175 S. Main St., Suite #100
Akron OH 44308
Nicole is the founding Executive Director of ArtsNow, an organization that works toward leveraging arts and culture in Summit County to support and strengthen the region’s economic and social vibrancy. In this role, she connects artists with resources, helps organizations understand the economic importance of the arts/culture sector, and works in partnership with community partners, elected officials, and businesses to support and advocate for our Summit County communities. Nicole attended The University of Akron, receiving a BA in integrated language arts as well as an MA in social-philosophical foundations of education. Nicole is a member of Leadership Akron Class 34. She serves on as Secretary of the board of the Gay Community Endowment Fund of the Akron Community Foundation and co-chaired the 2017 Sugar Plum Tour in support of this organization. She is a proud alumna of Torchbearers, where she served on the board and was president in 2016.
Since beginning his career as a theatre artist at Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse, Benjamin has made an impression on Northeast Ohio. Through teaching, volunteering, helping to host community events and creating performances to engage the community in dialogues about social issues, Benjamin is driven to be a source of positive energy in the world. This led him to establish Wandering Aesthetics (formerly Heads Up Productions) and direct, produce or devise over 25 performances during the last 5 years. In 2011, he won the Akron Arts Alive Award in the Rising Young Star/Leadership category. The same year, Benjamin helped Heads Up win a Burner’s Without Borders grant to tour Heads Up ‘Hood, a role-playing workshop (for students age 10-25) about the effects of our perceptions of poverty, class and social status. Dedicated to theatrical research, he has presented two papers at conferences, including a paper on the methodology presented in Stanislavski in Rehearsal. The research culminated in the company’s production of The Pillowman, directed by Benjamin using Stanislavski’s method of “Active Analysis.” In partnership with Every Blooming Thing Florist, Benjamin and Co-Artistic Director Kyle Jozsa, remodeled the basement of EBT to create a rehearsal, meditation and presentation space in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood. During the summer of 2013, Benjamin completed a thru-hike of the 2,186-mile Appalachian Trail.
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BOARD OF DIRECTORS
During a thirty-five-year career in higher education, Mark Auburn taught and administered at The Ohio State University, Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas System, Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, and his alma mater The University of Akron. He held positions at the dean or vice-presidential levels at all. For UA since 1991, he served as Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts and Professor of Theatre and as Senior Vice President and Provost and as Executive Vice President, among other roles. He completed active service in 2006 and is Professor of English Emeritus.
Auburn has served in Akron on the boards of the Urban League, the Executive Committee of the Akron Regional Development Board (now Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce), Akron Civic Theatre, Ohio Ballet, Tuesday Musical Development Committee, ProjectGRAD Akron Development Committee, the Downtown Akron Partnership, the Summit County Regional Arts and Cultural District Board of Trustees, Weathervane Community Playhouse Board of Trustees, and the City of Fairlawn Charter Review Commission (four triennial appointments, three as Secretary, one current). He is a Past President of the Rotary Club of Akron and a former Assistant District Governor. He served the Greater Akron Musical Association as Executive Vice President (2012-2014; President, 2014-2016; Past-President, 2016-present), the Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties Chapter of the American Red Cross as the only Life Member of the Board, Northeast Educational Television of Ohio (dba Western Reserve Public Media, operators of PBS 45 & 49) as former Chair and Secretary and as returning Chair (2016—present), and the founding Board of Directors of ArtsNow (2015—present). He has joined the board of Ohio Living-Rockynol (2017—present), is Co-Chair of the United Way of Summit County Campaign Committee for Special Gifts, and participates in Diversity on Board, Leadership Akron’s board-service encouragement program.
Auburn’s spouse Sandy (the couple met as students at UA in the mid-1960s) led the Fort Wayne YWCA and the Summit Education Partnership Foundation (forerunner of Summit Education Initiative) and served as a vice president for the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and the Akron Community Foundation, from which she retired in 2006. She has been active on nearly a dozen non-profit boards, including United Way of Summit County and the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. She served for almost ten years as Trustee of the Akron Summit County Public Library. In 2012, together with Mark, she was honored with the H. Peter Burg Community Leadership Award. The couple’s son David is a director, screenwriter, and playwright and the father of their two granddaughters.
