Season of the Arts

Meet some of the women who run South Florida arts groups

Katherine Amadeo is co-founder and artistic director of The Naked Stage.
Katherine Amadeo is co-founder and artistic director of The Naked Stage. Bachi Frost

Katherine Amadeo

Title: Artistic Director, The Naked Stage.

Career Highlights: Co-founder, The Naked Stage. Producer and director, The 24-Hour Theatre Project.

Biographical: Born in North Miami, grew up in Boca Raton. Married, two children.

Quote: “As a woman in the arts, you have to work twice as hard to earn the respect that a man would automatically get. That is a frustrating reality. I started my company with two men. The first few years of our company’s existence, I had to constantly fight the assumption that the men were in charge, making all the artistic decisions, and I was along for the ride.”

Dale Andree

Title: Founder and Director, National Water Dance.

Career Highlights: Founder and director, Mary Street Dance Theatre. Co-president, Miami Dance Umbrella.

Biographical: Born in Evanston, Illinois; grew up in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Bachelor of Fine Arts, Boston Conservatory of Music.

Quote: “Obstacles are part of life, whatever you choose to do, and in terms of dealing with them it’s a present-tense question, not past. I’ve found that it’s my willingness to simply doggedly pursue what I want that keeps me going. Insecurities and insurmountable [obstacles] are always present, waiting to stop you if you stop to acknowledge them. I take a look, worry a little and then just keep going.”

Stephanie Lerner Ansin

Title: Founder and artistic director, Miami Theater Center.

Career Highlights: Founding Miami Theater Center. Co-writing and directing The Red Thread. Co-adapting and directing Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Biography: Grew up in Coral Gables. Bachelor of Arts, Brown University; Master of Fine Arts, Columbia University. Mother is Toby Lerner Ansin, founder of Miami City Ballet; father is local broadcasting magnate Edmund Ansin. Married, one child.

Quote: “As we approach our 10th anniversary this spring, our goal at Miami Theater Center is to continue to engage new audiences and wow them with the innovative, high-quality work created by our talented artistic team. Theater is magical — a unique, hybrid of celebration, conflict, discovery, beauty, joy and fun — and we want our South Florida community to know that when you come to MTC, you can expect to be transfixed, transported and transformed.”

Patrice Bailey

Title: Dean of theater, New World School of the Arts.

Career Highlights: Eight years teaching and directing at New World, 13 years leading the theater division. George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. Worked on Tony Awards with Smith-Hemion Productions.

Biographical: Born in Brooklyn, grew up in Miami. Associate of Arts, Miami Dade College; Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts, Indiana State University; Master of Fine Arts, Florida State University.

Quote: “Our main goal in New World’s theater division is to nurture young talent by offering our students exceptional training while permitting them to discover their potential as artists and their abilities to create theater as actors, directors and playwrights. We have the joy and the responsibility to graduate artists who will make a significant contribution to theater on a local and national level.”

Hannah Baumgarten

Title: Co-artistic director, Dance NOW! Miami.

Career Highlights: Florida Choreographic Fellowship. Danced with Labyrinth Dance Theatre, William Adair and Dancers, Utah Ballet, Michael Uthoff Dance Theatre, Karen Peterson and Dancers, Momentum Dance Company, Giovanni Luquini and Dancers, Ballet Flamenco La Rosa. Directed Dillard Center for the Arts magnet dance program. Teaches in summer programs at Interlochen and Joffrey Ballet School.

Biographical: Grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and Jerusalem, Israel. Bachelor of Fine Arts, Juilliard School.

Quote: “I always knew that dance would be my life’s journey ... dance chose me, as we say. ... Directing a contemporary dance company in South Florida is truly a blessing. While it is always challenging for a nonprofit to meet the bottom line, the level of support provided by the state, county and smaller communities is quite impressive compared to the rest of the nation, especially considering the relatively young age of Miami as an urban/metropolitan cultural center.”

Rena Blades

Title: President and CEO, Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.

Career Highlights: Executive director, Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science. Owned RM Gallery in Houston.

