Today the Arizona Commission on the Arts, an agency of the State of Arizona, announced the 21 recipients of Research & Development (R&D) Grants for 2024. Awarded through a competitive application and review process, these $5,000 grants support Arizona artists as they work to advance their artistic practice, expand their creative horizons, and deepen the impact of their work.

Grantees represent a variety of artistic disciplines and reside in communities throughout the state.

2024 Research & Development Grant Recipients

The following artists were awarded 2024 Research & Development Grants:

For artist bio and additional information click on the artist’s name.

Joshua Alexander (Chandler)
Lino Arruda (Tucson)
Laura Bloomenstein (Prescott)
Memory Bradley (Mesa)
Onda Mansa (Tucson)
Gillmer Duran (Fountain Hills)
Casey Farina (Phoenix)

Lawrence Fung (Chandler)
Jenny Gerena (Phoenix)
Raquel Gutiérrez (Tucson)
Francisco J Landin Jr (Tucson)
Tamara MC, Ph.D. (Tucson)
Sophia McGovern (Tempe)
Jacob A. Meders (Phoenix)

Srimathy Mohan (Phoenix)
Shawnte Orion (Surprise)
Rembrandt Quiballo (Phoenix)
Elisa Marie Reed (Flagstaff)
Priscilla Rodriguez (Nogales)
Masaru Sakuma (Phoenix)
Karen Schumacher (Bisbee)

Research & Development Grants are funded through a public-philanthropic partnership between the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF), who match the Arts Commission’s allocation to the program dollar-for-dollar with funding from the Newton and Betty Rosenzweig Fund for the Arts.

Bill Desmond Writing Award

In addition to the R&D Grants, the Arts Commission announced the 2024 recipient of the Bill Desmond Writing Award, which offers funding in the amount of $1,000 to an excelling nonfiction writer. The recipient of the Bill Desmond Writing Award is selected from the pool of applicants for Research and Development Grants and a single applicant may be awarded both. This year the award was given to Tamara MC.

The Bill Desmond Writing Award was established by Kathleen Desmond in honor of her late husband, Bill Desmond, a reporter, editor, and nonfiction writer.

2024 Research and Development Grant Review Panel

Applications were reviewed by a diverse panel of artists and arts professionals:

  • Dexter Booth (Phoenix)
  • Coley Curry (Tucson)
  • Lex Gjurasic (Tucson)
  • Alexia Lewis (Los Angeles)
  • Ruby Morales (Glendale)
  • Liz Tran (Seattle)

After reviewing and scoring applications individually, the panelists convened online for a public meeting on November 16, 2023, to discuss top-scoring applications and make recommendations for funding. Angelia Hill, a Governor-appointed Commissioner of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, acted as the panel chair, overseeing the process without participating in the review.

At their quarterly board meeting on December 7, 2023, the Arts Commission’s Governor-appointed board of commissioners approved the panel’s recommendations for funding.

