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. 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
Seyan Lucero is WESTAF’s director of business strategy. In that capacity, she provides strategic leadership to implement the comprehensive business development functions that support the organization’s goals and objectives, as well as the mission and vision of WESTAF’s earned income programs. She is responsible for implementing business strategy processes to determine the company’s objectives and key results, evaluating current business performance, and maximizing the organization’s business reach and potential. She uses her expertise to identify subject matter experts in support of multi-functional efforts to secure, interpret, and produce recommendations based on company needs. She leads and manages the business strategy efforts of WESTAF, the goals of which are set forth in WESTAF’s 10-year vision and strategic plan, to meet the key strategy of “developing innovative technology products and services for public sector arts agencies and the arts field.” Lucero previously served as the associate director at WESTAF. In that role she oversaw the company’s technology product development as well as its mission-based programs. She earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of Colorado Boulder.
Christina Villa is the director of business operations at WESTAF. She leads business endeavors to increase customer satisfaction and retention among its technology product customers and guides the efforts of WESTAF’s business division to fulfill operational goals that promote smart growth and successful outcomes. Serving as part of WESTAF’s leadership resource team, Villa ensures the application of operations and processes complement the 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 the Colorado 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.
Julia Alvarez is the sales coordinator for CaFÉ and ZAPP and has been a member of the CaFÉ team since 2015. In her current position, she coordinates sales for the CaFÉ and ZAPP systems. Alvarez has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in art from Whittier College. She has a background in theater, dance, painting, and fashion design. Alvarez has worked in the nonprofit sector since 2012. A native Coloradan, she is happy to call Denver her home.
Mareike Bergen serves as the ZAPP operations coordinator. She provides customer support for ZAPP and assists the ZAPP team by processing contract renewals, coordinating logistics, and more. Bergen has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics 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.
Janae De La Virgen is the logistics coordinator and works across programs at WESTAF. Her key areas of focus include working with the Independent Music On Tour (IMTour) program, overseeing the shipping of projected jury equipment for the ZAPPlication program, and managing contracts for both ZAPPlication and CaFÉ. De La Virgen previously served as the administrator for Arts for Colorado, as a member of the Music Task Force, and as an Artist Committee member for PlatteForum. 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 and Venues. De La Virgen holds a bachelor’s degree in music business from the University of Colorado Denver.
Tess Emslie is a customer experience coordinator at WESTAF. Emslie is a former artist at NEXT Gallery, Denver and has volunteered for Kaldor Art Projects, MCA Denver, and Colorado Public Radio. 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. When she is not providing phone and email support for ZAPP and CaFÉ, Emslie is drawing, screen-printing, taking road trips, and indulging in memoirs.
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 customer support coordinator. In that capacity, Jay is the primary point of support for ZAPP administrators. He also provides support to ZAPP artists, trains new administrators in using ZAPP, and assists in the 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.
Johnblake Tally is a customer experience coordinator for the ZAPP and CaFÉ platforms, providing phone and email support for any users who need assistance navigating the websites. Tally has a strong background in customer support with more than 10 years of experience, most recently working in business relations at a healthcare startup. He is currently working toward certifications in network engineering and hopes to pursue a career in software and technical development. Outside of his professional life, Tally is an avid traveler and goes to art shows/galleries whenever time permits.
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 a project manager at WESTAF. As the technical project lead for CaFÉ and ZAPP, Villa facilitates communication and technical processes among the internal technology team, the program teams, and external development companies. She creates and manages project plans, coordinates technical releases, aids in the development of new site features, and assists in the management and operations of the CaFÉ and ZAPP programs. 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 public policy at WESTAF. In this role, Holland guides WESTAF’s public policy and arts advocacy programs and services. Holland previously served as associate director of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston, a chapter of Americans for the Arts. Holland’s prior roles include management positions with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) da Vinci Center for Innovation, VCU School of the Arts, Arts and Business, and the UK innovation think tank 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. For more than 10 years, he has served as an independent management consultant working primarily in the arts and culture field both nationally and internationally. He has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts Office of Research and Analysis, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Virginians for the Arts, the Boston Foundation, and as a site reviewer for the Mass Cultural Council. Holland has also served on research and program committees for the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities and on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. He was selected as a Salzburg Global Seminar Young Cultural Innovator in 2014 and is 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.