Biography: Born in Houston, grew up in Bellville, Texas. Bachelor of Arts, Connecticut College; Master of Arts, Rice University. Married, one son, two stepchildren.

Quote: “The arts in South Florida are growing. Audiences, the economic impact of the whole cultural industry, and the number of events are all increasing. How long does it take to change that old, tired perception that South Florida is for retirees and that it’s not a place to go to find sophisticated arts? All of us fortunate enough to work in the arts must work diligently to let people know that this is a place ... where the arts are alive, plentiful and outstanding.”

Bonnie Clearwater

Title: Director and chief curator, NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

Career Highlights: Director and chief curator, Museum of Art, North Miami. Curator, The Mark Rothko Foundation, New York. Director of art programs, Lannan Foundation, Los Angeles. Director and chief curator, Lannan Museum, Lake Worth.

Biography: Born in New York. Bachelor of Arts, New York University. Master of Arts, Columbia University. Married.

Quote: “I want to firmly establish NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale as the bridge that unites the South Florida art scene into a continuous Art Coast.”

Karen Peterson Corash

Title: Founder and artistic director, Karen Peterson and Dancers.

Career Highlights: Four choreography fellowships from Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Lifetime Achievement Award from the New World School of the Arts. John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Winner.

Biographical: Born in Worcester, Massachusetts. Bachelor of Fine Arts, Boston Conservatory. Married, two sons.

Quote: “I have seen the physical, emotional and social benefits that a dance program can bring to students with special needs and the joy, excitement and pride they display when given the chance to perform. My art form can also challenge audiences’ held beliefs about disability and provides a fresh role model for equality and creativity. ... There is a give and take, intimate human approach that gets to the very core of integrated dance. This opportunity to learn from each other and share a creative experience inspires and motivates me to continue dance-making for the next 25 years.”

Genie Croft

Title: Artistic director and president, The Women’s Theatre Project.

Career Highlights: Founder and artistic director of Plantation Players, the Fort Lauderdale Theatre Company, the Theatre Company of Plantation.

Biographical: Born in Hollywood, California; grew up in California and Chicago. Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Arizona. Married, two children, one grandchild.

Quote: “It is a rush of adrenaline to breathe life into the text of a play and to be the artist who creatively blends all the dynamic elements and unique language of the stage into an experience the audience actually feels.”

Kim Ehly

Title: Founder and artistic director, Kutumba Theatre Project.

Career Highlights: Playwright and director of Baby GirL at The New York International Fringe Festival. Actor in film, TV, theater, commercials and voice-overs in New York, Los Angeles and South Florida. Directed Baby GirL, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles and Julie Johnson for Kutumba.

Biographical: Grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Social Work, Florida Atlantic University. Lives with her partner.

Quote: “Theater is the most collaborative, living-and-breathing art form. I’m interested in relationships and process, and how that affects and transports the audience to another place and time. Sitting in a dark theater, using one’s imagination, the exchange between the actors and the patrons is transporting ... it can be magic, change perspectives, impart knowledge and encourage empathy.”

Janet Erlick

Title: Executive artistic director, Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre.

Career Highlights: Created numerous community outreach programs in more than 20 years with the theater. Chair of the Cultural Executives Committee, member of Broward Cultural Council, chair of the Broward Arts Connection.

Biography: Grew up in Philadelphia. Bachelor of Arts, Swarthmore College. Three stepsons.

Quote: “Theater education transforms and expands lives. It fosters creativity, empathy, personal responsibility, connection and collaboration through the exploration of who we are and who we wish to be. How incredible to be involved in this magical world every day.”

Kathy Gaubatz

Title: Executive director, Miami Bach Society and Tropical Baroque Music Festival.

Biographical: Born in Utica, grew up in Syracuse, New York. Bachelor of Arts, Wellesley College; Master of Social Work, University of Chicago. Married.

Quote: “Much of ‘early music,’ western classical music written before 1800, was written to express a nonverbal, nonvisual representation of God. It was created to bring joy to the spirit and comfort the soul. It still does. Because we live under such constant stress in our personal and professional lives, we need its inspirational and curative powers as much now as when it was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”

Rosie Gordon-Wallace

Title: Founder and executive director, Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator.

