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.
Leva Zand, 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 volunteer for Oakland International High School and also serves as a board member for Young Women Social Entrepreneur of San Francisco.
Rebecca Voropaeff, Marketing and Donations Coordinator
Rebecca was born and raised in the Bay Area. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations within which she focused on the global refugee crisis. Rebecca feels the most stimulated when she is learning, and enjoys a good article, documentary, or political debate. She also loves art in all its forms, and believes increasing accessibility to art will have a positive impact on global health. When she is not working at ARTogether, you can find Rebecca snapping pictures with her camera, singing along to Sia, or taking a stroll around Lake Merritt.
Mariana Castro, Education Coordinator
Mariana Castro is a coordinator and consultant devoted to supporting educational opportunities for underserved communities both in the United States and abroad. Her background in qualitative research, policy, and advocacy focuses on international human rights in education and she received her Master’s in International Education Development from Columbia University. As a fluent Spanish speaker and experienced community organizer, Mariana believes in helping others live in a more peaceful, sustainable, united world. Aside from her service to human rights, Mariana is passionate about crafts, reading, and stationary.
Miles Markstein, Deputy Director
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.
Juliet Swanson, Intern
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.
Jordan Machalek, Intern
Jordan was born in Illinois and lived there until he was 11 years old when he moved to San Jose, California. Jordan now studies Molecular and Cellular Biology with minors in Chemistry and Cognitive Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having a love of traveling and exploring the world has shown him how much art and music brings people together and it is one of the largest similarities between people all around the world. In addition to this, Jordan has played the alto saxophone for nearly a decade and has performed in multiple bands and ensembles over the years. Jordan is always helping out others and that is why he joined ARTogether in early summer of 2018 as an intern. He wants to help push ARTogether and its mission into the future.
Vilasini Roy, Volunteer
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.
George Lan, Intern
George is a rising High School Senior at American High School in Fremont, California. He is an avid sports fan and runs track & field and cross-country. Video editing has been a hobby of his for about 4 years and he believes that story-telling is the most important factor in making a compelling and worthwhile video. He plans on pursuing a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing after his Senior year. He is strongly considering a career in the medical field because helping others is something that brings joy to him and he loves being able to see the smiles on the people that he is able to help. In regard to ARTogether, immigration is a necessity in the United States and our country is founded upon such values. It would be a great disservice to prevent immigrants and refugees from assimilating into our society and their presence would greatly diversify America's future.
Shima Sheikholeslami, Zurich Chapter Coordinator
Shima was born in Tehran in 1986 to a science and research devotee father and an art and literature enthusiast mother and this could be the reason she believes in art as a process, leading to a glimpse of human nature and how art creates more than a beautiful piece.
Shima left Iran in 2010 and since then she had lived in Malaysia and Singapore and now is based in Zurich, Switzerland. She is studying her Masters with Open University on development management and has a background in agriculture. As one of the founders of ARTogether's Global Communities initiative, Shima currently holds art and craft classes for children in Zurich. The focus of her classes are creation and creativity with everyday objects ranging from potatoes and pasta to a huge cardboard box or a pile of leaves.
Board of Directors
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.