at the NYU School of Nursing as an exploration into our inkling that the artistic work we do might be a source of transferable values that can reach beyond people in the performing arts; our shared idealism had led us to believe that art can be the seed of possibility for deepening connections within the often isolated human experience. We approached our workshop with the nursing faculty not with any concrete set of objectives to teach, but instead with a curiosity about whether by welcoming non-arts people into our method of collaborative artistic creation, we might be able to create a space for others to experience the same vulnerability, and therefore authenticity and connection with our own humanity, that we strive to find in our work every day.

We were slightly trepidatious because this was our first major experiment of this kind, but the six hours we spent at NYU seemed, by all accounts, to be a transformational launch with a profound impact on everyone in the room.

We based the workshop structure on our own multi-disciplinary collaborative process. To create our concert works of music, dance, and theater elements, we seed our creation process with a central text, which for us has always been a poem, and which gives us a shared world to dive into together. To find a way in, we create a space for ourselves to find and discuss individual interpretations fueled by our distinct life experiences and aesthetic perspectives. We engage in a layering method, whereby we begin to chose music selections and create choreography reflective of our own individual takes on the text, and ultimately work to weave these diverse viewpoints into a cohesive concert experience representative of all our our perspectives.

I became overwhelmed by the wisdom that began to pour from these people, many of whom it became clear had lived full and intense lives...

As we moved into one large group, encouraging volunteer readers to step up as we paid sensitive attention to their vocal inflections and the new meaning it created, we felt the group had become cohesive enough to invite them to join us in the process of layering in music and movement choices. The rest of the workshop flowed forth as an improvisation in intuitive choice making. We had not predetermined any time frames for how long to spend with each text before moving on, or how many possibilities of sound and staging could emerge in the experiment. As such, we moved forward in much the same way as we drive our own lives forward- armed with knowledge we’ve gained, yet committed to the inspiration of the moment, and open to the inherent risk of an unknown, not preordained future. In this meaty part of the workshop, our own engagement with the moment’s inspiration as workshop leaders required a level of openness to learning and readiness for outcomes that couldn’t have been predetermined, and in doing so, seemed to fully level the field between workshop leaders and participants.


As we continued on, I was struck more and more vigorously by the bravery and rawness the participants allowed to come over and out of themselves. I became overwhelmed by the wisdom that began to pour from these people, many of whom it became clear had lived full and intense lives, just by the inflections that creeped into their voices. It seemed as if rivers of experience which may have been dammed up to some extent for years suddenly rushed forth. By the end, as the whole group stood in a circle on stage (again, not a pre-planned activity, but something that seemed in the moment simply must occur,) together saying the last stanza of the poem, everyone unanimously put down the paper from which we had been reading. It seemed like the most momentous collective action, uniting us in a total way.

We requested feedback from our participants at the end of the session, and were floored by their responses. One man, who had had a sort of gruff way about him at the beginning of the day told everyone he felt as if “he had softened.” Another gentleman told us “he thought he hated poetry, until today, when he realized how many ways and approaches there could be into it.” He said that he had felt his spirit elevated by the inclusion of classical music and dance, and many voiced that they were grateful above all that our innovative workshop hadn’t been made up of a power point presentation. That, it appears, was the greatest value of the workshop: it happened in much the opposite way of a power point presentation- a medium which conveys information in only one direction, and has no ability to listen and accommodate the response that comes from its audience. The experience of the day instead had removed the boundary between teacher and student, demonstrator and participant almost entirely, and seemed to have power only because of the growth of a new organism that included all voices in the room.

... I’ve fully come to believe that in places where the deepest necessary conversations are lacking or where it becomes too easy to fall into the regimented mindsets that govern our everyday lives, engaging with each other through our common language of the arts brings the possibility of transformative connection.

The workshop seems truly like something that could be shared in countless varieties only as long as it continues to evolve with the individuals present, not something that could be reproduced as a mold and sold in the spirit of an industrialist product-based economy. After this experience, I’ve fully come to believe that in places where the deepest necessary conversations are lacking or where it becomes too easy to fall into the regimented mindsets that govern our everyday lives, engaging with each other through our common language of the arts brings the possibility of transformative connection. This space of connection, I believe, is where we find meaning in our lives.




