About Us

Our Vision

We envision a world where diverse global communities see themselves on stage through the telling of meaningful stories of underrepresented voices.


Our Mission

We are building a new framework of artistic opportunities by investing in underrepresented creative communities and producing world class programs.

Meet Our Board of Directors

Our board members provide diverse perspectives, strategic insight and organizational oversight to ensure American Artists Project is effectively fulfilling its mission.

Liz Howard


Liz Howard brings more than 20-years of project management, marketing and fundraising experience to Fortune 50 organizations, small start-up environments and nonprofit organizations. Liz currently works at the Long Center for the Performing Arts where she increased membership by 250 percent in her first year. Over her career, Liz has successfully sold and managed corporate sponsorships, designed large training and VIP events, led fundraisers, developed go-to-market strategies and conducted focus groups. She spent 5-years at Dell Inc., where she held roles in Marketing, Operations and Human Resources. She was a leader in Dell's diversity and winning culture initiatives, as well as Dell's first women's networking group. Liz’s goal is to create an exceptional customer experience for her members, partners, and clients, working tirelessly to build relationships, and infuse passion and energy while delivering long-term results. Liz has served on several nonprofit boards and is the current President of Austin Artists Project. She sits on the board of the statewide Texas Library and Archives Foundation and is a member of the Women’s Symphony League. She is married with three sons and enjoys the great outdoors, the arts, live performances and the inspiring and spirited community that is Austin.

Patricia V. Hayes, J.D.

Patricia V. Hayes, J.D., is a licensed attorney, executive advisor and strategist who owns PVH Consulting Group, LLC, a strategy consulting and leadership development firm. She has served in senior leadership roles across Texas, including as a senior advisor to a State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner of Education and University System Chancellor. A passionate community advocate and nonprofit leader, Patricia is committed to issues affecting education, child abuse prevention, literacy, equity, workforce development and women’s empowerment. She is a graduate of Pepperdine University School of Law and the University of Texas at Austin.

Marcus Riddles-Sanchez

With 10+ years marketing and development experience in the nonprofit sector, Marcus has a passion for reaching marginalized communities through innovative and culturally relevant strategies. He specializes in creating measurable outcomes through thoughtful community engagement and proven data. He has developed marketing campaigns for communities most susceptible to HIV and other health disparities that have received award and presented on the efficacy of these strategies at the local and national level.

Kelli House, M.A., F-AAA

Kelli has extensive experience in the field of Audiology and has been a managing partner of Estes Audiology since 2014. Clinically, Ms. House specializes in adult testing, rehabilitative counseling, and hearing aid fittings. She also leads the expansion and acquisition arm of Estes Audiology and spearheads the integration of multiple insurance plans to the practice. Prior to joining Estes Audiology in May of 2008, she served as Director of Audiology at Easter Seals of Central Texas, a non-profit facility. Through this work, she gained knowledge of grant writing, coordination of ancillary rehabilitation support and providing hearing services to lowincome and elderly patients. Ms. House also has a vast experience in adult rehabilitation and hearing aid services for our military veterans. She previously worked in the Audiology Departments at Brooke Army Medical Center and the Temple Veterans Administration, working directly with active-duty soldiers and retired veterans. Kelli is very involved in local and regional professional organizations, including President-Elect of the Texas Academy of Audiology and co-President of the Austin Audiology Society. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Audiology and serves as an off-campus clinical supervisor for the University of Texas at Austin Audiology doctoral program as well as a guest lecturer for the program. She enjoys scuba diving, globally traveling, and spending time with her very active family.

Pooja Sethi

As the daughter of immigrants, Pooja learned the importance of hard work early on. In college, Pooja began to understand the importance of her voice and representation. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from George Washington University (GW), where she studied sociology, criminal justice, and psychology. At GW, Pooja recognized that the student government failed to meet the needs of all students. That’s why she advocated for student government to create a Diversity and Equity Officer position. As GW’s first Student Government Diversity and Equity Officer, Pooja led initiatives to increase opportunities for students of color and fought against institutional biases. After college, Pooja went on to attend Syracuse College of Law, where she studied civil rights law and employment discrimination.With a job at a civil rights law firm, Pooja moved to New York City where she represented the most vulnerable and made sure every community had a voice. Pooja and her husband, Vivek, welcomed their son, Jai, in 2011, and moved to Austin soon after. As a new mom and new Austinite, Pooja saw the need to cultivate community and create opportunities for other women. In 2012, Pooja founded the non-profit South Asian Austin Moms (SAAM) because she wanted to help women who faced discrimination at work. Pooja built SAAM up from a small network of new moms to a significant pillar of the community, hosting fundraisers for local schools and enriching the Austin community with events like the Smithsonian Exhibit “Beyond Bollywood.” She served on the Mayor’s Task Force on Racism and Systemic Inequities (2016), Office of Police Oversight Task Force (2018), and Climate Plan Steering Committee (2019). Pooja also sits on the Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission (AAQOL. Pooja also has an immigration law firm in Austin. She does extensive pro bono work for immigrant women who have experienced family violence and domestic assault. In 2018, the Syracuse College of Law awarded her the Frank Morris Racial Justice, Civil & Human Rights Award for her work on immigration issues and family separation.

Adam LeBlanc

Adam LeBlanc is a dedicated professional with a rich, impactful journey in healthcare spanning several years. His expertise seamlessly blends healthcare operations and pulmonary medicine, carving a unique path. His unwavering commitment to equity, well-being, and social progress, fuels his determination to effect meaningful change. He manifested initiatives that transcended boundaries – from spearheading impactful campaigns to driving evidence-based policies that have far-reaching implications by harnessing interdisciplinary collaboration.

