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Six Leaders of Color from Our Region Selected for National Fellowship Program

By Elizabeth Snell

Leaders of Color Fellowship image with headshots of the fellows on a navy blue and yellow painterly background

Six leaders of color—Amy June Breesman, Michelle Antonina Burdex, Israel Carranza, Pamela Hart, Devin Hursey, Asya Webster—from the M-AAA six-state region have been accepted into the 2023-24 National Leaders of Color Fellows program. Alongside 48 other leaders from various communities nationwide, these 54 fellows will engage in an eight-month online leadership development experience curated by WESTAF in collaboration with the United States Regional Arts Organizations (US RAOs).

The program aims to establish multicultural leadership in the creative and cultural sector, providing fellows with access to specialists, strategic learning objectives focused on anti-racist and culturally oriented leadership practices, and opportunities for national-level networking and cohort building.

An expansion of WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color program, which has been partnering with and supporting 100+ BIPOC arts and culture leaders since 2010, the Leaders of Color Fellowship (LoCF) and its mission have become a national endeavor with collective support and commitment from the collaborative of the six US RAOs.

Todd Stein, president and CEO at Mid-America Arts Alliance says, “The impressive efforts that these arts and cultural leaders have already contributed to the communities they serve truly inspires us. The impact of their work deserves national attention and support. Our goal is to give them more opportunities to share best practices and create meaningful connections across the country. We thank our friends at WESTAF for their role in expanding the reach and impact of this program and of these National Leaders of Color fellows.”

“As we enter the second year of the program, I can truly say that the content has grown due to the feedback from the most recent alumni,” said Anika Tené, WESTAF director of social responsibility and inclusion and LoCF strategic lead. “The new fellows can expect deeper engagement with each other, faculty, and US RAO staff, while grappling with regional and national issues that impact our sector. We anticipate that the second-year fellows will become thought partners, ready to engage in national conversations about the arts”.

Meet the Leaders from Our Region:

Amy June Breesman (Lawrence, Kansas)

Amy June is the artist, activist, and seed keeper behind Bluejacket Handcraft and Good Way Farm in Lawrence, Kansas. She also serves as the land relations specialist at the Land Institute, engaging in the cultural piece of agriculture. She was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area and relocated to Kansas in 2023, making her new home on Kaw, Osage, and Kickapoo territories. While rooted heavily in photography, she enjoys a multidisciplinary approach to applied research and craft. Her work is largely informed by her mixed heritage as an enrolled member of the Eastern Shawnee Nation of Oklahoma and queer identity. Her work addresses themes of racial and social justice, Indigenous self-determination, and food sovereignty.



Michelle Antonina Burdex (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

Michelle Antonina Burdex, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, boasts a dynamic 25-year tenure as the program coordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center (GCC). Renowned for her stewardship, she pioneered acclaimed initiatives such as the Young Entrepreneurs’ Summer Program, GCC’s Performing Arts Program, and the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Summer and After School Program.

A storyteller and tour guide, Burdex has guided thousands of students, educators, and tourists through the vivid tapestry of Greenwood’s history. Notably, she led a tour for U.S. President Joe Biden during GCC’s 100-year remembrance of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in 2021. Her gift lies in educating about both the tragic legacy of the massacre and the resilience of Black Wall Street, weaving together narratives that resonate deeply. 

Recognized for her leadership, she joined the Oklahoma Arts Council’s Leadership Arts Program and Leadership Tulsa’s Thrive Tulsa Leadership Program in 2020. Presently, as a Bloomberg Tech Fellow, she’s engaged in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Digital Accelerator Program, showcasing her commitment to innovative progress in cultural education and advocacy.


Israel Carranza (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Israel Carranza is a Mexican-American artist who has been creating abstract expressionistic paintings inspired by his Indigenous Mexican heritage for many years. He was born and raised in Illinois and recently moved to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Carranza’s art is a reflection of his deep connection to his cultural roots and his passion for exploring the intersection of Indigenous Mexican traditions and contemporary art. His paintings are characterized by bold, vibrant colors and abstract forms that evoke the natural landscapes, myths, and symbols of Mexico’s Indigenous communities.

