Meet Our Squad
Our Leadership Team
Chief Executive Officer & Artistic Director
Colleen Houston’s mission in life is to help people discover their creative genius and connect with their communities through art. She believes that “everyone who has ever been a child is an artist”—and that by tapping into our creative energy, we can deepen empathy, strengthen social bonds, tackle tough issues, and unleash the potential of individuals and communities alike.
She was 18 years old when she joined ArtWorks as a Youth Apprentice. Her first project was turning a chair someone had tossed out in the trash into a work of art someone would buy. (The person who bought that chair still has it!) She returned to ArtWorks a few years later, after earning a degree in Public and Social Art at Warren Wilson College, to become both a Teaching Artist and Lead Artist. Since then, as Chief Programming Officer, she’s helped launch ArtWorks award-winning mural program producing 200 public murals in 37 Cincinnati neighborhoods and seven nearby cities. The murals were instrumental in Cincinnati’s win for the 2010 City Livability Award by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (VIDEO). Colleen has also mentored Waco, Texas, and other cities on creating civic mural programs. She was appointed ArtWorks’ Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director in April 2020.
Colleen pioneers programs that empower artists and youth to use art as a source of healing. ArtWorks’ Hero Design Company artists design and sew Hero Capes to help children facing crisis find the superhero in themselves. The capes are presented to children at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Ronald McDonald House and other partners in confidence-building ceremonies.
Colleen has also focused on elevating artist support. She launched ArtWorks initiatives—such as SpringBoard, CO.STARTERS and Big Pitch—to support the growth and development of creative entrepreneurs and small creative businesses. She served on the planning team for BLINK®, the largest light, art and culture event of its kind in the nation, providing extraordinary opportunities for local artists. In 2019, she helped produce the Cincinnati Artist Report, surveying more than 800 local artists to identify which resources artists need most to thrive.
Colleen serves on the Boards of Mini Microcinema, a nonprofit that provides free screenings of experimental film and media for all ages, and Wave Pool, an arts center in Camp Washington that catalyzes community-driven and artist-led projects for social impact. She is the 2020 Distinguished Alumni honoree for Warren Wilson College. She has received a Legacy Next Generation Leader Award and has been honored as a Cincinnati Business Courier C-Suite honoree. Colleen is a graduate of Nonprofit Leadership Institute of Greater Cincinnati’s EXCEL and Leadership Council for Nonprofits’ BOLD, (Board Orientation + Leadership Development) programs. She is a member of Leadership Cincinnati Class 44.
Colleen and her husband, Andy, an elementary art teacher, are the parents of two wonderfully creative girls. She has a deep passion for children’s art and loves engaging her own children in arts projects, volunteering for their schools by leading youth-designed costumes for the kindergarten school play, completing a service week school-wide mural, and publishing a school cookbook featuring art by children throughout the school. She loves to enjoy the beauty of the world through camping, canoeing and hiking and pushes her own creative practice of photography with occasional painting, sewing and quilting.
Senior Director, Impact
As Senior Director of Impact, Sydney leads the strategic direction, management, and evaluation of ArtWorks’ programming and project impact. Sydney has dedicated her career to improving opportunities and outcomes for youth and communities. Prior to joining ArtWorks, Sydney was a Teach for America corps member in Milwaukee, WI. Her experience in the classroom led her to Future 5, a youth development nonprofit organization in Stamford, CT, where she led fundraising as Development Manager. A life-long learner of dance, music, and photography, it was a natural fit for Sydney to join the ArtWorks team to combine her passions for meaningful educational opportunities and the arts. Sydney received her BA from the University of Michigan, where she double-majored in Anthropology and Film, Television, & Media and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Additionally, Sydney earned her MA in Education at Alverno College during her service with Teach for America. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys hiking, ballroom dancing, and listening to the Bluegrass All-Stars at The Comet.
Senior Director, Finance & Talent
As Senior Director of Finance & Talent, Jane is responsible for ArtWorks financial planning and reporting and oversees Human Resources for employee relations, policies, programs and practices. She is the past President/CEO for the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC). Prior to CYC, Jane’s career included senior leadership roles in manufacturing and financial services. Jane’s community work is extensive including leadership roles with the Nonprofit Leadership Council Board, Leadership Cincinnati, the Governor’s Community Connector Advisory Board, Cincinnati Public Schools My Tomorrow Steering Committee and United Way Board. She is a graduate of Leadership Cincinnati and Leadership Action. Jane holds a Master of Public Administration from Northern Kentucky University, a Bachelor of Accounting from University of Cincinnati and is a CPA. Jane shares her life with Bob and Diamond, their dog. Jane enjoys traveling, gardening, cooking and reading just about anything.