Career Highlights: Directing DVCAI. Serving on an artist-in-residency project. Board member at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Visual Artists Network, International Cultural Exchange, Brazz Dance.

Biography: Born in Kingston, Jamaica. Studied microbiology at the University College of the West Indies and the University of Manchester. Married, one son.

Quote: “The work that we incubate is personal. DVCAI creates work with artists from the Caribbean. We encourage these artists to use art as a tool for social change. We nudge them to think critically and to hone and develop a social practice that is fed by our global community. DVCAI travels with Miami artists to the Caribbean, and we engage artists living in the region to share their practice with us. ... We encourage artists to explore and experiment with new forms and themes that challenge traditional definitions of Caribbean art.”

Rosie Herrera

Title: Founder and artistic director/choreographer, Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre.

Career Highlights: Commissions from the American Dance Festival, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami Light Project, Ballet Hispanico. Dance-theater pieces at Baryshnikov Arts Center and Joyce Theater in New York. Major pieces include Show.Girl., Dining Alone, Pity Party, Various Stages of Drowning.

Biography: Born and raised in Hialeah. Bachelor of Fine Arts, New World School of the Arts. Princess Grace Fellowship.

Quote: “Many people misunderstand that success for our creative community means that we will look like other cosmopolitan cities, but I think our strength lies in our uniqueness. We are, because of a lack of working models already in place, in the perfect position to redefine traditional norms and create newer, more-sustainable working models for artists and for arts communities.”

Margaret M. Ledford

Title: President, South Florida Theatre League.

Career Highlights: Silver Palm Awards for directing, Carbonell Award nominations for directing, Resident Director of The Promethean Theatre.

Biographical: Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bachelor of Arts, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Married.

Quote: “I have always loved the spoken story, people-watching and photography. Directing seemed to naturally come from my love of those three things.”

Jody Leshinsky

Title: Assistant director, Broward Cultural Division.

Career Highlights: Board member of Carbonell Awards, Advertising Federation of Greater Fort Lauderdale, Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce Downtown Council. Grants panelist for Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

Biographical: Grew up near New York City. Bachelor of Arts, Indiana State University. Married, two daughters.

Quote: “I am so very proud of the progress that Broward County has made since I first moved here. We went from just a handful of cultural organizations to more than 823 not-for-profit cultural organizations. Eight are major cultural institutions with budgets over the $1 million mark. According to the last U.S. census, there are 10,000 artists living in Broward County.”

Mary Luft

Title: Founder and director, Tigertail Productions.

Career Highlights: Co-artistic director of Fusion Dance Company, co-director of two New Music America Festivals, CEO Composer’s Forum in New York.

Biographical: Born Sioux City, Iowa. Had Fullbright Fellowship in Brazil. Lives with her partner; two children, three grandchildren.

Quote: “I have been involved in performance since the age of 4 ... Touring productions in the 1950s by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, American Ballet Theatre, symphony and Broadway productions, and exposure to many of this country’s major museums early on formed the basis of my interest in visual art and performance.”

Deborah Margol

Title: Deputy director, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.

Career Highlights: Director of Festival Miami at the University of Miami; assistant to the executive director of the Philadelphia Orchestra; management intern with the National Symphony, Washington D.C.

Biographical: Born in New Rochelle, New York; raised in Westchester County. Bachelor of Science, Georgetown University. Parents Janet and Martin Bookspan notable in the world of opera and music. Married, two children.

Quote: “Key goals are finding an escalating dedicated revenue source for the arts to underpin the growth, development and excellence of the nonprofit arts and the work of individual artists; returning flagship professional regional theater to the county ... and in collaboration with the private sector, to fashion Miami-Dade County’s cityscape and landscape into a consistently spectacular built and natural environment, applying the highest design standards and featuring aesthetics and design principles informed by world-renowned artists, architects, planners, landscape architects and designers.”

Jan McArt

Title: Director of Theater Arts Development; Producer of Live at Lynn Theater and American Songbook series, Jan McArt’s New Play Reading Series, all at Lynn University.

