Thanks for attending the 3rd Essex County Arts & Culture Summit!

Five years have passed since ECCF first launched its partnership with the Barr Foundation, and the Creative County Initiative and we were delighted to share the celebration with over 300 Arts and Culture stakeholders from across the county!

Thank you to those that joined us as we shared community impact stories, introduced inspiring collaborations, heard from some of our most gifted artists, and shared a vision for our next several years of investment, leadership, and advocacy. 


Welcome by Casey Soward, Executive Director, The Cabot

Opening and Land Acknowledgement, Richard Sumberg, ECCF Board of Trustees

San San Wong, Director, Arts & Creativity, Barr Foundation

Karen Ristuben, Program Director, Creative County Initiative: CCI Impacts, Opportunities, and the Road Ahead

Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council: Mass Cultural Council Priorities for 2022


Steve Lacey Quartet

Ana Tinajero: Spoken word/Dance

Photos/Video: @Black.Brown.Boston on IG

Music: Jimmy Fontanez - Sabana Havana; Patrick Patrikio - You Should

Dar Williams, Artist talk and performance: Positive Proximity and What I Found in a Thousand Towns

Michelle la Poetica and Lisa Miller-Gillespie spoken word and dance performance

Wangari Fahari - Closing Performance

Peabody Cultural Collaborative Panel

From pop-up to permanent - North Shore Children's Museum - 3 Years Later

Moderator: Stratton Lloyd, COO, and Executive V.P., ECCF
Camille Bartlett, Executive Director, Peabody TV
Mayor Ted Bettencourt, City of Peabody

Tim Brown,  Director of Innovation and Strategy, Northeast ARC
Ali Haydock, Executive Director, North Shore Children’s Museum
Martha Holden, Board Member, North Shore Children’s Museum

City of Lynn panel

Community Partnerships in Arts & Culture

Moderator: Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, Executive Director, RAW Arts
Edwin Cabrera, Founder, Grindhouse Records and Lynn Hip Hop Wall of Fame
Aaron Claussen, Principal Planner, City of Lynn
Tia Cole, Special Projects manager, Creative Collective, Founder, Galleries at Lynn Arts and Lynn Main Streets and Chair, Lynn Public Art
LaCrecia Thomson, Arts & Culture Planner, City of Lynn
Doneeca Thurston, Executive Director, Lynn Museum/LynnArts

Beth Francis, President, and CEO, Essex County Community Foundation: Philanthropic Support of Arts, Culture, and Creativity


Michael J. Bobbitt - Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council

Michael J. Bobbitt is an award-winning theater director, choreographer, and playwright who has dedicated his professional career to arts leadership. He began his tenure as Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council in February 2021 and is the highest-ranking cultural official in Massachusetts. Bobbitt serves on the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) Board of Directors, the National Assembly of State Arts Agency’s (NASAA) Board of Directors, and was selected for artEquity’s BIPOC Leadership Circle. He is the former Artistic Director of the New Repertory Theater in Watertown, Massachusetts, and the Adventure Theater in Maryland. Bobbitt gained extensive experience in nonprofit arts management by training at Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management, The National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, and Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certification Program. As a director and choreographer, he has worked nationally and internationally. As a writer, his plays have been published by Concord Theatricals, Broadway Publishing, and Plays for Young Audiences. Bobbitt is the recipient of the Excel Leadership Award (Center for Nonprofit Advancement), the Emerging Leader Award (County Executive’s Excellence in the Arts and Humanities), and the Person of the Year Award (Maryland Theatre Guide), along with eight Helen Hayes Awards.


Dar Williams, singer, songwriter, author

Dar Williams’ lyrics contain bouquets of optimism, delivered on melodies alternating between beguiling lightness and understated gravity. Williams strongly believes that all of us possess our own power and ability to achieve, and she rejects the exceptionalism that encourages us to “admire that yonder star,” while making us feel small and insignificant; unworthy of shining on our own but hoping to catch enough distant light to inspire some tiny accomplishment. Williams has always been very interested in how to control our future, and this album has to do with the fact that at some point, you just can’t.

Like everyone else, Williams spent 2020 in that state of non-control. She and longtime producer Stewart Lerman tracked most of the album, her 12th studio recording, in November of 2019. In late February of 2020, she cut the title tune in Woodstock with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and Larry Campbell, who produced the track and played guitars, pedal steel, and twangy baritone guitar. When told they had to postpone a mid-March mixing date, Campbell said he wasn’t feeling well anyway. Turns out he’d contracted a serious case of COVID-19. That was a clear sign that at some point, you have to meet life where it meets you …the common thread throughout that these songs the willingness to meet life as it arrives.

Dar Williams was always in the right place at the right time for the success she’s had over a 25+-year career. She rose out of the vibrant mid-90’s Boston scene, inspired by the eclectic influences of alt-rockers, Berklee jazz musicians, slam poets, and folk artists, like Patty Griffith, Melissa Ferrick, the Throwing Muses, Vance Gilbert, and Jonatha Brooke. After a year of touring non-stop with her first album, The Honesty Room, in 1994, she was invited by Joan Baez to tour in Europe and The United States.

“Good and bad things happen, and it’s not necessarily a reward or indictment. I’ve just got to meet it.” Williams observes. “Like, I’m bringing my whole life to this moment; it will surprise me, challenge me, show me where I was wrong, even make a fool out of me, but my job is to show up and not take adversity personally. Real happiness doesn't have to feel like Snoopy dancing with Woodstock; it can just be knowing you have the resilience to meet whatever comes to you. I will call that a good life.”