Olivia P. Demas considers herself as a community advocate and volunteer servant-leader. She serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, The University of Akron. She is an alumna of the University and holds degrees in chemistry and law. Mrs. Demas previously was a member of the University’s National Alumni Board and a constituent board member for the School of Law, serving as its president in 2009-2011. She has a long history of community service and her past board affiliations include the Akron Bar Association, Akron Community Foundation, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, Women’s Board of The Ohio Ballet, Summit Developmental Disabilities Board and Old Trail School. Mrs. Demas is a member of the Akron/Canton Barristers Association, and the Ohio State Bar and Akron Bar Associations. She received in May 2017, the University of Akron School of Law, Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Mrs. Demas and her husband, Dr. William F. Demas, have three adult children and reside in Richfield.
Jon Fiume currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Mustard Seed Market and Café. Mustard Seed Market and Café currently has two locations in Akron and one in Cleveland.
Jon graduated from John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Marketing. He also holds a state of Ohio medical board license to practice massage therapy. He is a past graduate of Leadership Akron and was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business 40 under 40 in 2006. In addition, Jon is highly involved in the Akron community having served on or currently serving on such boards as Stan Hywet, Akron Art Museum, Leadership Akron, and Weathervane Playhouse to name a few.
In his spare time, Jon enjoys all facets of wellness including physical conditioning, running, and being a vegetarian for over 20 years.
Leianne Neff Heppner has been with The Summit County Historical Society of Akron, Ohio since 1999 first serving as curator and government records consultant to the County of Summit. Leianne took over as head of the agency in 2009 and was proud to serve during its 90th anniversary in 2014. She assisted the City of Akron in its Akron History Exhibit for over a decade at Lock 3 (that project is now in a new space and will reopen in the future) and has prepared numerous changing exhibits for the County of Summit. Leianne considers herself blessed to be on the board of ArtsNow at this pivotal time for the organization and has previously served on the Interpretation Subcommittee for the Ohio & Erie Canalway Association along with a variety of historically linked committees and collaborative projects.
Serving on the Lieberth Community Vision Award Committee for Leadership Akron is one of her favorite projects each year. Leianne has been a speaker at the Ohio Museums Association annual meeting and the Ohio Local History Alliance (under the Ohio History Connection in Columbus) at its regional and annual meetings and is a past board member of that agency as well as the Akron Area Arts Alliance and the Friends of the Main Library.
Leianne’s past positions include volunteer and internship coordinator at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio; interim director and assistant director of The Castle, an historic house museum in Marietta, Ohio; and intern at Zoar Village State Memorial, an Ohio Historical Society site featuring a communal society in Zoar, Ohio. She holds a Master of Arts in Public History from Kent State University and a Bachelor of Science in Historic Preservation from Southeast Missouri State University.
A transplant to Akron moving here in the late 1990s from rural southeast Ohio, Leianne and her family (a number four legged) enjoy living in Akron/Summit County where life is good.
Justin Everett Hilton began his professional career as an architectural designer over 20yrs ago. Within that timeframe, he worked in the greater Akron and Cleveland areas on a plethora of projects including; The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The New Cleveland Browns Stadium, The Great Lakes Science Center, The Downtown Cleveland Public Library, Continental Airlines Concourse at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mr. Hilton then became an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Architectural Design and Orientation at Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design. Over a seven-year span, his work was recognized in the form of multiple Outstanding Teaching Award nominations and extended beyond the classroom in contributions to collegiate student recruitment, advising, retention and diversity efforts.
Mr. Hilton was then specially selected to spend two years working with Kent State University’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, as a special analyst and success solutions consultant; after which he was promoted to Senior Associate Vice President for University Relations. In this role, he develops and implements strategies for the university’s marketing, media relations, government relations and regional development. He is second in charge of a mission-critical area that employs nearly 90 professionals and manages a multi-million-dollar yearly budget. Mr. Hilton has continually augmented his professional career as a motivational speaker, an artist and by serving on numerous boards of directors for schools, universities, businesses, associations, foundations, and non-profit and community organizations.
His awards include inductions to the Greater Akron Chamber’s 30 for the future class, Kaleidoscope’s 40 under 40 club, the 27th class of Leadership Akron, and the Cambridge Who’s Who Executive of the Year; all while also functioning as the Chief Executive Officer of two business enterprises. Among all this, Mr. Hilton has studied and lived oversees in six different European countries, was the first and youngest African American male to ever attain a Masters of Architecture degree from Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, and is the first and youngest African American Senior Associate Vice President Executive ever, in the 106+ year history of Kent State University.
