Staff Bios by Department
A film, arts, and technology leader with experience in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Christian Gaines has held leadership positions at the Sundance Film Festival, the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, and the American Film Institute. For five years, Gaines ran business development at Withoutabox, a film festival submissions platform acquired by IMDb, a division of Amazon. In 2013, Gaines became executive director of ArtPrize, a disruptive international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During this time, he served as a council member on the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. In January of 2019, Gaines joined WESTAF as its executive director. He serves as vice chair of DisArt and on the board of directors of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Gaines is passionate about bringing opportunities to artists, creating joyful spaces, and inspiring teams to do their best work.
Natalie Scherlong is the strategic plan, executive and board coordinator at WESTAF. She has a background in digital marketing, content creation, social media, and customer service. Her seven-year experience in these fields includes leading a panel alongside the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to showcase the success of its anti-smoking social media campaign. Outside of WESTAF, Natalie enjoys working as a freelance photographer, is committed to giving back to the community through various volunteering efforts, loves spending time with her pets, traveling, and reading.
Web Services for Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
Christina Villa is the director of business at WESTAF. She guides all operational and strategic business initiatives to support the execution of WESTAF’s strategic plan and the short, medium, and long-term objectives of CaFE, CVSuite, GO Smart, Public Art Archive, and ZAPP. Serving as part of WESTAF’s leadership resource team, Villa ensures the business department initiatives and projects complement the overall work of the organization and its guiding principles. Prior to joining WESTAF, she worked with the city of Aurora, Colorado’s Art in Public Places program, and Colorado’s state arts agency, Colorado Creative Industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a leadership development certificate from the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation.
Mareike Bergen serves as the ZAPP manager. She oversees the ZAPP product operations team to ensure customer satisfaction and retention along with technological growth for the ZAPP site. Bergen has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a computer science minor from Bethel College and a background in customer service and event planning. Originally from Kansas, she relocated to Denver after graduating from college. Outside of work, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, and cooking.
Justine Chapel is the communications and support coordinator for CaFÉ. She assists in the creation of external communications and social media strategies, while providing customer support for the CaFÉ team. She received her bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to joining WESTAF, Chapel worked in marketing and member support for the nonprofit organization Denver Bike Sharing. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cooking, and picking up new craft projects.
Ken Cho is the sales coordinator at WESTAF and primarily handles the sales efforts for CaFÉ and ZAPP. He is responsible for all inbound and outside sales initiatives that promote WESTAF’s SaaS (Software As A Service) platforms while also coordinating with all related internal departments to create an exemplary customer service experience for all of WESTAF’s clientele. Prior to joining WESTAF, Cho lived on the East Coast in Washington, DC, and served as the senior local foods advocate for 4P Foods, a benefit corporation dedicated to helping small-scale organic farmers thrive in today’s food economy. Cho holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Elmhurst College. Outside of the office, he enjoys bicycle touring and fancy bike rides such as the Tweed Ride (where he met his wife Laine), and is fascinated by 3D printing.
Tess Emslie is a ZAPP customer service coordinator at WESTAF. In this capacity, she provides customer support for ZAPP and handles the operations and logistics for additional ZAPP system services, including JuryBuddy™, ZAPP Onsite™, and ZAPP Next™. Emslie has a background in customer service and the arts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of New South Wales (Australia) and a master’s degree in arts and culture from the University of Denver. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she currently resides in Denver, Colorado. When she is not providing customer service for ZAPP, Emslie enjoys travelling and all things outdoors.
Kelly Ernst joined WESTAF in May of 2019 as the business coordinator for CVSuite and GO Smart, aiding in content and contract services, client communications, and marketing. Ernst has a background in working with public and socially engaged art and has held positions in marketing and development for organizations such as the Santa Fe Opera, Creative Time in New York City, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA Denver). She enjoys participating in the arts in Denver, and most recently was a contributing writer for the Colorado-based magazine Boulder and Cherry Creek Lifestyle, covering arts and culture. Ernst received her bachelor’s degree in art history and multicultural leadership at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Lori Goldstein is the manager of WESTAF’s Public Art Archive. Goldstein is responsible for the system’s long-term planning, product development, and for overseeing the addition of public art collections to the Archive. Prior to joining WESTAF, she served as public art and program manager for the Arts Council of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Prior to working at the Arts Council, she served as a contractor for the Archive during its formative years. Goldstein has also served as the public art assistant at Braaksma Design, a public art studio with projects that have been commissioned across the country. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Colorado College and a master’s degree in art history with an emphasis on public art from the University of Colorado Boulder. Goldstein currently serves on the board of Public Art Dialogue.