Career Highlights: Has starred and produced on Broadway. Sang with the NBC Opera and San Francisco Opera. Owned and produced at the Royal Palm Dinner Theatre for almost 25 years. Appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Biographical: Born in Cleveland. Attended DePauw University. Studied with Lee Strasberg. One daughter, two grandchildren.

Quote: “I want to expand my programs to bigger and better attractions and include a Live at Lynn Repertory Theatre and a Summer Series at Lynn University; to expose new students to our wonderful theater program’s joint venture with the Elaine Johnson Wold College for Creative and Performing Arts at the Irish American University ... and, of course, to hopefully continue to entertain and make wonderful things happen for my audiences.”

Judith A. Mitchell

Title: CEO of the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

Career Highlights: Vice president and general manager of Ruth Eckard Hall.

Biographical: Grew up in Madera, California. Attended Abilene Christian University. Married, five children, two grandchildren.

Quote: “My goals are to continue to have the Kravis Center be a relevant and impactful community gathering place, and to build an endowment for long-term financial stability to assure continued arts education for all ages.”

Shirley Richardson

Title: Executive director and co-founder, M Ensemble.

Career Highlights: Pioneered arts intervention program for offending youth in the Juvenile Detention Center. Worked for Miami-County Department of Human Services as a substance abuse prevention specialist. Created award winning puppet shows for Miami-Dade County schools. Director and therapist at Concept Health Systems Outpatient Program.

Biography: Born and raised in Coconut Grove. Attended Florida A&M University; Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Miami; Master of Science, Nova Southeastern University

Quote: “Most of my aunts and my mother were domestic workers at the then-segregated Coconut Grove Playhouse [in the 1950s]. ... my mother continued to work there when Zev Buffman bought it. I got a chance to see many of the plays while my mom worked ... and to meet some famous stars, such as Lucille Ball, Tallulah Bankhead and Liza Minnelli. I watched Liza in The Fantasticks every chance I got, and was mesmerized. My passion for the theater grew stronger, and I decided to major in it when I enrolled in Florida A&M. The rest is history.”

Maria Banda-Rodaz

Title: Executive director, Area Stage Company and Theatre Conservatory.

Career Highlights: Founder and general manager, Danzas Jazz in Ecuador. Managing director, Area Stage Company. Multicultural director, Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre. Founder and president, Videndi Entertainment Group

Biography: Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Bachelor’s degree in modern languages, Florida International University. Married, five children.

Quote: “At the beginning of my career, everyone in my family told me I would never be able to ‘make it.’ I continue to fight that perception on a larger scale. People in general are not aware of how rewarding life in the arts is and can be. I love what I do!”

Mera Rubell

Title: Co-founder, Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation.

Career Highlights: Partner, Rubell and Miller Inc. in New York, specializing in commercial leasing. Lincoln Road Task Force. Developed the Sony Music Building. Partner, Rubell Hotels.

Biography: Born in Russia, came to the United States at age 12. Bachelor of Arts, Brooklyn College. Master’s in education, Long Island University. Married, two children.

Quote: “Collecting the way my husband and family have been doing for the last 50 years has become a way of life. It’s an endless adventure into people, places and ideas ... The power of artistic engagement has transformed this community into believing in itself. Miami is a dynamic place to live, and art is a huge economic engine.”

Carlene M. Sawyer

Title: Executive director, Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation.

Career Highlights: Executive Board member for Printer’s Row Book Fair and the Harold Washington Literary Award in Chicago.

Biographical: Born and raised in Miami. Bachelor of Arts, Florida International University. Graduate study, George Washington University. One daughter.

Quote: “When I was growing up in Miami in the 1960s, we had some art ... but the area was better known for visiting [nightclub] entertainment ... When I returned in 2004 after a 25-year absence, the city was huge, and then transformation: the Arsht Center downtown, the Frank Gehry New World Center in Miami Beach, Art Basel and the creation of arts neighborhoods, a museum campus on the waterfront that integrates the swoon of physical beauty that Miami has always had with a physical infrastructure for the arts. Today the arts make South Florida.”  