Grantee Bios

Joshua Alexander (He/Him), Chandler
Visual Arts

Photo by CJ Banks

Born July 2, 1990 Joshua Alexander is an American menswear designer and the creator of the clothing brand Book of Joshua. His design aesthetic is influenced by his baptist church upbringing and a profound interest in African heritage. Joshua, born in Kansas City, Missouri, currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. His mother is of half Hispanic heritage, and his biological father had African ancestry. Within a family of four, which included his stepfather, Joshua, as the middle child, received encouragement from his mother to remain true to himself. Joshua shared a close bond with his mother, who not only prayed for him but also provided guidance in nurturing his creative talents. Upon relocating to Arizona in 2007, Joshua married his wife in 2012. Remarkably, it was his wife’s aunt who introduced him to the art of sewing. Drawing on the creative values instilled by his mother, Joshua swiftly honed his skill; however, he did not attend a specific fashion design school. 2019, Joshua created a custom jacket that captured the attention of Tessa Matthias, the creative director for YEEZY, Kanye West’s clothing label at that time. Impressed by his work, she invited him to join the research team. 2022, Book of Joshua was introduced under the original name Joshua Ltd. However, in 2023, Joshua opted to make a change, believing that the new name more accurately reflected the purpose and philosophy behind his designs. 2022, Joshua connected with Cameron Jordan, an All-American professional football player from the New Orleans Saints, for an official endorsement. 2023, Joshua collaborated with Justin Boone, to create a collection that centered around redesigning vintage Jesus Christ t-shirts. As a designer, Joshua draws inspiration from his upbringing. Despite his strong connection to the church, he also cultivated an appreciation for luxury brands which played a formative role in his design perspective. Joshua is also inspired by his own experiences with clothing reflecting African ancestry and 90’s fashion. Additionally, his awareness of the style preferences of his peers contributes to his creative inspiration. Overall, Joshua considers his upbringing to have a significant influence on his attitude toward fashion design and style. Joshua aspires to cultivate a following, as a menswear designer, Joshua creates pieces with a broad spectrum of individuals in mind. His relationship with God, music, and African roots has motivated him to incorporate fabrics in menswear that are typically more prevalent in other forms of attire.

Lino Arruda (He/Him), Tucson
Visual Arts

Photo by Rachel Castillo

Lino Arruda is a transmasculine artist, illustrator, and graphic novelist. His work depicts trans/queer culture through monstrous embodiments that stretch beyond the highly gendered notion of Human. Lino has a PhD in Literature (Fulbright) and is the author of many independent queer comics publications and graphic novels, such as MONSTRANS: Experimenting with Horrormones (“Best LGBTQ+ book of 2021”, MixBrasil trophy) and the trans-futuristic graphic novel trilogy CISPHORIA: the worst of both worlds (2023).

Laura Bloomenstein (She/Her), Prescott
Visual Arts

Laura Bloomenstein is a ceramic and digital artist. She was awarded her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, attended Kansas City Art Institute and then earned her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Laura is currently a Professor of Art and runs the ceramics programs at Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ. She has exhibited her work across the US and internationally. In her art, Laura draws on her interest in the long history of painting on ceramics incorporating traditional and contemporary techniques of putting design and imagery on ceramic forms and tile. Her Jewish heritage inspires her to investigate pattern and iconography that alludes to and depicts stories of what we see around us. Her form of Judaism has never been religious, but has always asked her to be aware and grateful for her humanness and to share that. Her art is a reflection of sharing personal and community experiences.

Memory Bradley (She/Her), Mesa
Visual Arts

Photo by Dan Bradley

Memory Bradley is a sculptor fascinated with integrating natural fibers, clay, paper mache, fabric, and foraged items into 2 and 3 dimensional works. Inspired to create joyful moments from the natural and fantasy worlds, Memory creates pieces that remind us all of the hope that surrounds us. Whether that inspiration comes from a Great Horned owl or from an imagined dragon, Memory explores colors and textures that create a visual and tactile experience. Utilizing complex fiber arts and sculptural techniques, Memory creates art that pushes the boundaries of these mediums without sacrificing the optimism she highlights in her work.

Dr. Rhonda Coleman, DAOM (AKA, Contra-Mestra Onda Mansa) (She/Her), Tucson
Performing Arts

Photo by Steven Meckler

Contra-Mestra is a title given to someone one step below a master. Onda Mansa has over 26 years of Capoeira experience and over 40 years of Afrodiasporic dance experience. Her capoeira journey began in 1997 in Tucson, AZ with Capoeira Malandragem – a satellite school of the United Capoeira Association (UCA). She was graduated to Contra-Mestra in 2013 by Mestre Acordeon, Mestra Suelly, and Mestre Ra of the United Capoeira Association. Today, she teaches under the guidance of Mestre Lazaro and Grupo Capoeira Angola Guerreiro de Palmares. Onda has taught dance and capoeira internationally in Mexico, Honduras, Belize and Costa Rica; and across the United States in over 11 states. Additionally, she is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Gillmer Duran (He/Him), Fountain Hills
Performing Arts