Jessica Gronich is WESTAF’s GO Smart program manager. In that capacity, she manages the day-to-day business processes for the program and collaborates on product development. Gronich also ensures that clients receive high-level support and advice regarding the design of their grant processes. Prior to joining WESTAF, Gronich spent the majority of her career working for nonprofit organizations in the areas of international relations, policy, and education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Texas at Austin. Gronich is actively involved in her community and serves on the board of her neighborhood homeowners’ association, volunteers for Planned Parenthood, and hosts international students through WorldDenver.
Ayanna Hwang is one of WESTAF’s customer experience coordinators. In addition to providing customer support for the ZAPP and CaFÉ programs, she is currently seeking an advertising and media studies degree at the University of Colorado. She will then continue her education at the Denver School of Traditional Chinese Medicine to study holistic medicine. Prior to her position at WESTAF, Hwang worked in marketing for water conservation as well as for a nonprofit organization promoting cultural awareness. Outside of work she enjoys painting, going to festivals/concerts and photography.
Brandon Jay serves as the ZAPP operations coordinator. In this capacity, Jay is the primary point of contact for returning ZAPP clients. He also provides support to ZAPP administrators and assists in the technical development and general progression of the ZAPP platform. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music business from the University of Colorado Denver. Outside of work, Jay enjoys performing live music, attending concerts, and immersing himself in the arts and cultures of the world.
Trevor McElhaney is a data analyst at WESTAF. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, during which time he competed in and won multiple competitions in mathematical modeling. Later, he would work with nonprofit organizations to identify racial disparities in mortgage lending, gaining a passion for using data to steer social change. With this passion, he is now utilizing his skills to uplift the arts. In his spare time he enjoys rock climbing, running ultra marathons, and traveling.
Julia Passantino is the communications and support coordinator for ZAPPlication. She assists in the creation and execution of webinars, program blogs, and external communications. She also collaborates with the ZAPP team to plan and coordinate ZAPP’s communication, marketing, and social media strategies. In addition, Passantino manages the program’s paid single-show e-blasts and provides technical support and assistance to both art festival administrators and artists. Outside of work she enjoys playing the violin, wandering around the Botanic Gardens, and immersing herself in a book. Passantino holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and film studies from Coe College.
Raquel Vasquez is the program manager for the CaFÉ (CallforEntry) project at WESTAF and is responsible for the overall administrative performance of the system, working to ensure that the project’s effectiveness as a software service supports WESTAF’s mission to benefit the arts and creative industries. In this capacity she plays an active role in program operations and software improvement, and works closely with the business and technical operations team on design, specifications, testing, deployment and marketing to ensure end user requirements and program success are a priority. Vaquez holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Denver. She is a recipient of the IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Scholarship and a member of Beta Phi Mu.
Natalie Villa is the business project manager at WESTAF. In this role, Villa facilitates communication and technical processes among the internal technology team, the program teams, and external development companies for CaFÉ, CVSuite, GO Smart, Public Art Archive, and ZAPP. She creates and manages project plans, coordinates technical releases, and aids in the development of new site features. Villa also supports the director of business by coordinating and managing the objective and key results, streamlining and improving operations, and developing training materials for staff across all five earned income products. In addition, Villa creates and produces many of WESTAF’s online help and promotional videos, including WESTAF’s National Endowment for the Arts 50th Anniversary promotional video. She has received awards for her personal film work as well, including Best Amateur Film and Audience Choice awards at the Ridgway Moonwalk Film Festival and Best Documentary Short Film at the Oklahoma Cine Latino Film Festival for her short film, With the Power of a Thousand Suns. Villa earned a bachelor’s degree in film and television from the University of Colorado Denver.