Jaron has always been a singer and performer. He began singing at church at a very early age and has always been involved in the arts. After majoring in voice in middle school and high school, he continued his formal training and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Akron. After which, he began teaching music for a few institutions before going back to school to earn another degree in music. Jaron has been featured as a soloist in many productions including J.S. Bach’s Magnificat In D Major, Mozart’s Requiem, and Porgy & Bess. He has been a workshop facilitator, mentor, and a voice for the arts in the community by serving in various arts organizations.
He holds a Master of Arts in Voice Pedagogy and currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Theater at Point Park University and an Adjunct Professor at Indiana Wesleyan University. He also owns the Jaron M. LeGrair Studio where he teaches private sessions for professional voice users and provides products the encourages holistic vocal health. He is also pursuing a second masters in Speech Language Pathology.
Christine Amer Mayer was named president of GAR Foundation in 2012. An Akron native, she practiced commercial litigation and business law for eight years with Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs before joining the foundation in 2001 as a program officer. Over the years, Christine has held a number of roles at GAR, shaping the foundation’s strategic framework, redefining its relationships with grantees and stakeholders, and advancing its role in regional and local economic competitiveness work.
Beyond her role at GAR Foundation, Christine is a trustee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and board chair of the United Way of Summit County, where she is involved in that organization’s wholesale transformation to a community impact model. In recent years, she has focused considerable efforts on Summit County’s arts and cultural assets, helping to lead the Summit County Arts and Culture Assessment, a county-wide study of the arts and culture landscape. That assessment led to the creation of ArtsNow, a sector-strengthening organization for which Christine serves as vice chair.
Inside Business magazine has named Christine to its “Power 100” list four times. She also received the Summit County Historical Society’s Woman of the Year award for her innovative efforts to bring stakeholders together to strengthen the arts and culture sector.
She received a Bachelor’s degree in English with honors from Duke University and a law degree with honors from The Ohio State University. Christine lives in Solon with her three amazing children, the spirited family pet (a golden retriever), and a reasonably productive vegetable garden.
Beginning his professional career in 1981, Akron native, Gregg Mervis is an active member and advocate of the travel and tourism industry.
After 14 years of employment with the Quaker Hilton, Gregg left his position as Director of Sales in 1995 to become Director of Sales for the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau and the John S. Knight Center.
He was promoted to Vice President of the Bureau and Center in 1996 and became Vice President & Chief Operating Officer in 2008.
In 2012, Gregg was named President & Chief Executive Officer; he is responsible for the management and oversight of the organization’s three (3) business units.
Gregg is a member of various national industry organizations, including: Destination Management Association International, International Association of Assembly Managers and National Association of Consumer Shows. His involvement to foster the visitor economy at the State level includes: Ohio Travel Association, Ohio Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby, Downtown Akron Partnership and ArtsNow, where he is also Board President.
Gregg currently resides in Akron with his wife Terrill and daughter Grace.
Howard Parr has more than 25 years of professional experience in arts, entertainment, and consulting.
His work includes organizational development and strategic planning, as well as program management and event production. Howard has served as executive director of the Akron Civic Theatre since September 2007. He served as The Civic’s Director of Development and Planning from 1999 – 2004, during which he directed the capital campaign for the theater’s $22.5 million expansion and restoration project. In addition to his work on the capital campaign, he was talent buyer for in-house programming (through 2002 – 2003), as well as for the first season of Lock Three Park, an outdoor performance space immediately adjacent to the Civic Theatre.
During his time away from the theater from 2004-2007, Howard was co-producer of an original gospel, jazz and R&B musical based on the life of the Apostle Paul – which enjoyed a 36 performance run including stops in NY and Chicago. During that time, he also promoted King of the Cage mixed martial arts events and coordinated non-liturgical public programming at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. Howard previously served as General Manager of Ohio Ballet. During his tenure at the Ballet, the company produced the cross-cultural ballet, Jungle Book: The Adventures of Mowgli, which set revenue records for both ticket sales and touring. Before joining Ohio Ballet, he served as General Manager of Cleveland Signstage Theatre where he expanded the theatre’s programming, including its first-ever national tour, bringing its production of Children of a Lesser God to more than 40 cities. Prior to moving to northeast Ohio, Howard served as General Manager of the David S. Palmer Civic Center in Danville, Illinois, a 5,000 seat multi-purpose arena and conference facility. During his tenure in Danville, and while serving as Performing Arts Coordinator at Western Illinois University in Macomb, he coordinated the programming of a wide variety of cultural and popular programs ranging from symphony orchestras and ballet companies to rock-n-roll and country concerts.