Arts FI on KSN

Arts FI Highlight on KSN NEWS by Molly Brewer

It was such a wonderful turn of events to have Molly Brewer approach us to do a story on KSN! Molly came to experience one of workshops at GCHS today. A special thanks to Molly Brewer for covering our work in Garden City. 

Click on the image for the online story!


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Spotlight On: Garden City, KS, Community

Accomplishing a successful Artist Residency would be impossible without the support, encouragement, and participation of the Garden City, Kansas, community. During their busy two weeks, ArtsFI artists are getting the chance to meet and work with everyone from teachers and students to community foundations and local businesses. One teacher actively involved in the residency workshops is Jane Vanderhoff, vocal music instructor for Garden City High School. Jane is overseeing the interactive classes involving choir, orchestra, and theater instruction led by the artists. For high school students who don't get many opportunities to see live art performances, she believes working with ArtsFI is opening students' eyes to the powerful communication between the performer and the artist.

The biggest obstacle we have out here is our isolation. It isn’t possible for our kids to drop in on a college orchestra or see a ballet. But nothing can replace the vitality of a live performance. These workshops, this is the opportunity for students. It’s the perfect venue for bringing out their creativity.
— Jane Vanderhoff, vocal music instructor, Garden City High School

The high schoolers are excited, too. Students have been staying late for extra rehearsals in preparation for a joint performance with ArtsFi this Friday, August 28th. "We're going to pack the house this Friday," Jane said. "This is an eye-opener for the community. It's not just a dream to go on to the professional level as an artist; it's a reality."

ArtsFI member and dancer Cleo Person has experienced incredible support from the area and can already see the impact on individual students. "I witnessed students make gigantic increases in personal confidence, strengthen their belief in their own ideas and opinions, and become more educated, passionate supporters of artistic expression over the course of the four days I had with them," she said. For Cleo, it can be challenging to get high schoolers to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. "It was inspiring to watch students conquer that challenge and set wonderful examples for each other as they bravely stood up to share their own interpretations," she said. The art students embraced the workshops, listening and responding to each other's ideas and experiences. 

This possibility that an aspiring musician from Southwest Kansas has the potential and capability to follow in Kristen’s footsteps gives hope and drive to students who dream to make the arts and music their career. Because of this experience, students can attend and participate in the workshops and think, “if she can do it, then so can I.
— Melissa Gallegos, Western Kansas Community Foundation

Outside the high school, many professional organizations contributed to help make ArtsFI's workshops and performances possible. The Western Kansas Community Foundation (WKCF), whose mission is to enhance the quality of life in Western Kansas, awarded grants to ArtsFI for both their 2014 and 2015 Garden City trips. Melissa Gallegos, program officer for WKCF, sees ArtsFI as an exceptional opportunity for Garden City to experience the arts. Melissa is receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from locals. "It's a hands-on approach to encourage students to keep pursuing their dream," she said. "ArtsFI is sending a message that literally anyone, from anywhere, who has passion and drive, can fulfill their heart's desire."

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Upcoming Live Music with ArtsFi


Upcoming Live Music with ArtsFi


Our first official event in Garden City will be this coming Sunday at the Clarion Inn. From 11:00 am to 1:30 pm you can enjoy the delicious buffet at Samy's. Following brunch you can head directly to the Conference Center at the Clarion Inn for an hour-long classical performance with Kristen, Maria, Jake and Colin! Tickets are available for advance purchase at the Clarion Inn Front Desk. Remember...SEATING IS LIMITED!

Featured above is our digital flyer. You can click through the flyer for more details on the event (and even zoom in)! 

Brunch + Performance Ticket Price
$25 (Adult) for food and music!
Child: 1 Free admittance per one Adult Ticket purchase

Performance Only Ticket Price
$15 (Adult) at the door -- Cash only
$5 (Child) at the door -- Cash only

As ArtsFi will be in Garden City for two whole weeks, we are hoping to connect with the community through a variety of performance experiences. Our Sunday Brunch concert will feature the four musicians; our violinist, cellist, pianist and vocalist. Each concert is designed to give you a different experience, so no two events are alike!

Stay tuned for more updates on the next ArtsFi appearance in Garden City!