Chana Budgazad Sheldon

Title: Executive director and chief curator, Locust Projects.

Career Highlights: Art in Public Places committee member, city of Miami Beach. Director at Casey Kaplan gallery, New York.

Biography: Born in Queens, grew up on Long Island. Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts. Married, two children.

Quote: “Artists come to the gallery with big ideas and are really able to transform the space. Artists push boundaries, both in terms of what the institution can do and in terms of what they’ve done before in their own work ... and this can be a big moment in their careers. This is what draws me to the curatorial and production side of the art world. I love working at an institution where there is so much freedom ... where the artists’ ideas can develop and change as the project develops, resulting in an exhibition that is totally unexpected.”

Nicole Stodard

Title: Producing artistic director and executive director, Thinking Cap Theatre at The Vanguard.

Career Highlights: Founding an alternative venue for the performing arts in downtown Fort Lauderdale and theater company founder. Adjunct professor, University of South Florida and University of Tampa.

Biography: Born in Madison, Wisconsin, grew up in Crofton, Maryland. Bachelor of Arts, Lafayette College. Master of Arts, Trinity College. Doctoral degree (dissertation pending), University of South Florida. Married, two children.

Quote: “The three trademarks of Thinking Cap Theatre’s fare are experimental, thought-provoking and socially conscious [theater] — the last of which may mean that a work explores or expresses the point of view of an underrepresented population; in the theater world, women remain one such population. To date Thinking Cap has staged a dozen full-length productions. Women playwrights penned seven of the 12. It is my hope that in continuing to do our part in fulfilling the mission of the ‘50/50 in 2020 Project’ ... that TCT will be recognized as a leading example in our region of gender equity in programming and employment.”

Susan Westfall

Title: Co-founder and literary director, City Theatre.

Career Highlights: Worked at Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., and Coconut Grove Playhouse. Co-founded City Theatre, helped launch Summer Shorts Festival, created CityWrights playwrights’ conference. Working playwright. Namesake of Susan Westfall Playwrights Stage at the Carnival Studio Theater in Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Biography: Born and raised in Miami. Bachelor of Fine Arts, Florida State University. Married, two sons.

Quote: “I have loved theater and writing since I was a child. I consider myself lucky to work for a theater company whose dedication to 10-minute play development and production opens my artist’s eyes and sharpens my writing skill to the endless storytelling possibilities of the genre ... entertaining audiences of all ages on stages throughout South Florida.”

Marilynn A. Wick

Title: Executive producer of the Wick Theatre and Costume Museum; Founder and CEO of Costume World.

Career Highlights: Grew small Halloween costume store into the country’s largest supplier of theatrical costumes, including numerous original costumes from Broadway shows. Acquired shuttered Caldwell Theatre Company and transformed it into the Wick.

Biography: Born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Two daughters.

Quote: “I’ve always had a great love for the theater and theater people. The costume business kept me involved with the process, albeit peripherally ... but [I started the Costume Museum because] I wanted to preserve these costumes and make them available for viewing by the public to honor the incredible efforts of over 100 years of costume design for the American musical theater. When the acquisition of the Caldwell came about, the marriage between the museum and the theater seemed a match made in heaven.”

Patricia E. Williams

Title: Producer and general manager, M Ensemble Company.

Career Highlights: Co-founder of M Ensemble Company.

Biographical: Born and raised in Florida. Bachelor of Arts, Northwestern University.

Quote: “My goal is to secure a permanent home for the theater company.”

Joann Maria Yarrow

Title: Artistic Director, Teatro Prometeo.

Career Highlights: Acting professor and documentary producer, Union College. Member of Directors Lab West. Co-founded A Laboratory for Actor Training.

Biographical: Born in Barranquilla, Colombia. Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University, Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California Irvine. Married, two children.

Quote: “My vision is to see Teatro Prometeo continue to grow and provide quality actor training as well as being a hub for professional artists to share their creative ideas and collaborate on new projects ... My goal is to create a professional repertory and become nationally accredited; my challenge is getting the word out and finding additional funding to support our endeavors.”