Ernie is President and Chief Executive Officer of Harwick Standard Distribution Corporation. Ernie began his career with Ernst & Young after obtaining a degree in accounting from Kent State University. Ernie also has a Master of Science in Taxation degree from the University of Akron and an MBA from Kent State University. In 1984, Ernie joined Harwick Chemical Corporation, now Harwick Standard Distribution.
Ernie is past Chair of the University of Akron College of Business Administration Advancement Council and serves on the University’s Council for Economic Education. Ernie has been a volunteer at the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament for 39 years; most recently he was Co-Chair for the Pro Caddy Committee. Ernie is on the board of Arts Now, the Greater Akron Chamber, Leadership Akron and is Treasurer for the Akron Civic Theatre. He is a graduate of Leadership Akron (’92-’93) and has served as Treasurer of the Cleveland Youth Hockey Association and Chair of the Chemical Division of the National Chemical Credit Association. Ernie was a 2009 recipient of the Dr. Frank L. Simonetti Distinguished Business Alumni Award from the University of Akron.
Ernie enjoys running, golf, reading and music. He has made two trips to Moscow with his son’s ice hockey team and has been to Switzerland with his daughter’s ballet company. He has completed 67 marathons including all 15 Akron Marathons making him a member of the Akron Marathon Founders Club. Ernie is a graduate of Fairport High School, Fairport Harbor, Ohio.
Ernie and his wife Mary Kay live in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. They have two children; Ernie, a graduate student in Media Art at Emerson College in Boston and Carly, a graduate of Wake Forest University who is beginning her Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Southern California.
Kendra is a Senior Manager in the Assurance Services practice and a member of the firm’s not-for-profit core group. In this role, Kendra assists in the planning of engagements, supervising staff, reviewing financial statements, working with clients and the accounting staff to find solutions to problem areas, and developing ideas for growth.
Over her 14 years with the firm, Kendra has worked directly with numerous not-for-profit organizations performing both attestation and tax services. In addition to her not-for-profit experience, Kendra also conducts audits of 401(k) and 403(b) plans, pension plans and a wide variety of corporate engagements including manufacturing clients.
Areas of specialization include not-for-profits organizations, employee benefits, internal control review and best practices. She’s also a member of the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Her community and philanthropic pursuits include Women’s Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation (Vice President), ATHENA Akron, Inc. (Treasurer), 2018 Women’s Endowment “For Women, Forever” Annual Dinner (Chair), 2017 Women’s Endowment Fund Biannual Forum (Committee Member), Leadership Akron Class XXXIII, United Way Young Leaders Society, Torchbearers Alumni, 2016 Greater Akron Chamber 30 For the Future Recipient
Shane Wynn is a Fine Arts photographer specializing in portraiture and owner of Shane Wynn Studio. She is a local enthusiast contributing photography regularly to ten Akron/Cleveland publications. She is a winner of the 2015 and 2016 Knight Arts Challenge and recipient of the 2016 Akron Art Prize juried selection. In 2018, Shane received the Outstanding Visual Artist Arts Alive award from Summit Artspace.
Deb is the CEO of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Conservancy is the park’s friends group. It connects the community with the park in many ways, including managing the park’s education, volunteer and cultural arts programs. It also operates two retail stores, and raises money for park projects. She has served in this role since 2002. Prior to this she served as the director of Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center.
A national leader in the National Park Service partnership community, Deb serves as President of the NPS Friends Alliance, the network of national park friends groups. She also is on the NPS Advisory Board’s Education Committee.
Deb has a B.A. from Miami University and an M.S. in natural resources from the University of Michigan.
As a community volunteer, Deb serves on the executive committee of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry in Cleveland and on the board of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus. She plays viola in the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chagrin Valley Studio Orchestra and the Hermit Club Orchestra.
Deb and her husband, Sherman Bishop, have 3 grown children.