Meet our Creative Team


ArtsFI is grateful to have one of the best creative teams around. Get to know our photographer, graphic designer, and videographer here! 

Jiyang Chen

Photographer Jiyang Chen worked on the artist’s individual headshots, outdoor portraits, and took photos of the group at The Juilliard School. Jiyang also captured the 2014 Kansas Tour, traveling with the artists throughout their trip.

What sparked you to work with ArtsFI?

I first met Kristen when she hired me to get her headshots taken, and eventually she decided to share with me her ideas for her project which really intrigued me, the idea of the synthesis of these different art forms in a continuous and flowing work.  I figured there was a way to get creative with everyone and working with the interplay between the beauty of New York and the artist was something that really captivated me.  

What’s your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?

I like being in control of the process from beginning to end, and seeing the final product on the computer screen and having input to the last detail is something I don’t have in music.  I like working with people and seeing a moment in time instilled in a photograph.  My least favorite is when you started photographing a lot of the same things and you lose a spark in creativity and growth, which happens sometimes when you shoot standard headshots against a plain grey background.  The idea of becoming a better version of yourself from day to day is important to me, and being stuck in the process without variety is draining.

Any advice you'd give an aspiring photographer?

Never stop learning.  There is such a wealth of information available online, whether it’s blogs, YouTube videos, or workshops from master photographers.  Be humble and learn from everyone.  You should be doing it because you love it, and with that you will naturally want to seek out all all that is available out there.  Take lots of photos, look at the light, and learn from your mistakes.  Make lots of mistakes, as it’s the only way to get better.  If you are not failing at times, you’re not doing it right.


Jess Saesue

Graphic designer Jessica Sausue works closely with Kristen to create Arts-FI’s visual presence, including the logo.

What made you want to be a graphic designer? 

I love that design is all around us, It’s the “connector” between things. To me design is about solving problems. Whether that translates into tangible objects like the clothes we wear or intangible things like design systems (for the web , phones, or in the cloud), they all have a shared purpose of solving a particular problem that links to users. I’ve very interested in that relationship.

Can you describe your goals for the visual elements you've designed for ArtsFI?

My goal was to tackle each project with simplicity and bring some fun into it. The work that I’ve done embodies a balance of sophistication and directness that gets the point across quickly because I want the context to speak for itself. Working with Jiyang’s photography has been amazing because they’re beautiful and I don’t want to divert from that.  

What are your hobbies outside of your creative work?

I love exploring the city and the joy of eating good food. I always travel outside the states or the country at least once a year. I have a love-hate relationship with New York like all New Yorkers do– planning an escape and a return. 


Andy LaViolette

Videographer Andy LaViolette is the man behind the camera for performances and events, bringing the artists’ work and personalities to live on screen.

How long have you been a professional photographer and what kinds of projects do you work on?

My wife and I started our company in 2006 in Denton, Texas.  Our work these days has been incredibly rewarding creatively.  Most of our time is spent creating films or web content for bands and musicians.  Music is what initially launched our company because of the amazing people I met while getting my degree in jazz guitar at the University of North Texas.  However, we also have published documentary films and are currently in production on a film we wrote and directed in the narrative genre and expect to be doing much more of that in the future.

How did you find out about Arts-FI?

 I met ArtsFI through Maria Im, a talented violinist I met in New York while filming various projects for musicians I work with in that area.  Maria told me about the project and I was very moved to hear the good things that ArtsFI is doing for the young, up and coming artists.  Art in many different facets has been a constant source of support, inspiration, and drive in my own life and I don't think American schools as a whole put enough emphasis on teaching it.  When an organization such as this takes it upon itself to help give young people quality educational experiences with artistic professionals, I feel our culture and society benefit by these newly enlightened youths.

What inspires your work or motivates you the most?

I'm inspired by people that overcome adversity.  If I ever get discouraged in my career path, I think of people who have much more serious problems in their lives as a reminder that life isn't always as serious as we make it out to be.  We only have a few basic necessities we need to survive; if my family and myself have those needs met then it's okay to take a breath and relax.  On a more simple level I am very moved by the medium of film and watch movies or scripted content almost everyday while analyzing them to understand technically what I like about their execution and delivery.  