Senior Director, Advancement
As Senior Director of Advancement, Jeff is responsible for leading strategy, planning and execution for successful fundraising and development activities. Jeff has more than 25 years of leadership experience in nonprofit organizations. For 10 years, he served as the Director of Development and Marketing at Cincinnati Nature Center, and previously as the Chief Development Officer at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, and the Botanic Garden of Western Pennsylvania. His work includes coordinating a $32 million capital campaign and securing gifts of up to $5 million.
Prior to working with nature-based organizations, Jeff served as Executive Director of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Lexington Philharmonic. In Cincinnati, he has served as the Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations at Cincinnati Opera and General Manager at Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.
Jeff completed a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance and a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration from the University of Cincinnati. He has taught nonprofit management courses at the University of Kentucky and the University of Akron. Currently, Jeff serves on the boards of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Greater Milford Area Historical Society. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys spending time with his daughters, Olivia and Sophia, and working to create an artistic backyard garden showcasing native plants.
Manager, Artist Impact
As Artist Impact Coordinator, Marquise Adkins is committed to creating spaces for more diverse and inclusive arts and media, as well as bridging youth and underrepresented groups to these resources. Marquise is a recent graduate of DePaul University where she majored in Anthropology and minored in Psychology. With a passion for community, Marquise was active on campus and worked as a Community Lead mentor under the Office of Multicultural Student Success. She also dedicated her time as a Research Assistant for the Social Intergroup Perceptions (SIP) Lab. Prior to her college career, Marquise graduated from the School for Creative and Performing Arts as a Dance major, and she gladly uses her background in the creative arts to connect and collaborate with people in the artistic community. In her personal endeavors, she is always in search to learn new things and has recently taken on hobbies including roller skating, DJing, yoga, and plant-based cooking. Learn more about Marquise.
Karla Batres Gilvin
Director, Community Impact
As Director of Community Impact, Karla (she/her) is responsible for all projects, initiatives, and events focused on creative placemaking/keeping, community outreach and engagement strategies, place-based work, and public art consulting, education, and community planning. Karla Batres Gilvin moved to Cincinnati in 2011 to obtain a BFA in Sculpture from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. While there, she acted as a coordinator for the Community Education Department, instructed art classes for Camp Art Academy, and met her future collaborator and life partner Bradly Gilvin. Subsequently, Karla taught undergraduate fine art classes and co-founded the art collaborative Batres Gilvin, while obtaining an MFA from UC DAAP. In 2020, Batres Gilvin was presented an Emerging Artist Jump Start Award by ArtWorks. In turn, Karla co-facilitated Give A Minute Cincinnati, a Greater Cincinnati community arts project. Additionally, Batres Gilvin co-created Artworks’ first mural-in-the-round, Casa Colina, and was awarded the Artist-in-Residence at the Contemporary Arts Center and The ArtWorks V² Gallery in 2021. Prior to joining ArtWorks, Karla was the Community Programs Administrator at the Contemporary Arts Center where she worked with artists and organizations to research and develop community-focused programs.
As a practicing artist, educator, and community arts facilitator Karla believes in art as a tool for connection. She values the importance of collaboration, an awareness of intersectionality, and an emphasis on accessibility + inclusivity. She currently lives with her partner and daughter on a Northern Kentucky farm surrounded by art, family, cows, donkeys, and her beloved dogs. She takes pride in being a daughter of immigrants and loves traveling to see her family in Mexico when life permits.
Manager, Creative Projects
As Creative Projects Manager, Zhaira (she/her) is responsible for the day-to-day operations of public art projects, working directly with external partners, artists and youth apprentices to execute projects successfully. She is a Filipino-American art administrator and curator focusing largely on accessibility and diversity in the arts, local up-and-coming artists, and contemporary arts at the varied intersections of gender, race, and queer theory. She studied art history at the University of North Texas.
Zhaira has worked with arts organizations to diversify their roster of artists and aid in the creation of grants and opportunities for POC creatives. Her most notable work was completed as the Founder and Director of ARThaus, a grassroots non-profit she started in Denton, Texas. Seeking a more robust and accessible art community during her last year of undergrad, ARThaus created a space for creatives and art enthusiasts to connect, collaborate, and gain valuable experience. Through the work at ARThaus, Zhaira facilitated solo and group exhibitions, artist residencies, workshops, classes, multiple editions of a community zine, and open critique sessions all at no cost to participants.
Outside of work, you can find her lacing up her roller skates at the local roller rink, spoiling her sweet dog, Amelia, or hosting dinner parties with her dear friends.
