We are a growing nonprofit organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our diverse team assembles backgrounds in art, business, mathematics, psychology, and social welfare. We are unified by a belief that the creative arts can and should be accessible to everyone, and that it has tremendous potential to deepen ties within the refugee community and beyond.
Founder and Executive Director
Leva Zand has made an over 10-year career and educational commitment to refugees, human rights, and social justice activism and advocacy. She has a BA in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento and a Master’s degree in Feminist and Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara focusing on religion, media and sexuality. She started her nonprofit career in 2005 in Sacramento by leading a program to serve refugees from South East Asia. Later she managed a team of reporters for The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), directed a publication for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), lead a gender awareness program for the Eurasia Foundation and before starting ARTogether, she directed an online school for the Nonviolence Initiative for Democracy (NID). She also used to write and produce “Narratives of Women,” a radio podcast. She is currently works as development director at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) and also serves as a board member for Young Women Social Entrepreneur of San Francisco.
Miles is a long-time web designer and political junkie who has spent most of the last decade living in Oakland, Cairo and New Orleans. As a lover of music and an occasional trumpet and oud player, he believes deeply in making art accessible to everyone, and is committed to helping ARTogether use art to push back against the recent wave of anti-refugee rhetoric. Miles currently spends his time fundraising for the program’s ambitious upcoming projects, while spending the rest of his time as a student at UC Santa Barbara.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Juliet studies Art History and Anthropology at UC Berkeley and is set to graduate in 2019. As a guitar player, painter, and writer, Juliet enjoys both creating and studying art. She is specifically interested in the ways in which artworks both reflect and propel social movements, values, and cultural identity. Because of the role that art plays in her own life, it is particularly meaningful for her to provide artistic opportunities to those who do not necessarily have the resources to create. Beginning with her internship with ARTogether, Juliet hopes to cultivate a career in arts education or management that will allow her to do just that.
Vilasini has worked in journalism and editing across many different fields, from writing about food and restaurants to editing a journal on public health. Over the last ten years, Vilasini has lived in Germany, Belgium, India and Sweden, and moved to the US in March, now living in San Francisco. She has a Bachelors in politics and sociology, and a Masters in literature, and is interested in the ways in which culture – words, art, food – can help create identity but also bridge seemingly unsurmountable barriers between individuals and communities.
Marianne Zhetot Kwe Almero
Marianne is a UC Berkeley student working her way to a Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and Theater. She is currently researching drama therapy as a means of healing and treatment for refugees with PTSD, and is set to graduate in 2019. Born and raised in Anaheim, Marianne is happy to be in the bay area where she is able to learn and grow amongst like-minded individuals. Marianne is the president and founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Berkeley, an organization that provides a space for non-religious students to share their philosophies and practice altruism and humanist activism. On her spare time, Marianne loves to travel, write, cook, and volunteer her time helping to better the experience marginalized communities.
Melisa was born and raised on the East Coast and ventured out to California 5 years ago with little more than a dream to live a life she believed in. This dream propelled her on an intense journey of self-exploration. Some of it was deeply joyful, much of it was painful but all of it has been absolutely beautiful. SoulCollage ®, mandala painting, journaling, and Eastern healing modalities such as qigong and yoga have helped her heal from trauma, rediscover her intuition and authentic voice. As a first-generation, multi-ethnic American and a firm believer that children are miracles that we must protect, she serves immigrant, refugee, and child populations in healing from trauma through the arts while incorporating Eastern healing techniques. She also supports the community at large through grief and loss counseling at Kara, a nonprofit in Palo Alto, CA and has 8+ years of corporate experience in human resources and recruiting.
Board of Directors
Alexandra is a mathematician, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, and has since lived and worked in academia in Stanford, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oxford, England; Barcelona, Spain; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Recent events, both personal and political, have given her a passion for improving women’s health and safety, and raising conditions and status for refugees in the United States. Creative arts have always been an important part of Alexandra’s life, and she is dedicated to the development of ARTogether’s program.
Tal Ariel is a composer, music producer, pianist and teacher, with a degree in Music and over 30 years experience in the field. His original compositions have been featured in film, theater, radio, commercials, and other media. Tal is also a community activist, with a particular focus on racism, immigrants rights, and inequality. In 2017, Tal started a music scholarship program, which offers free music instruction to people of color in the bay area.
Okhtay is a data scientist with a passion for creative arts. He earned a PhD in electrical engineering from Penn State University, and a master from Paris Telecom and SUPAERO prior to that. Later he became interested in mental health through his current work at Lyra Health and the ability of data driven approaches in making impact in quality of evidence based therapy. He plays music, does woodwork and clay, and acts as part of a theater group in his spare time. Okhtay sees the mission of ARTogether as essential in bringing communities closer and helping refugees settle into their community."