Photo by Nikiana Medansky

Originally from Barquisimeto-Venezuela, Mr. Duran began his dance journey with Venezuelan folk dances and continued exploring contemporary dance and jazz under the guidance of Elliot Ortiz. He initiated his formal ballet training at the Fundacion Arte Nuevo and danced professionally with Ballet Metropolitano, Ballet NuevoMundo, National Ballet of Caracas, Tulsa Ballet Theatre and eight consecutive seasons with Eugene Ballet Company. He worked with choreographers such as Vicente Nebrada, Nicolo Fonte, Robert Battle, Mauricio Wainrott, Edwaard Liang, Jessica Lang and Toni Pimble, among others. His versatility and intuition allowed him to perform a variety of classical, neoclassical and contemporary roles. In 2010, he began teaching ballet as a way to share his passion for dance and in October of 2010, he was appointed as Alaska Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director and resident choreographer. In 2011 Mr. Duran received the Fermin Toro University Award for his career and continued to teach ballet through the east coast. He has taught master classes for several schools and created choreography for Eugene Ballet, Ballet Des Moines and Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre. In July of 2023 he obtained his bachelor in Fine Arts from Saint Mary’s College of California. He is currently a full-time faculty at the School of Ballet Arizona and this is his fifth year teaching at the Arizona School for the Arts.

Casey Farina (He/Him), PHOENIX
Digital Media Arts

Casey Farina, a Phoenix-based artist, is celebrated for his innovative audio/visual artworks, which emerge from iterative computer processes. His expertise spans a diverse array of disciplines including animation, sound design, visual effects, digital fabrication, and improvisation, all of which converge to create his signature video sculptures. These sculptures, heralded as trailblazing contributions to the genre, have been exhibited in the Phoenix Art Museum. Farina’s talents extend beyond the gallery, evidenced by his commissioned public artworks in Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, and Scottsdale. These pieces are visually compelling and interactive, often incorporating projection-mapping, inviting public engagement and transforming urban spaces into immersive art experiences. His pioneering animated-graphic scores have gained international recognition and are frequently presented domestically and internationally. In 2019, Farina’s multifaceted talents were honored by Phoenix Magazine, which named him the Best Multimedia Artist. This accolade was preceded by the prestigious 2017 Contemporary Forum Emerging Artist Grant, culminating in a feature exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum. He has been the recipient of grants from Canal Convergence, Arizona Commission on the Arts, and a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. His collaborations span across a diverse array of fields, working alongside choreographers, technologists, composers, and musicians, thereby enriching the Phoenix art scene with his versatile and inclusive approach. Farina’s impact extends into academia as a residential faculty member in the Digital Media Arts program at Glendale Community College. Here, he nurtures the next generation of artists, with his students achieving accolades such as the Student Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards. This array of accomplishments highlights Farina’s expertise and his dedication to elevating the artistic landscape.

Lawrence Fung (He/Him), Chandler
Performing Arts

Raised in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong and the American Southwest, the presence of contrast has been a common theme in the dance works, films, and photographs that Lawrence creates. As a choreographer and contemporary dance artist, Fung is constantly exploring the integration and similarities between ballet and breaking, bringing the opposite disciplines into a free flowing harmony that exists in a new dimension without contextual boundaries. Modern masculinity, self-discovery, and religion are themes that gravitate Fung’s curiosity in his dance-making. The self-taught dance photographer and filmmaker has a particular interest in finding details and patterns in his worldly encounters. Inspired by the vastly diverse landscapes, urban architectures, and environments we live in, Fung finds purpose in uncovering the hidden layers and stories beyond what meets the eye. He uses visual language to draw his viewers attention to an encapsulating storytelling experience by exploring the theories of composition, color, scale, and choreographed camera movement all in relation to dance. In the beginning of 2018, Fung founded his company Kraken Still and Film (KSAF), with a humble ensemble of dancers and composers. The interdisciplinary company celebrates the collaboration among dancers and artists of different backgrounds with the vision of touring and premiering works in the spectrum of art and theater spaces, such as proscenium stages, galleries, museums, film theaters, and public projections.