Manager, Creative Projects
As Creative Projects Manager, Devin is responsible for the day-to-day operations of public art projects, working directly with external partners, artists and youth apprentices to execute projects successfully. In this role, he coordinates, supports and troubleshoots for designers, artists, and youth apprentices from design concept to project dedication. He is passionate about showcasing the creative talents of artists and youth while providing apprentices with positive growth experiences. Devin has worked within the nonprofit sector since 2010, serving as an intern with Building New Hope in Nicaragua. After receiving a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, he decided to pursue his dual passion for arts and community nonprofits, obtaining an MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University. Before returning to Cincinnati, Devin interned at a variety of arts organizations and was Gallery Director at the Vashon Center for the Arts, in Vashon, Washington. Growing up in Kenwood, Devin is glad to be back in Cincinnati and excited to be part of the ArtWorks’ Team.
Manager, Creative Projects
As Creative Projects Manager, Abby is responsible for the day-to-day operations of public art projects, working directly with external partners, artists and youth apprentices to execute projects successfully. Abby is an artist & nonprofit leader from Chicago. She graduated from the University of Georgia and holds an MA in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Abby most recently worked as a Development Associate & Visual Art Coordinator for Nuçi’s Space, a suicide prevention nonprofit for musicians and artists in Athens. At Nuci’s Space, Abby managed temporary and permanent public art installations and was a member of both the Bias Prevention Task Force and the Youth Committee.
Abby has been heavily involved in creative community development over the past few years and is passionate about providing accessible resources and opportunities to emerging artists. She also makes comics, illustrations, and zines inspired by punk and garage rock music, mental health, and personal growth. Abby is an avid baker and cook and loves to have folks over for dinner, board games, and craft nights.
Director, Creative Projects
As the Director of Creative Projects, Liz is responsible for the planning and execution of all projects that employ artists to carry out ArtWorks’ mission through creative and innovative processes and outcomes. Her extensive experience with project management paired with her expertise and knowledge of call-to-artists and artist-driven projects contributes to her success in this role. Since joining the ArtWorks team in 2017, Liz has enjoyed working closely with artists to develop their ideas and push creative boundaries in an effort to bring bold, fresh artistic concepts to Cincinnati’s public art landscape. Some of Liz’s ArtWorks highlights include the management of BLINK® Light-Based Sculptural Installations (2019), Saya Woolfalk’s Visionary Reality Threshold mural (2019), Chase Melendez’s 8C4I5N1 neon mural (2019), and New Lines Phase II: Bolivar Alley (2018). As a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Liz’s educational background is in creative writing, English literature, art education, and fine art. As an artist, Liz is a proud member of the local feminist collective, ART HAGS.
As the Development Manager, Liz Neidich manages the acknowledgement and stewardship of all ArtWorks donors and is the key database administrator. She also oversees all mural tour operations as well as the recruitment and engagement of all ArtWorks volunteers. Before joining the ArtWorks team, Liz served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the CityLink Center in the West End and as the Development Assistant at Santa Maria Community Services in Price Hill. Liz graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2015 with bachelor’s degrees in creative writing and communications and a certificate in journalism. As a self-proclaimed coffee and beer fanatic, Liz enjoys traveling and visiting local breweries and coffee shops with her husband, Steve, and their dog, Gatsby.
Manager, Communications and Marketing
As the Communications and Marketing Manager, Sandra Okot-Kotber (she/her/hers) slays all digital communications for ArtWorks including but not limited to, newsletters, social media, and press releases. She is the organization’s past executive assistant and office manager. Prior to arriving at ArtWorks, Sandra worked on administrative teams for Macy’s and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. In her free time, Sandra is a writer and Communications Director for Women of Cincy, a nonprofit media platform. In 2015, Sandra graduated with a bachelor’s of Human Communication from the University of Central Florida. She is married to the grind and mother to a loving canine named, Foxxy.
As the Manager of Finance, Francesca processes all day-to-day financial data. She is also responsible for maintaining personnel records, employee benefits and payroll. She has been in the Cincinnati area since 1997 and joined the ArtWorks team in April 2011. Francesca enjoys floral arranging and spending time with her family and friends.
Director, Artist Impact
Amy joined the ArtWorks team in 2014 as the Executive Assistant and Office Manager. In 2018 she transitioned to working with our Youth Apprentices and Professional Artists. Amy oversees youth programming including enrichment, education, and hiring. Prior to joining the ArtWorks team, Amy worked in the Admissions Department of the Art Academy of Cincinnati as the Lead Admissions Counselor and High School Visit Coordinator. Amy also attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Sculpture, in 2010. She is also a graduate of ArtWorks Co.Starters program where Pull Club Studio, a girl-powered printmaking studio was born. Amy is passionate about public art, place keeping, and engaging young, emerging and student artists.
Our Founding Director
Meet Our Board