Jessica Saesue

Jiyang Chen Photography

Mr. Magic Carpet Ride Productions




Behind the Scenes with Brooklyn Presta

Brooklyn Presta: Director of Communications and Social Media

Featured here: Kristen Presta (one of our Board Members) and her daughter, Brooklyn Presta. 

I'm not sure if you all know this, but Brooklyn Presta and I grew up across the street from each other in Garden City, Kansas, on Wheatridge Road! From playing hide-and-go-seek and riding bikes to New York City, it has been so wonderful to reconnect and begin to collaborate on this project. I am so grateful that Brooklyn has come on board with ArtsFi! We are lucky to have her time and talents helping connect you to all the happenings with ArtsFi. Take a minute to get to know Brooklyn Presta!

What do you do for a living in New York and what is your favorite thing to do in the city when you can?

I work in digital marketing at New York Magazine, promoting our websites for the magazine and its sister brands Vulture, The Cut, and Grub Street. Whenever I can, I love to explore new neighborhoods in the city, and I try to experience museums and restaurants I've never been to as often as possible. One of my favorite routes to take when a friend or family member is visiting is to stroll through the Brooklyn Flea or Smorgasburg by the water front, take the East River ferry into DUMBO, and then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into the city. So many beautiful sights! 

How did you learn about ArtsFI and what made you want to be involved?

Kristen and I have known each other all of our lives and were even next door neighbors as kids. It was pretty amazing when we both ended up in New York after college and could spend more time together. She told me about ArtsFI when it launched -- needless to say, I was blown away by the talent of the artists and the mission they carry out. I thought it would be a great chance to help out and work on my marketing skills, so I reached out to Kristen about becoming more involved. She was supportive right away! 

How do you feel about the performing arts and education?

Exposure to the arts is essential for a meaningful education, and I also think you can never be too old to learn about or try a new art form. No matter what medium speaks to you the most, I think art inspires you to think differently, allows you to express yourself, and makes you more open minded and accepting of others. 

Do you have any goals as the head of Communications and Social media?

My goals for the role include posting thoughtful, informative, and fun stories on the blog and creating an engaging series of posts for Facebook. I imagine that my goals will evolve as time goes on as well! 

What is the most interesting aspect about ArtsFi to you?

I love that poetry sparks so many different interpretations from the ArtsFI artists and the audience gets to see these come to life. The amount of community outreach that the artists do in New York and Kansas is inspiring, too. 



Artist Profile

Tiare Keeno: Dance & Choreography

We have a new artist joining ArtsFi - Everyone, meet Tiare Keeno!

Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Spanish Forks, Utah. 

What is your discipline and where do you go to school and what year?
 I study dance at Juilliard and I’ll be going into my fourth and final year!

What drew you to dance?
I was introduced to dancing even before I could walk and I fell in love with it at an early age. I remember as a child, loving the freedom of movement with my body and learning so many new ways to express myself by creating different shapes.

Where do you hope dance and Juilliard will  take you?
Ultimately, I would like to dance professionally in a contemporary company after I graduate in 2016. But dance is always something that makes me so happy no matter where I am, so as long as I am continuing to feel that joy throughout my career, I’ll be one happy girl. 

How did you first learn about ArtsFi?
I first heard about ArtsFi through one of our music teachers at Juilliard and after reading about the project, I applied! 

What made you want to be involved with ArtsFi?
When I was reading the mission statement for this project, I was so inspired by the ideas that Kristen had, not only expose young students to the arts, but to provide an environment where their creativity can be nurtured and encouraged. It also got me excited to be given the opportunity to meet, work along side, and collaborate with other Juilliard students of various disciplines. I think it’s one of the coolest things to bring different communities together and create something so unique and magical within the world of performing arts!

Have you ever been to Kansas before and what do you think it will be like?
The only time I’ve been to Kansas was when I was driving with my family to Texas. We literally drove right through it! But I’ve never really gotten to experience Kansas, so I’m very excited to be spending a whole two weeks there! I am so pumped regardless because I know we’ll have an amazing time!