Jenny Gerena (She/Her), Phoenix
Performing Arts

Photo by Daniela Prieto


Jenny Gerena is a Phoenix-based choreographer, performer, and teaching artist. She is an alumna of Scottsdale Community College, Sam Houston State University, and Arizona State University, where she received an M.F.A in Dance in 2016. She has presented her work at the Florida Dance Festival, Breaking Ground Dance Festival (AZ), BlakTina Dance Festival (AZ), The Dance Gallery Festival (TX, NYC), Women in Dance Conference (PA), FusionWorks Dance Company (RI), and the Phoenix Art Museum. Jenny served as Adjunct Faculty in Dance at Scottsdale Community College and Glendale Community College for six years teaching dance technique and humanities courses. Since 2022 Jenny has been a full-time dance teacher at Betty H. Fairfax High School in Laveen, AZ. As a graduate of the Phoenix Union High School District herself, she takes great pride in sharing the power of dance with her students. Jenny’s artistic mission is to nurture creativity, promote authenticity, foster community, and create space for personal transformation. She is passionate about creating meaningful practices by challenging notions of technique training, performance, and choreography by integrating the essence of one’s spirit through movement. In 2018 Jenny had the honor of being named “Best Dancer” by the Phoenix New Times stating: “Gerena uses the female body, including her own dark, free-flowing hair, to write the poetry of women’s strength and solidarity through movement.”

Raquel Gutiérrez (They/Them, She/Her), Tucson
Literary Arts

Photo by LF Guizar

Raquel Gutiérrez primarily works through criticism, ekphrasis, and memoir as one way to reflect upon queer brown life in the arts in the Southwest borderlands, such as Tucson, where they live and work. Critical race theory, Queer and Latinx aesthetics, and performance art history in the Americas continue to inform their writing and teaching. Their poetry, non-fiction, and critical writing are rooted in explorations of movement, mobility, power, and migration from Mexico and Central America to and within the United States, particularly Southern California where Gutiérrez was born and raised. These explorations elaborate on Gutiérrez’ perspective as a queer and brown writer engaging histories of desire, labor, dispossession and colonization in the formation of state out of frontier, empire out of unceded land. Interdisciplinary engagements with performance studies, autotheory, personal essay and experimental memoir propel them to call artistic identity, politics, and performativity into question.

Francisco J Landin Jr (He/Him), Tucson
Digital Media Arts

Photo by HSB Photography

Francisco J Landin Jr is an established film director, writer, and producer known for his unique storytelling and directing, using style and fantasy to address issues such as poverty, abuse, and immigration in the Latin community. Born in Mexico City and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Francisco produced, wrote, and directed several award winning shorts for Elephant Scout Productions, which strives to produce stories featuring diverse heroes that represent a multitude of ethnicities and genders. Currently, Landin continues to produce successful local short films and music videos for local artists of marginalized backgrounds, striving to help young voices break out and create their vision to ensure a more positive, diverse, and inclusive film community.

Tamara MC, Ph.D. (They/Them,She/Her), Tucson
Literary Arts

Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking Lived Experience Expert who advocates for girls and women to live free from gender-based violence and coercive control worldwide. Her Ph.D. is in Applied Linguistics, and she researches how language manipulates vulnerable populations. Tamara attended Columbia University for an M.F.A. and has been honored with residencies/fellowships in Bread Loaf, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Sewanee, Ragdale, Cave Canem, VONA, and VCCA. She’s published in 65+ prestigious outlets including The New York Times, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Salon, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She’s revising her debut memoir, Child Bride: My Marriage at 12 in a Sufi Cult. She’s traveled to nearly 80 countries, mostly alone and backpacking, and is a polyglot, having studied more than six languages.