As the CaFÉ operations coordinator for WESTAF, Eliza Wetherill manages and facilitates the day-to-day processes and logistics for CaFÉ’s clients and internal teams. She handles client communication and support for the CaFÉ program while focusing on the system’s long-term strategic development. With over 10 years of experience in customer service and client relations, Wetherill prides herself on communicating with customers, clients, and colleagues alike with openness, authenticity, and keen attention to detail. Wetherill has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a certificate as a natural foods chef from the Nutrition Therapy Institute. In her free time, she enjoys writing music, exploring the outdoors, cooking, and spending time with her family.
Alliances, Advocacy and Public Policy
David Holland is the director of impact and public policy at WESTAF. He joined WESTAF in 2019 to lead its advocacy and public policy programs and services and serve as the primary liaison with federal agencies, regional arts organizations, state and local arts agencies, and state arts advocacy groups. His role has evolved to also drive the impact of WESTAF’s leadership and professional development programming, grantmaking, and technical assistance and consulting services across teams. Since joining WESTAF, he has established the Western Arts Advocacy Network (WAAN); expanded advocacy funding to WESTAF’s 13-state network; collaborated on developing new equity-focused relief and resilience grantmaking programs for arts organizations and artists in the West and the Northern Mariana Islands; and spearheaded WESTAF’s Arts and the Rural West Seminar. Holland previously served as associate director of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston, where he oversaw programs and services, operations, and fund development. Holland’s prior roles include leadership and senior management positions with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) da Vinci Center for Innovation, VCU School of the Arts, ART 180, Arts & Business, and the UK innovation foundation Nesta. Holland began his career with BOP Consulting, a global consulting firm focused on cultural policy, leading projects for government departments, public agencies, and international organizations as a senior consultant. For more than 11 years, he has served as an independent management consultant working primarily with clients in the arts and culture field both nationally and internationally. He serves as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and Colorado’s Arts in Society. He is also an elected member of the Americans for the Arts Private Sector Network Advisory Council and serves on an advisory committee for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and on the national Cultural Advocacy Group. He formerly served as a panelist for the Boston Foundation, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and Virginians for the Arts and as a site reviewer for Massachusetts Cultural Council. Holland has also served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. His writings have been published by Arts Council England, the British Council, the Routledge International Handbook of Creative Learning, and others. He was selected as a Salzburg Global Seminar Young Cultural Innovator in 2014 and is a Salzburg Global Fellow, Evan Carroll Commager Fellow, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Holland holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Amherst College and master’s degrees in international studies and diplomacy and the history of art from the University of London, SOAS.
Moana Palelei HoChing serves as WESTAF’s senior policy associate, a consulting role that manages key public policy and advocacy programs and provides counsel to the director of impact and public policy. HoChing contributes to WESTAF’s research and policy communications and works with its grassroots advocacy network, engaging with a range of arts and cultural policy issues through an equity lens. She currently serves as vice chair of the Zoo, Arts, and Park (ZAP) Program Tier 1 Board, where she assists in directing $14.3 million of Utah taxpayer dollars to 22 arts and cultural nonprofits, as well as three zoos throughout the Salt Lake Valley. HoChing previously served as the assistant director of educational outreach of the Honoring Nations program at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. She is a multidisciplinary artist, technologist, and fierce advocate for Indigenous affairs and has consulted on projects in Kenya; Waikato, Aotearoa; New Orleans; New York; Las Vegas; Denver; and throughout Indian Country and has her own production company, Crazyhorse Productions. HoChing is a proud alumna of the National Pacific American Leadership Institute (NAPALI), Harvard University’s Administrative Fellowship Program (AFP), and WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color (ELC) program.
Social Responsibility and Inclusion
Anika Kwinana serves as WESTAF’s director of social responsibility and inclusion. In this role, she informs and develops a range of equity-centered learning experiences that connect and inspire leaders and communities to build a more inclusive arts and culture sector. She joins WESTAF from her position as manager of national education initiatives at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where she ensured that arts professionals were equipped with relevant professional learning and support as they sought to provide equitable access to the arts among public school students. Kwinana has worked with a number of arts organizations as a stage manager, producer, gallery coordinator, and subscriptions sales associate. She also served as assistant director of national college fairs, programs and services for the National Association for College Admission Counselling where she piloted and scaled STEM college and career fairs reaching over 20,000 attendees annually. Kwinana is chair of the Arlington County Commission for the Arts and co-founder of Arlington for Justice; chair of the Arts Administrators of Color Network and served as co-chair of the organization’s 2020 convening; and is a part of artEquity’s BIPOC Leadership Circle, working with other arts leaders from across the nation to develop social justice leadership models. Kwinana earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University and a master’s degree in arts management from George Mason University, where her capstone focused on the need for diversity in arts organizational leadership. She also holds a master’s degree in public anthropology from American University and a postgraduate degree in management from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Lani Morris is a grants coordinator with WESTAF. She has been with WESTAF since 2017 as a customer service associate and as the CaFÉ program assistant. In her current role, she manages the WESTAF regional touring grant through the TourWest and IMTour programs. Prior to joining WESTAF, she worked to mobilize volunteers on issues of education and food justice as an education justice fellow with Repair the World: Pittsburgh. With 10+ years of experience in early childhood education and as a practicing artist, Morris remains involved in efforts to promote arts education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history and business from the University of Puget Sound.