Up Close and Personal with Cellist, Colin Stokes


Up Close and Personal with Cellist, Colin Stokes

This video interview took place last year before our final performance at the Folly Theater, in Kansas City, Missouri. It is wonderful to hear what the project looks like from Colin's perspective! I am so grateful he is looking forward to coming back to Kansas for the Artist Residency Garden City August 17-August 29!



Thank You to Our Corporate Sponsors!


As the artists gear up for their two-week Garden City residency, it's important to acknowledge and thank the generous sponsors who are helping to make it possible. We are grateful for the sponsorship support of several members of the Garden City community. Read on to get to know them a little better. 

George Hopkins -  Drs. Hopkins, Hopkins and Ackerman Optometrist, LLC

George is the Senior Optometrist at Drs. Hopkins, Hopkins and Ackerman Optometrist, LLC

What made you want to be more involved with Arts-FI, specifically?

Even as important as the arts can be to a culture or a community or even an individual life, it is shadowed by the obligation we all have in nurturing the relationships and supporting the actions of those who are capable and, more importantly, willing to pass on the gift of art to future generations.  It is primarily because of Kristen’s efforts that we happily are involved.

Would you like to see the arts community grow in Garden City?

I would like to see the arts, in our community and elsewhere in the world, receive a fighting chance to exist and influence all of our lives.

Jeff Whitham - Western State Bank

Jeff is Co-Owner of Western State Bank. 

What other community organizations are you involved with? What are your favorite activities outside of work?

I have spent a fair amount of time working with our YMCA and St. Catherine Hospital.  The Y makes our community more enjoyable and is focused on services for kids.  Our hospital makes it easier to live here.

I like to read, fly, work with my wife in our lawn and garden and work on our family farm.  I am starting to fiddle around making things with wood-probably because I like the tools involved.

Why do you think arts education is important?

All children, at a fairly young age, should encounter many different types of arts activities.  I was surprised at a young age to realize my next youngest brother was  good at drawing.  That expanded to small sculptures and composing photographs.  I think a teacher in grade school got him started.  He may have found his way to those mediums on his own, eventually, but he got there sooner and probably with less frustration with a little help.

Doug Keller - KellerLeopold Insurance

Doug is the President of KellerLeopold Insurance. 

How would you describe your role at KellerLeopold?

I wear many hats, but my favorite part of the job is working with our current customers and prospects providing transfer of risk insurance programs.

Are you involved as a sponsor or mentor for other community organizations?

We are active, supporting many projects we believe are important to the quality of life in the area we serve.

Richard Harp - Commerce Bank

Richard is a Bank Representative at Commerce Bank. 

How would you describe your experience with Arts-FI so far?

I attended the performance last year at the high school and enjoyed every minute. I liked the variety of the performers from Julliard and the fact the performance was available for all ages to experience in Western Kansas. 

What inspired you to support the artists?

We support the arts because it’s enjoyable to our staff, families and friends. We also like how it challenges young people to use their unrealized talents to be successful. It builds self confidence in the earlier years of students and allows them to excel as they see positive results from their hard work.

Troy Nanniga

Troy is the President and Owner of Western Motor. 

How did you first learn about Arts-FI? What made you want to be more involved? 

We are always excited about art & culture being brought into Garden City and try to support it in any way we can not just for the benefit of our family but for the whole community.

What do you enjoy most about Arts-FI performances?

We have attended a couple of the local Arts-FI events. The larger community event was so unique and the talent was just amazing! Our kids as well as many other young people were able to meet and be inspired by the artists. We feel this is so important for our community.

"I hope that the exposure to this level of talent and art will inspire young and old to pursue, support and nurture the arts in our community."

- Troy Nanniga, Western Motor

Mike Lansdon - Lansdon & Company

Mike is Member/Owner of the CPA firm Lansdon & Company. 

How did you learn about Arts-FI?

I first learned about Arts-FI from Kristen's father, Mike Doering, and because of our long relationship. Kristen's endeavor needed our support and we wanted to act as a sponsor. 

How do you think the arts fit in our every day lives and in education?

I think an education requires exposure to the various disciplines


The artists look forward to seeing the sponsors at this month's performances! 