Sophia McGovern (She/Her), Tempe
Literary Arts

Sophia McGovern is a creative nonfiction writer with a background in secondary education, independent publishing, and creative programming. Her writing has won awards, including a Pushcart Prize nomination, the Teachers as Writers contest poetry prize, and the Tempe Community Creative Writing-Nonfiction Adult prize. Her writing has been published in The Arizona English Journal, Beautiful Cadavers Anthology Project, Awfully Hilarious Volume 2: Period Pieces, and others. Her creative nonfiction collection, Tiny Rebellions, examines moments of deviance that form an identity. This collection is told through the eyes of one daughter whose nontraditional family is both an embodiment and deconstruction of the American dream. She has served as an editor for many Phoenix-based literary journals and founded little somethings press, which received City of Tempe Community Arts Grants in 2022 and 2023. Her current creative programming includes hosting bookmaking workshops and launch events through little somethings press. In 2017, she was the Artist in Residence for the Mesa Arts Center and developed a poetry workshop at the Grant Woods Boys & Girls Club. McGovern is the Curriculum Coordinator, Sr. at Arizona State University’s Graduate College. She received her master’s degree in secondary education and her bachelor’s degrees in global studies and English with a concentration in creative writing from Arizona State University. She was an English Language Arts teacher at an alternative high school for four years. She currently lives in Tempe with her writer-man and cat, where she writes, weaves, crochets, and collects hobbies.

Jacob A. Meders (He/Him), Phoenix
Visual Arts

Jacob A. Meders (Mechoopda/Maidu), MFA, is an Associate Professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Science at Arizona State University. Jacob possesses a BFA in painting with a minor in printmaking from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA in printmaking at Arizona State University. In 2011 Jacob established WarBird Press, a fine art printmaking studio that he operates as the Master Printmaker in Phoenix, AZ. Jacob has exhibited his work in Divided Lines at The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, NM, ‘Aksum Belle:Afterwards at Jackie Headley Art Gallery and Mǝǝmento: Before at Janet turner Print Museum both at Chico State University, Chico CA, Something Old, Something New: Nothing Borrowed Recent Acquisitions from the Heard Museum Collection at The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, Transcending Traditions at Mesa Contemporary Arts in Mesa, AZ, California Stars: Huivaniūs Pütsiv at the Wheelwright Musuem, Santa Fe, NM, First Americans: Honoring Indigenous Resilience and Creativity at Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands, Mini Wiconi Goldsmith, University of London and BACA Contemporary Native Art Biennial, Québec, Canada. His work is also collected by major universities and other institutions in the United States and internationally. Jacob’s work focuses on altered perceptions of place, culture, and identity built on the assimilation and homogenization of indigenous people. This work often ties into current issues faced in Indigenous communities. His work touches many interdisciplinary approaches and repeatedly plays with the boundaries of social engagement practices. His work continues to reexamine varied documentations of Native Americans through printing processes that hold onto stereotypical ideas and how they have affected the culture of the native people. Often using book forms and prints as a symbol of western knowledge and the linear mind, Jacob deploys them as a vehicle to challenge new perceptions of Native Americans. And finally, Jacob is recognized as an influential public speaker and has traveled nationally and internationally to speak on topics within the indigenous contemporary art world.

Srimathy Mohan (She/Her), Phoenix
Performing Arts

Photo by Gopal Mohan

Dr. Srimathy Mohan is a Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance form) performer, choreographer, teacher and arts promoter based in Phoenix. She founded Silambam Phoenix in May 2000, a school for the continued study of Bharatnatyam and Indian classical art. Dr. Mohan is one of the senior disciples of Padmashree Professor Sudharani Raghupathy and she has continued her training for the past four decades.

Performer: She made her debut as a solo artist in 1983 and has performed all over the United States and India. She was part of a 15-part Indian television program and an 8-part Indian television program, both titled Bharatanjali presented by her Guru . She was a principal dancer in a Bharatanatyam production titled “Krishnam Vande Jagatgurum”, which was presented in 7 different cities in the US. She has presented several productions in the valley, and her latest production titled ‘Dasa Mahavidya: SHE is Omniscient’ has been successfully presented in Phoenix and India.