Marketing and Communications
Leah Horn serves as WESTAF’s director of marketing and communications. In this capacity, she provides leadership and strategic oversight of WESTAF’s communications, public relations, branding, social media programs, and the marketing of WESTAF’s technology products and develops and implements the communications strategy for the organization’s mission-based objectives. Prior to joining WESTAF in 2011, Horn managed a congressional campaign, served as a law firm administrator, and worked in product development and visual merchandising for an international sports-apparel company. She has served as a grant panelist for Colorado Creative Industries and the National Endowment for the Arts. Horn currently serves as chair of the Denver County Cultural Council, the city-council-appointed body that distributes Scientific and Cultural Facilities District Tier III funds to cultural organizations in Denver. Horn received dual bachelor’s degrees in sociology and journalism (media studies) from the University of Colorado Boulder and holds a master’s degree in communication from the University of Colorado Denver. She has a background in music and dance and is an avid yogi, outdoor enthusiast, and devoted dog mom to her Yorkie, (mini) Cooper.
Samantha Ortega is a marketing coordinator at WESTAF. In that capacity, she assists in developing and executing comprehensive marketing strategies that drive leads, opportunities, and sales. Ortega is responsible for managing WESTAF’s online public profile and presence, while increasing online engagement with WESTAF’s products and services across all platforms. She also assists in coordinating and planning all of WESTAF’s covenings. Ortega holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and attended the University of Texas at El Paso. She has a background in event marketing and has assisted in managing the media for events featuring performers such as Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Cirque du Soleil, and more. In her spare time she enjoys music, spending time with her loved ones, and the outdoors.
Finance and Administration
Amy Hollrah serves as WESTAF’s director of finance and administration. In that capacity, she manages all aspects of WESTAF’s financial activity, human resources, office management, and legal review with an exceptional team of four staff members. Hollrah loves building new processes and policies and has greatly enjoyed her tenure at WESTAF, which began in 2012. Prior to joining WESTAF, Hollrah worked for the Colorado Environmental Coalition in Denver and spent 10 years in San Diego working in regional theatre as general manager at San Diego Repertory Theatre and as associate general manager at La Jolla Playhouse. Hollrah holds a bachelor’s degree in arts administration from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. When not at work, she is an avid trail runner and consumes a vast amount of podcasts about economics.
Rebecca Brown serves as WESTAF’s financial reporting manager. Her many years of experience in the financial and human resources fields include serving as the finance/human resources director for an internationally recognized simulation-creating organization, owning her own business in the foothills of Colorado, and managing several state and federal political campaigns. Brown earned a master’s degree from the University of Denver and a bachelor’s degree and K-12 teaching certificate from Colorado State University after transferring from the University of Arizona. While at Arizona, Brown was a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 scholarship recipient in volleyball. Her outside interests include traveling, sports, music, dogs and horses, politics, interior decorating, and her awesome adult children.
Janae De La Virgen is the office and culture coordinator at WESTAF, where she works across programs. A key area of focus includes her work with the Call for Entry and ZAPPlication programs through tasks and activities that aid in customer service and client retention. De La Virgen also coordinates special projects for the Public Art Archive program, such as the designing of client communications and marketing materials and assistance with the creation and documentation of business workflows. She previously served as a team member of Independent Music on Tour (IMTour), a grant program that matched independent musicians with nonprofit presenters in the West; the administrator for Arts for Colorado, a nonpartisan, statewide advocacy organization; a member of the Music Task Force, a collective of music industry professionals dedicated to supporting the development of Denver’s independent music scene through the Denver Music Summit; and as an Artist Committee member for PlatteForum, an organization that supports contemporary artists and underserved youth. She currently serves on the Denver Music Advisory Panel, a panel that supports the development and implementation of the Denver Music Strategy and the Denver Music Advancement Fund led by Denver Arts & Venues. De La Virgen holds a bachelor’s degree in music business from the University of Colorado Denver and acts as an artist manager for musical acts in Denver.