Artist Residency in Garden City, KS


It's a very exciting time for Arts-FI as they gear up for a two week residency in Garden City, Kansas, next month. All of the artists will reunite in Kristen's hometown, where the community is eager to see them again. The artists will have a chance to collaborate with teachers and faculty at the local high school, middle school, and Steps Dance School to share their unique passions and expertise. Capping it off will be three events featuring performances from the Arts-FI members. 

Kristen is excited to build upon the incredible experiences of last year's visit to Kansas and to spend more time with the students. "The Artist Residency in Garden City is an exploration of our own unique take on educational outreach and the arts. The teachers we are working with have graciously allowed me creative liberty to design and try out workshops during those two weeks," she said. "My goals for this residency are really about learning from the students, what interests them and how we can make connections between those interests and the arts."

When I get these ambitious ideas, somehow, the real thing always changes and is better than I first imagined, which is a great way to go about this project.
— Kristen, Executive & Artistic Director

"I am most excited to get to know these high school students and to experience the direct result of our project within the community," Kristen said. "In a way I have taken on a certain amount of risk because I do not know the outcome of every aspect of our residency, but this leaves room for people to actually collaborate and create together, which really excites me." The artists are hoping to motivate students and, in turn, the residency in Garden City with help them grow closer as a group and will spark their own creativity. 

It'll be a busy two weeks with most of the artists' time spent working with the local students, preparing for the concerts, and rehearsing. The inspiration for Arts-FI's three performances is a poem that expressly challenges each individual to be inspired, alive, and passionate. It's a perfect poem for exploring dreams and ideas, which is central to Arts-FI and each of the artists. 


Full Event Schedule

August 23: The Clarion Inn Conference Center: Brunch + Performance, $25 ticket for both

August 28: Garden City High School Auditorium: A combined presentation by High School Students with the artists of Arts-FI

August 29: The Clarion Inn Conference Center: Chamber of Commerce Wine Tasting Event



After the residency, the artists will return to New York. Some will finish their final year of study at The Julliard School of Music, while others will work on freelance projects and performances. "My biggest goal for this fall is to find the next poem, to feel the spark of excitement when I find "the poem" and get a glimpse of my first vision," Kristen said. The next tour will be on the artists' minds, too. We'll keep you updated here on the blog. 

Donate now to help Arts-FI cover expenses of the two week residency in Garden City, Kansas, and fund future performances. We truly appreciate your continued support!



Poetry as Inspiration

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”  

- Emile Zola

Poetry can speak to us in different ways. For Arts-FI, it's the inspiration and story behind every performance. To recognize how poetry, and every form of it, can bring meaning to us all the time, we'll be posting our favorite poems and quotes here on the blog and on Facebook

Here's a poem helping us stay motivated to make it through the rest of the week! 

Life is an opportunity; benefit from it.
Life is a beauty; admire it.
Life is a dream; realize it.
Life is a challenge; meet it.
Life is a duty; complete it.
Life is a game; play it.
Life is a promise; fulfill it.
Life is sorrow; overcome it.
Life is a song; sing it.
Life is a struggle; accept it.
Life is a tragedy; confront it.
Life is an adventure; dare it.
Life is luck; make it.
Life is life; fight for it!

- Mother Theresa





Welcome to the new ArtsFI Board Members!

Jake Cunningham, Melinda Hitz, and Kristen Presta join the ArtsFI community

As ArtsFI continues to expand its mission, the time came to create a board of directors to help make it all happen. Kristen Doering will head up the board as President, and she is happy to welcome members Jake Cunningham, Vice President, Melinda Hitz, Treasurer, and Kristen Presta, Secretary. “I could not be more excited to work with these individuals,” Doering said. “The vision of the project has always been built on personal connections and community.”

Each of the board members is personally connected to Kristen and ArtsFI; Jake, Melinda, and Kristen Presta have all made a huge impact with everything from housing the artists during the 2014 Kansas Tour to assisting with grant applications. Combining forces, the board members will use each of their areas of expertise to help make not only ArtsFI’s performances this August a success but all future programs, too.

“My hope for the board is that they continue to find fulfillment in creating opportunities for their community to experience the arts, to see this project have a direct impact on the community, especially the students, and to feel the power of shared experiences in the arts,” Kristen said. Read on to get to know our incredible board members a little better:

Jake Cunningham, Vice President


How would you describe your role on the board?