Choreographer: Through SIlambam Phoenix, she has put together several thematic productions including a Bharatnatyam adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, which will see a remounting this year. Dr. Mohan made her debut as a choreographer and performer in New York, presenting Sanmarga Vahini at La Mama Experimental Theater in August 2023. Dr. Mohan is an innovator and is constantly exploring the boundaries of her art form in all capacities. She is the choreographer of a musical-in-development titled ‘Sati: Goddess Incarnate’ (music by Zachary Catron, book and lyrics by Vaibu Mohan) and has shepherded its development in New York and in Arizona.

Teacher: She trains more than 60 students at her dance institution and has conducted more than 25 Rangapraveshams (a student’s first full-length debut as a solo artist) of her students. Silambam Phoenix students have presented more than 10 full length productions under Dr. Mohan’s guidance.

Arts developer: Silambam Phoenix regularly presents performances by visiting artists and encourages performance by young artists as well. During Summer 2022, to celebrate her guru’s 75 years in the field of dance, she documented her guru’s dance through the series titled ‘Vajra Vaibhavam’. The ‘Yuva Utsav’ series by Silambam Phoenix specifically promotes young talent.

Dr. Mohan is a mathematician and engineer by training, and is an emeritus professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business, at Arizona State University. Over the past twenty years, Dr. Mohan and Silambam Phoenix have raised more than $250,000 in funds and donated to several charities working with women, children and disadvantaged communities.

Shawnte Orion (He/Him), Surprise
Literary Arts

Photo by Jia Oak Baker

Shawnte Orion attended Paradise Valley Community College for one day. He is the author of Gravity & Spectacle (a collaboration with photographer Jia Oak Baker from Tolsun Books) and The Existentialist Cookbook (NYQBooks). He is an editor for rinky dink press and has performed in bookstores, bars, universities, hair salons, museums, and laundromats. His poems have appeared in Threepenny Review, Barrelhouse, Sugar House Review, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. He has recorded several poems for the flipside of a split 7inch vinyl record with SF band Sweat Lodge.

Rembrandt Quiballo (He/Him), Phoenix
Visual Arts

Photo by Nader Abushhab

Rembrandt Quiballo is a visual artist and educator based in Phoenix, Arizona. Quiballo was born in the city of Manila in the Philippines. Social and political unrest would compel his family to leave the country, eventually immigrating to the United States. Quiballo received a BFA in Painting and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Arizona and holds a MFA in Photography from Arizona State University. His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally including Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Cairo and Berlin. Quiballo is the recipient of numerous awards, including the ASU GPSA Research Grant, the SPE Student Award, the Nathan Cummings Travel Fellowship and the Contemporary Forum Emerging Artist Grant. Through the moving image, his work explores mass media and its effects on social and political history.

Elisa Marie Reed (She/Her), Flagstaff
Performing Arts

Photo by Halley Willcox

Elisa Marie Reed of Phoenix graduated from Arizona State University with her MFA in Dance in May 2020 and holds a BFA in Dance from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She has worked as performer and teaching artist in Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis and New Orleans and as an Adjunct Professor at Scottsdale Community College. Over the past decade she has choreographed over 30 works produced around Phoenix. She has performed with Momentum Aerial, Scorpius Dance Theatre, Halo Movement Collective, Liliana Gomez, Mary Fitzgerald, Halley Willcox and Nicole Olson/Movement Chaos. She has had the privilege of performing numerous times in England and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is the Dance Department Chair at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership academy and teaches Beginning to Advanced Lyra and Silks at Momentum Aerial in Flagstaff, AZ. Her training encompasses a wide range of forms. Her first experiences with dance were in a “non traditional” setting. In other words, she would go to raves and dance her heart out. The form that began her journey of dance was waving. Her training in a collegiate setting began with hip hop and breakdancing. This led her to modern dance as well as ballet and jazz. Over the years she has trained in several methods, forms and aesthetics. In the modern/contemporary realm she has studied Graham, Lewitzky, Cunningham, Taylor, Skinner Release Technique, Counter Technique and Limon. In African diasporic forms, she has studied Capoeira, Hip-hop, Jazz, Tap, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian. In ballet she has studied, Cecchetti and the School of American Ballet. In the realm of somatics, she has studied the Alexander Technique, BodyMind Centering, Ideokinesis, Laban Movement Analysis, Bartenieff Fundamentals and Yoga. In improvisational structures, she has studied from several teachers that include task based or image based improvisational structures, contact improvisation as well as Gaga movement language. She began studying aerial dance in 2010 and has since trained with Nicole Crist, Gavin Sisson, MoNika El, Joanie Garcia, Laurel Combs and Heather Elliott performing featured aerial roles in Scorpius Dance Theatre and her own work. The amalgamation of all of these influences can be found in her aesthetic. Her work is described as captivating, nuanced, dynamic and rigorous.