Laurel Sherman serves as the communications coordinator for WESTAF. In that capacity, she provides support for WESTAF’s communications, public relations, and brand management. Sherman also coordinates and implements the day-to-day marketing and communications activities that support WESTAF’s tech products and strategic initiatives. In addition, she provides administrative support for WESTAF’s fund development efforts and the management of its advocacy funds. Sherman studied English literature and film at the University of Colorado Denver. Prior to joining WESTAF, she worked at the Tattered Cover bookstore, a leading independent bookstore.
Social Responsibility and Inclusion
Chrissy Deal currently serves as WESTAF’s director of social responsibility and inclusion after joining the organization in 2013 as manager of its multicultural initiatives. Deal is responsible for developing a range of equity-centered learning experiences that connect and inspire leaders and communities to build a more inclusive arts and culture sector. Through leadership development, grantmaking, thought leadership, and the activation of WESTAF’s diverse and expansive network of allies and partners, she promotes the application of an inclusion and equity lens to strengthening the arts field and catalyzing change. Deal leads WESTAF’s internal inclusiveness efforts, advises public sector and nonprofit arts organizations on how to align their missions with inclusion and equity goals, oversees WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color (ELC) program for arts administrators of color in the western United States, and is WESTAF’s accessibility coordinator. With more than 20 years of nonprofit, education, and philanthropic experience, Deal is a longtime community volunteer and alumna of Denver’s Circle of Latina Leadership. She sits on the board of trustees at the Denver Foundation and serves in an advisory role for the Community ACTS Fund and Diversity in the Arts Internship—programs designed to amplify the voices of historically marginalized or underrepresented communities in the Denver area. She is former vice chair of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) Denver County Cultural Council, which allocates public funds to scientific and cultural organizations, and is a founding member of Denver’s first Latina women’s giving circle, LatinasGive! She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Regis University. Deal lives in North Denver with her husband and two young sons.
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.
Madalena Salazar is a consultant for WESTAF’s social responsibility and inclusion programs. Salazar previously spent three years as the organization’s manager of the IMTour and TourWest programs, and has spent her career working toward equity and inclusion in the field. As the social responsibility and inclusion consultant, Salazar supports WESTAF’s move toward greater funding equity in its grant programs, the continued growth of the Emerging Leaders of Color (ELC) program, and the engagement of the ELC alumni network. She is the founder and principal of the Albuquerque-based creative consulting business, 3rd Space Vision, LLC. Previously, she was the first Latino cultural programs coordinator for the Denver Art Museum, and an educator, administrator, and advocate for the Brooklyn Museum, the Community College of Denver, and the University of New Mexico. She is a moderator for the Albuquerque-based Coffee + Creatives group, and was previously a member of Denver’s Commission on Cultural Affairs and the Denver Art Museum’s Latino Alliance. She was a founding member of Denver’s LatinasGive! philanthropic group; an alumnus of WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color; and co-author of a chapter in Multiculturalism and Art Museums Today. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in art history from the University of New Mexico.
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 earned-income projects. Horn also develops and implements the communications strategy for the organization’s cultural policy objectives. Prior to joining WESTAF in 2011, she managed a congressional campaign, served as an administrator at a law firm, 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 vice-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 a master’s degree in communication at the University of Colorado Denver. Outside of WESTAF, Horn enjoys spending time with her dog Cooper and exploring Denver’s ever-expanding culinary scene.
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 finance reporting manager. Her many years of experience in the finance 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 sports, music, dogs and horses, politics, interior decorating, and her awesome adult children.
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 the finance processes manager at WESTAF. She began working as a finance associate in 2017 and works primarily with the ZAPP system. She graduated from Davidson College in 2014 with a degree in art history with a concentration in gender and sexuality studies. During her studies, Wilson presented on Oskar Kokoschka at the Belvedere in Vienna, Austria and on the Federal Art Project’s western division in Davidson, North Carolina. After graduation, she relocated to Denver and began working in finance and business management for socially minded start-ups. 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.