Kathy Smith

Kathy Garza Smith is originally from Pharr, Texas where she grew up being influenced by a highly-educated/ranching family and has been an Austin resident since 1985. She's a registered professional engineer with the State of Texas and is currently in her 31st year at HDR Engineering where she has recently taken on a marketing position, as well. She supports many nonprofit organizations, such as the Paramount Theatre, the UMLAUF, Forklift Danceworks, and the SAFE Place, in addition to joining the AAP board in 2023. She also loves to support Longhorns in any way she can.

Shannon Trilli

Shannon Trilli is a Texas-born corporate responsibility (CR) executive who most recently served as VP of CR and Diversity & Inclusion at Catalent, a biopharma company. Her life has been most profoundly impacted by serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia; living 15 years in NYC (having moved in for grad school to study nonprofit management a week before 9/11); and extensive work and travel as a humanitarian. Beyond making meaningful impact on lives and justice, her joys include her husband Randall and stepdaughter Eluney; dance & theater; books that hook her; her god-children; and peanut butter.

Jessica Rossman

Jessica Rossman spent her twenty-year aviation career at United Airlines (formerly, Continental Airlines) as Senior Managing Director & Managing Counsel – International, with primary legal responsibility for Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and Caribbean operations. She received a BA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, and her juris doctorate from the University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law in 1994. In 2017, Jessica received the Houston Chronicle's Best Dressed Award for Philanthropy and was also named a Woman of Distinction for philanthropy. Previously, Jessica was named one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women by Houston Woman Magazine, and was awarded Best Corporate Counsel by the Houston Business Journal. Jessica's volunteerism includes serving as Chairman of the Board of AIDS Foundation Houston, member of the board of Kids' Meals of Houston, member of advisory board of Latin Women's Initiative, and trustee of New York Academy of Art in New York City. She was a founding sponsor for United Airlines’ LBGT Business Resource Group EQUAL. Currently, Jessica is a board member of Recipe for Success in Houston and, in Austin, a board member of American Artists' Project a member of the Women's Symphony League in Austin.


Meet Our Staff

American Artists Project accomplishes its mission through the passionate hearts, deep experience, and dedicated work of our professional staff.

Mela Sarajane Dailey

Executive Director

Mela Sarajane Dailey is a Grammy-winning and 9 time nominated international vocal performer; CEO of Merick Strategies, a consulting, fundraising and production agency; a national arts event producer; radio host; and a philanthropic and community leader in Texas and beyond. Merick Strategies produced an unprecedented staging of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS. The production was the largest major performing arts collaboration in Austin’s history. MASS involved more than 300 performing artists, hundreds of sponsors and donors, and 5,000 attendees over two nights of sold-out performances.

Staci McIntyre

Director of Operations

Staci brings over 15 years of experience serving in administrative roles, including over 4 years spent at Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin with their Student Ministries Program and 5 years as Executive Assistant at Merick Strategies.

Pamela Buchanan

Program Director

University professor, theatre manager, disability specialist, and lover of the Arts, Pamela is dedicated to the curation of excellence. Her background includes workshops for educators and the service industry, creation of arts programs, and nonprofit board memberships. Her experience ranges from bringing world class performances to rural America to developing programs for diverse children and adults in the great outdoors. Pamela believes that artists and consumers will share the ultimate engagement when attention and planning is expertly reviewed, and the human element is deftly considered.

Kyndal Workman

Marketing and Communications Intern

Kyndal Workman first joined AAP as a part of the Young Artists Project in 2020. As an artist herself, Kyndal has performed with YAP in various events including Broadway Brunch and Sing Joy! at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Kyndal is currently a senior at Chapman University where she is majoring in Public Relations, Advertising and Entertainment Marketing and double minoring in Documentary Film and Dance. Kyndal hopes to continue to use her artistry as a way of self-expression as well as creating social change throughout her career.

Jeff Owen

Young Artist Program Liaison

Jeff Owen grew up in Dallas, Texas before attending Texas State University in San Marcos where he received his undergraduate degree and certification in EC-12 Music Education. He began his career working in Pflugerville ISD as a band director and has had the opportunity to work in Austin and Georgetown ISD as well. He is currently entering his sixteenth year of teaching on the band staff at Cedar Valley Middle School in the Round Rock Independent School District. In his time as a music educator, Jeff has had the opportunity to work with students of all ages and from around the world. He has been the recipient of numerous innovation and educational grants as well as receiving teacher leadership awards and was a Teacher of the Year recipient during the 2017- 2018 school year. Jeff and his wife Allison have two daughters, Madeline and Olivia and reside in North Austin. They are excited to be joining the American Artist Project family as a part of the education team.

Theresa Avila Bimbela

Grant Writer

As the CEO and owner of TAB Professional Services, LLC, Theresa Avila Bimbela leverages her extensive experience in grant management, project and event management, and administrative services, and is a recognized leader in her field, having been awarded the Women of Distinction Accelerate (WODA) grant from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) of Southern Nevada in 2022.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

At American Artists Project, we are dedicated to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the arts. We affirm and uplift the voices, experiences, and identities of all individuals, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ and disability community.  

Our commitment is to create a safe and welcoming space, free from discrimination, where everyone can experience a more diverse creative environment. We strive to dismantle barriers, challenge societal norms, and promote empowerment, ensuring that all people feel respected and represented in the arts.




Building a Better, Bolder Arts Community