Ana Masacote, Dance to Power

I’m just a girl who’s been blessed to share my lifelong love of salsa dance with communities in Boston and around the world. And I’m the proud, queer daughter of Mexican immigrants living at the intersection of multiple identities.

A childhood spent consuming books and dancing at quinceañeras landed this Chicana at MIT, where I studied business and co-founded my first Afro-Latin dance and music company, Masacote Entertainment, with Joel Massicot. Today, it is one of the most influential performance groups in the salsa industry, receiving the 2014 SBA’s MA Minority-Owned Business of the Year Award.

In 2019, I branched off as a solo artist and founded Dance to Power, an online Afro-Latin dance academy. Whether I’m performing, teaching, speaking, or curating events, my goal is to bring cross-cultural communities together and spark conversations through the arts.

Mami taught me hard work and access to education were my pathways to success. But success is only as fun as the journey we share with the world.

Michelle La Poetica Richardson

Born to Dominican immigrant parents in 1976 New York City, shortly thereafter moved to Massachusetts where she lives to this day; Michelle La Poetica prides herself in the main aspects of her being, being a Mother, a Woman and a Creative Soul...all other elements of her existence...fall at the feet of this trinity and rise because of it. She has been writing poetry since she was about 8 years old and through the years she’s come to learn that writing is really the only thing that allows her to become one with her thoughts and emotions.

Wanting to find other poets to engage with, Michelle LaPoetica (then Poetica76) created a platform on AOL called Serious Poetry Tag. This private (invite only) chatroom became popular and sparked the open mic vibe. This led to various opportunities including her first ever feature at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge in 2003. This same year, her need to find a platform for bilingual poets led to the creation of L.E.T.R.A. (Liga de Escritores Talentosos Reformando las Artes) in Lawrence,MA. What was to become a spanglish platform quickly became a hotspot for youth from the city to come and express themselves through poetry. It was through this experience that her love for the open mic really began. Years later LETRA evolved into DENCITY (Developing Expressions Now Creating Initiatives Through You) a broader version of L.E.T.R.A where music performances and any other form of creative expression were also encouraged as part of the open mic. Talent seeking and artist development became a huge part of the open mic and there she discovered that finding a creative soul, that more often than not has forgotten or doesn't even realize what their creative gifts are has undoubtedly become a passion that has driven and moved her to build and create opportunities whenever and wherever possible for all creative souls to grow and shine in safe and brave spaces, free of judgment and filled with love.

Lisa Miller-Gillespie, President and Co-founder, Lawrence Festival of the Arts

Though the first half of my career was spent as an executive administrator, dance (jazz, modern, ballet and contemporary) were always a part of my life and had been since the age of 12. I spent many years performing at various venues around Colorado, where I’m from. I also taught and mentored children. I’d always had an interest in theater and pursued this interest when I left corporate America and found and continue to find it to be an amazing experience.

It was during the pandemic while watching the devastation and isolation that the idea of a festival in a community hard hit by covid yet full of talent came to life. The Lawrence Festival of the Arts is an organization that was created to celebrate the arts and artists in Lawrence. Its goal is to bring people together and foster cross-knowledge between students, artists, and artistic organizations.

Michael Aghahowa - Live Painting in Lobby

Michael Aghahowa is an American artist and professor based in Lynn, Massachusetts. He’s a dynamic creator, most known for his illustrative paintings, murals, and community engagement. His work has many faces that can look like a cartoon to fine art that mixes elements of realism with collage, spray paint, and sculptural materials like cardboard and glass. Through diverse media, Aghahowa often critiques current social and political systems, pulling references from his personal life, art history, and HipHop.

Wangari Fahari, Singer, writer, activist and founder of The Fahari Brand.

Wangari is best known for her modern African soundscapes taking an unusual and innovative approach. Abandoning straight ahead singing and instrumentation of the Swahili folk and Taarab; instead, she features opportunities for continuous improvisation and fusion featuring musicians from different parts of the world.

Collaborating with guitarist Paul Thibeault, Wangari created Wangari Volume 1, an album influenced by her roots growing up in Central Kenya. This album caught the attention of drummer Gabriel Harris and singer activist Joan Baez who worked closely with Wangari to create Wangari Trio and would later lead her to perform on some of the world’s best stages.

Wangari loves making a difference in the world and has teamed up with philanthropic institutions such as The Global Peace Train, The American World Jewish Association, One World Children Fund, and The Greenbelt movement. Raising funds and awareness for Child soldiers in Lira, Uganda, as well as promoting Kenya's wildlife conservation and Agro-forestry.

Currently, Wangari is working with Paul Thibeault, National Heritage Award winner Balla Kouyate (Mali), Thierno Camara (Senegal), and Sidy Maiga of Mali on her new project and is also a singer and educator at Crocodile River music bringing African arts in Education.


CCI Summit video, Van Ness Creative

Summit highlight video, LumaREZ Media


Dana J. Quigley Photography


Breakfast: Periwinkles Food Shoppe, Loring Ave., Salem

Lunch: Wrapture, Cabot St., Beverly

Creative County Steering Committee

Karen Ristuben, Program Director

John Andrews

Rachel Borgatti

Ana Colmenero

Judith Farzan

Michelle Finamore

Lillian Hsu

Steve Immerman

Katie King

Noah Koretz

Ana Masacote

Pedro Miguel Soto

Lisa Miller-Gillespie

Jean Nichols

Jon Payson

Casey Soward

Doneeca Thurston

Jennifer Welter

Eunice Zeigler


Beth Francis, CEO

Stratton Lloyd, COO and Executive V.P.

John Colucci, Board Chair