Rebecca Dominguez is the human resources and office manager at WESTAF. She began her career at WESTAF as a customer experience coordinator and quickly moved into the finance department as a finance associate, before becoming the HR and office manager. Prior to joining WESTAF, she honed her customer service skills working for the Colorado Department of Revenue and for the Credit Union of Colorado. Dominguez is currently completing coursework to obtain her human resources certification. In her free time, Dominguez enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.
Jessica Martinez joined the WESTAF finance team as a part-time finance coordinator in September 2019. In this position, Martinez supports the complex financial and human resources operations of the finance and administration department with organizational skills, attention to detail, and consistency. She currently works part time while attending Red Rocks Community College to earn a degree in radiology. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and hiking.
Lauren Wilson is WESTAF’s financial processes manager, overseeing the ins and outs of WESTAF’s finances. She works on reconciliations, data integration, data analysis, and management of client payouts. Working across every department, she streamlines operations and makes financial management understandable and interesting for program managers. Prior to joining WESTAF, she worked in community solar energy and graduated with a degree in art history and a concentration in gender and sexuality studies. She has presented at the Belvedere Museum, Mint Museum, and RedLine Contemporary Art Center as an art historian. She continues to devote her life to the arts through organizations such as Tilt West and by practicing her own paintings and mixed media works in her spare time.
Technology and Innovation
Adam Sestokas serves as WESTAF’s director of technology and innovation. In that capacity, he is responsible for the direction, management, site reliability, PCI compliance and optimization of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) based cloud architecture and infrastructure of the organization and all of its software as a service applications. To accomplish this work, he collaborates with a multitude of external development teams and technology partners. Since coming to WESTAF, he has migrated the company to AWS and led the change to Atlassian’s technology-management ecosystem. Sestokas has more than a decade of experience in web technologies and information systems beginning with an internship with the Department of Defense information systems in 1999. Prior to joining WESTAF, Sestokas served as the Internet technology manager for an INC 5000 company, growing the tech department and capacity of the organization as it tripled its revenues. Before that, he worked for Secure Billing Worldwide in various roles, starting as a programmer for a PCI compliant payment gateway that processed and offered fraud-detection services on millions of transactions a month. Sestokas earned a master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a concentration in technology management and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Buffalo with a concentration in management-information systems.
Jonathan Cantwell is a software engineer at WESTAF. Cantwell works closely with project coordinators and the rest of the Technology and Innovation staff to maintain and expand WESTAF’s capacity to provide software tools to artists and organizations. They bring their expertise in coordinating a team of software engineers at Synacor, handling individual client needs, and configuring white-label web portals and other software products for major ISPs, and upgrading outdated code bases while maintaining necessary functionality. They’ve had a lifelong interest in user experience and web accessibility, having started web development as a hobby to support and enhance the usability of the web portal of a collaborative fiction community they grew up with. Cantwell earned their bachelor’s degree in computer science from SUNY Buffalo in 2009, and was a semi-finalist for the Microsoft Imagine Cup in their senior year for a project in which they and their team built assistive technology for neurodivergent and disabled students and their teachers and caretakers.
Ben Casalino began working at WESTAF in late 2018. Casalino’s entire life has existed at the crossroads of art/design and technology, which has manifested itself across all his past work and experience. Casalino studied graphic design at Arizona State University before living in Portland, Oregon for five years. During that time, he grew his technical understanding while working for WACOM Americas, a global company that creates interactive tablet/stylus displays for artists and animators. After relocating to Colorado in 2016, he worked as a web developer for a Boulder-based digital marketing agency and for Vail Resorts Inc., Colorado’s leading ski resort company. Casalino has won multiple art contests that featured his designs on the Phoenix Suns game program cover. Casalino is a graduate of Galvanize’s Web Development Immersive program, a full stack programming school in Denver.