My official title is Vice President.  My role on the board includes broad oversight of ArtsFI’s financial and organizational operation, ensuring that the bylaws are followed and amended if necessary, and evaluating and assisting the Director in her management of ArtsFI.

What are your goals as a board member for ArtsFI?

My biggest goal as a board member of ArtsFI is to see the organization succeed and provide youth with an unforgettable experience that will either embolden them to pursue a career in the arts, or teach them to have an appreciation for the arts.

If you could be any famous artist, who would you be and why?

I am not sure I would want to be any artist, as I enjoy being myself; however, I would love the opportunity to have coffee with Martin Scorsese and/or Johnny Carson.  Scorsese has produced some of my all-time favorite films and Carson, provided he were still alive, could tell stories for days.

Melinda Hitz, Treasurer

How did you find out about AftsFI?

Kristen Doering has been a long- time friend of our children Kristen and Jack Hitz. I have watched her grown up into a very talented and charming woman and enjoy our friendship.

What are your hobbies and other projects that you're involved in?

I work full time as Garden City, Kansas’s Finance Director so I do not have a lot of time for outside activities. I do make time almost every day to exercise and wind down in the evening walking our dog, Dallas. Watching golf and maybe even swinging a golf club. Of course, vacations are a must.

If you could be any famous artist, who would you be and why?

I wish I could play the guitar and sing at the same time like Sheryl Crow. Her music always makes me smile.

Kristen Presta, Secretary

What made you want to be more involved with ArtsFi?

Kristen Doering’s enthusiasm for educating others in the arts is contagious and has inspired me to become more involved.

Do you think arts education is important for everyone?

Arts education is important for a student's development as a cultured, humane individual. Studies have also shown that knowledge in the arts can help with confidence, boost critical thinking and can provide encouragement to be more engaged in school, thus contributing to a student's overall happiness. 

What are you hoping to accomplish as a board member for ArtsFI?

My biggest goal is to be a voice for ArtsFI and help this community bring awareness to the arts.

So much more to come

Each board member has already made a huge impact with their support, encouragement, and willingness to pitch in. “I believe the arts can spark creativity and imagination in any direction,” Doering said. “My greatest hope is that the board will be inspired in their own lives by their connection to this project.”






I just got back from an exciting three-week stay in Abu Dhabi, UAE. While I was there I had the opportunity to perform with three wonderful Oud players at Beit al Oud, the Arabic music conservatory, work with the cello students at NYU-Abu Dhabi, and learn some Oud myself. Back in New York, life is busy! On May 2nd alone, Arts Fusion Initiative's Lincoln Center residency brought us to the Bronx to perform Into the Sun, and later that evening I performed with the jazz quartet Petros Klampanis Group at Subculture in Greenwich Village. 




Lincoln Center Presents ArtsFI At Casita Maria for Boro-Linc

The gang is back together for an exciting performance at the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education. We're excited to represent The Juilliard School as a part of Lincoln Center's Boro-Linc in the Bronx. We will be performing American Fusion Project: Into The Sun from our successful 2014 Kansas Tour. 

The opportunity to not only take the stage in NYC but to also represent The Juilliard School is a huge honor. We look forward to many more performances here at home and to our August 2015 workshops back in Garden City!

Rehearsing on a Friday night for tomorrow's performance at Casita Maria. 

Rehearsing on a Friday night for tomorrow's performance at Casita Maria. 



Community Spotlight: Wheatridge Girls

Thanks to the Hitz family, the AFP group enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Pho Woa during our time in Garden City. A special thanks to Melinda Hitz for helping to secure grant funding for the project. We wouldn't be here without you Melinda!

The Presta family was very involved with the project. Both families have my sincerest thanks for making the project not only possible, but successful!

(In this post the group is pictured resting in a place provided by the Presta family just before our final show at the Folly Theater. It was an exhausting but inspiring week!) 

On another note, the Hitz and Presta families made a special trip to NYC at the beginning of November to be here for the Master's Recital of Kristen Doering. What a special time, bringing together so many familiar faces here in New York! 




AFP is getting ready for our first performance in Garden City, check out some photos from our rehearsal at the Garden City High School.