In addition to his art, Carranza is also active in organizing cultural events in Lincoln that celebrate and showcase the rich heritage of Mexico and its people. He has been instrumental in bringing traditional music, dance, and food to the local community and promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

Carranza’s work has been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States, and he has received recognition for his contributions to the arts, community and culture. He continues to create and share his art with the world, inspiring others to connect with their own cultural heritage and explore the power of art as a means of expression and connection.


Pamela Hart (Austin, Texas)

Pamela Hart is considered Austin’s First Lady of Jazz, designated by AustinWoman Magazine. She has devoted over 25 years of her life toward singing jazz and keeping the jazz genre alive. She and her husband Kevin Hart co-founded the Women in Jazz Association, Inc. in 1994, and she has been an advocate for women keeping jazz alive. She performed Sunday livestream house concerts most Sundays in 2020 to soothe the soul during Covid-19 sheltering. She released a CD, “Happy Talk” in May 2021. She was inducted into the Austin Jazz Society Hall of Fame in 2018. 

Hart has received many awards for her community work as a jazz supporter. These include the Connie Yerwood Conner National Woman of Achievement Award, and Jazz at St. James A.D. Mannion Award, Texas State University Outstanding Alumni Award, Links Austin Chapter Arts Award, and the BOSS Award of Distinction. With her performances, the Women in Jazz Association, Inc., vocal performance workshops, and vocal coaching, Hart is making a difference in the Austin music scene. Thanks to City of Austin Economic Development Department Thrive funding, she produced the first annual Austin Women in Jazz Festival in November 2023.


Devin Hursey (Kansas City, Missouri)

Devin Hursey is a writer and graphic designer, with a passion for telling stories about people living with HIV and public health. Hursey, from Kansas City, Missouri, holds dual master’s degrees in public health and strategic communications from the University of Missouri Columbia. In 2019, Hursey was honored as one of the “40 Under 40” in public health by The de Beaumont Foundation, as well as a 2023 Public Health Thought Leader by the Boston Congress of Public Health. His local and state work includes a featured columnist of the Next Page KC, leadership of the Real Justice Network contributing to campaigns related to local politics, and board membership of Blaqout KC. Formerly: an appointed member of the CDC/HRSA Advisory Committee on HIV and Viral Hepatitis, and many other roles related to the health and rights of people living with HIV. 



Asya Webster (Little Rock, Arkansas)

Asya P. Webster is one of two of the program officers for grants and public programs for the Arkansas Humanities Council. Webster is an Arkansan who was raised in rural Wrightsville but considers it close enough to call herself a Little Rock city native. She has always been involved in humanities even from a young age, performing in dance at the Tidwell Centre for the DansArts for seven years and student theater for four years. Webster completed her undergraduate experience with a bachelors in English Literature at Philander Smith College. She also served as the president of the Creatives, an organization for students interested in the visual and performing arts. Webster’s play, Waiting on Sunrise, is a three-act play consisting of seven individual 10-minute plays. The last segment of Waiting on Sunrise was selected to be a part of ACANSA’s Third Annual 10-Minute Play Showcase. She also taught high school English at a rural underserved school. Webster’s passion is making more space for and having the arts be more accessible for disadvantaged/overlooked populations in Arkansas. She is currently co-founding the Next Gen(eration) Humanities Conference through the Arkansas Humanities Council. 


Upon completion of the program, participants transition to alumni status and have opportunities to collaborate with the RAO in their region as advisors, funding panelists, and/or other professional capacities. 


To learn more about the 2023-24 fellows, visit https://artslead.org/leaders/2023nationalfellows/.


The National Leaders of Color Fellowship is supported by the six United States Regional Arts Organizations (US RAOs) Arts Midwest, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Mid Atlantic Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, South Arts, and program convener WESTAF


About the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations

​​The United States Regional Arts Organizations (US RAOs) strengthen and support arts, culture, and creativity in their individual regions as well as across the nation. They serve the nation’s artists, arts and culture organizations, and creative communities with programs that reflect and celebrate the diversity of the field in which they work. They partner with the National Endowment for the Arts, state arts agencies, individuals, and other public and private funders to develop and deliver programs, services, and products that advance arts and creativity. Learn more at www.usregionalarts.org.