Priscilla Rodriguez (She/Her), Nogales
Performing Arts

Photo by Jennifer Rodriguez

Priscilla, also known as “Nefftys,” is a Nogales born and raised multidisciplinary artist with rap music being her focus for the last 15 years. She sings and writes her own lyrics and has performed in numerous venues and events in the Southwest as well as all throughout Mexico and part of Europe. Coming back to Arizona, Priscilla invested time at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences to formalize her audio production skills. This has allowed her to also produce her own music and co-produce music for and with other upcoming artists. As a visionary, Nefftys has been working toward cultivating the bordertown identity of Ambos Nogales through art, music and cultural promotion for the last 5 years. The Nogales Skatepark Makeover in 2019 was the first official community-driven art project she led along with other local artists including her husband, sparking the local mural art movement in Nogales, Arizona. That same year, Priscilla developed the project Nogaleria, which highlights Nogales history through poetry inspired by the murals made by her colleagues on both sides of the border. Her vision is to make Nogales an urban art gallery while at the same time shining light on our history to inspire the community to be proud of Nogales roots and to make visitors more eager to learn about our borderland region. Heavily bilingual, Nefftys’ music is described to express the reality and hardships of border life as well as the beauty of belonging to two cultures.

Masaru Sakuma (He/Him), Phoenix
Performing Arts

Photo by Olga Kim

Masaru was born in La Paz, Bolivia, the son of a Japanese father and Bolivian mother. He is currently a teaching artist and freelance pianist in the Phoenix metro area and has also been dedicated to promoting Latin-American and Bolivian classical music. His doctoral thesis on Bolivian composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava (1925-2005) is a landmark study of the development of Bolivian musical nationalism, and he is currently embarked upon the edition and publication of Mendoza-Nava’s song cycles, as well as the recording of his first album, which will be released later this year by M2 Film Music LLC. Masaru has performed in music festivals in Bolivia, Peru, and the U.S. and has also been invited as a guest artist to the Saarburg International Music Festival in Germany, and the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) in Vienna, Austria. He was top winner of several piano competitions in Bolivia and also won the First Honorable Mention in the Claudio Arrau International Piano Competition in 2003 in Chile and the First Prize in the University of Central Arkansas Piano Competition in 2010. Masaru obtained his diploma in piano from the Bolivian National Conservatory in La Paz, where he studied under Russian pianist Irina Efanova. Upon graduating from the conservatory in La Paz, he received a scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas, completing his masters degree and graduate certificate in Piano Performance as a student of Dr. Neil Rutman. He later pursued his doctoral degree in Collaborative Piano at Arizona State University, where he studied under Professor Russell Ryan. For more information and to connect with Masaru, visit

Karen Schumacher (She/Her), Bisbee
Visual Arts

Karen Schumacher is a first-generation American who found their forever home in Bisbee, Arizona in 2013. She works full-time as a traditional milliner and makes art in every spare moment she can find. Her current mediums include hand-knitting, assemblage, and gumball machines. Karen is a member of Central School Project, a community art center, and is also the Chair of the Bisbee Arts Commission. She believes in the transformative power of art within a community.