Jenn spent over 10 years living in Southeast Asia, where she worked with a number of global development nonprofits, helping them to get their operations up and running in new countries. She worked with an organization selling drinking water filters in remote villages, a pediatric hospital providing medical training to local healthcare professionals and free medical care to patients, and a social enterprise which trained and employed at-risk women in Southeast to make fashion accessories for export. Through all these experiences, Jenn has been received into other cultures and has felt how interconnected we all are, regardless of where we were born. Through her involvement with ARTogether, she hopes to help create more welcoming spaces and communities for refugees and immigrants here in the US.
Elissa loves building relationships around shared passions, and she cares deeply about helping to make the world safer for our most vulnerable communities. Elissa is a nonprofit development professional and currently supports the University of California-Berkeley's Principal Gifts & Strategic Initiatives team, which focuses on transformative gifts to the university. Outside of work, Elissa champions human rights as leader of Amnesty International's East Bay chapter of volunteers, and she builds community among the alumni of the Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC) as Vice President of the BSC Alumni Association's board of directors. Elissa was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA and, to this day, you can find her dancing and calling-back to local jazz musicians. She received her B.A. in Psychology from UC Berkeley in 2009. The child of immigrants from two very different countries, Elissa appreciates the sometimes-surprising interconnectedness of our global communities--and hopes that you will, too!
Dr. Mona Afary founded Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) in 2005 in direct response to the urgent need for community mental health services for Cambodian survivors of war and genocide. Dr. Afary holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute, in Berkeley. She has been working as a licensed therapist since 1987. She specializes in trauma work with diverse refugee and immigrant population and their families. Mona immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1975.
Mona was born in Iran and currently lives in the Bay Area. Mona received her MBA from University of San Francisco and works in the field of corporate finance and strategy. She also serves as a board member at Financial Women of San Francisco. She enjoys abstract paintings and believes art to be an element of nurture and self-empowerment. As a refugee, she is passionate about the cause and dedicated to the success of ARTogether.
Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh, Ph.D.
Heather is the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities (2016 - 2018) at Stanford University. She holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She received her B.A. from the University of Washington in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization (specializing in Persian language and literature) with minors in Dance and Anthropology. Heather’s research on diasporic Iranian dancers and performance artists extends upon nearly two decades of her own experience as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director among Iranian American communities.
Sahba studied music composition in both in Russia and Iran. Later He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music with honors from San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is currently a faculty member at San Francisco Academy of Art University while maintaining his career as a freelance composer. Sahba is the recipient of many various commissions from theatre troops to contemporary classical ensembles, film scores, Persian traditional music groups to jazz bands including Kronos Quartet, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Symphony Parnassus, San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble, Mobius Trio, Delphi Trio and Living Earth Show.
Jacqueline Adams, Ph.D.
Jacqueline is an award-winning sociologist and author of the books Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology, and Art against Dictatorship: Producing and Exporting Arpilleras under Pinochet, published by Routledge and the University of Texas Press respectively. These books focus on women living in Chilean shantytowns and their experiences of poverty, state violence, cooperatives, participation in a human rights movement, and dissident art-making. Jacqueline Adams has also conducted research on migration, economic survival strategies, and learning in informal educational settings in shantytowns. She specializes in the use of qualitative methods and oral history interviews and has employed a broad range of these research tools while collecting and analyzing data in Chile, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and the United States. She has served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography and on the editorial board of Sociological Perspectives. She is a senior researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, where she is working on enforced disappearance, and regularly serves as an external collaborator for the United Nations.
Negar Ghobadi, Ph.D
Negar Ghobadi is an economist by training, and a humanitarian practitioner by vocation. She finished her PhD in development economics in the Agricultural and Resource economics department in the University of California, Berkeley, and has, since, been working in international development research and humanitarian programming with the World Bank, The United Nations, and international NGOs. In the past six years, Negar has been working closely with refugee communities: In Iran, she worked with the Norwegian Refugee council (NRC), implementing Education and Livelihood programs for Afghan refugees in Kerman, Semnan, and Tehran. Since 2015, She has been working as the head of monitoring and evaluation unit with NRC Jordan, serving Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in response to the Syrian crisis. Negar was born and raised in Iran and migrated to the United States to continue her education. She lived in San Francisco, and the broader Bay Area for more than twelve years, learning and thriving in an open and welcoming community. As such, she feels a personal passion- if not responsibility- to be a part of making her adopted home as welcoming and nourishing to others as it was to her when she needed it most.
Hossein Namazi works as a data scientist in the Silicon Valley and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hossein, a mathematician by training, was on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin before moving to the Bay Area. He is passionate about projects that help refugees, minorities, and the underprivileged sections of our communities.
Kathryn Winogura is Volunteer Services Manager with Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay, and manages about 500 volunteers who help to resettle newcomer refugees in Contra Costa County. She has been working with refugee communities since 1993. When away from work, she loves to travel, mostly to Asia, and has also helped in Greece with mostly Syrian refugees. She believes in an America that holds dear its many layers of diversity and welcomes all.