Sharon N. Williams

Executive Director

Sharon Nyree Williams is a storyteller and arts administrator.  She is the Executive Director for the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. They present, produce and develop multidisciplinary work by Black artists and provide access for courageous conversations to diverse audiences. Sharon is the founder of The Mahogany Project a theatre arts collaborative that focuses on allowing Black artists an opportunity to share their voice. She also serves on the Seattle Arts Commission, Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District, Langston Board of Directors, FEED Worldwide Advisory Board, Adult Advisory Committee for Creative Justice and former Board of Trustee for Cornish College of the Arts. Sharon is a proud member of the 2009 Seattle University Master of Fine Arts in Arts Leadership graduate. Sharon is also proud to be a graduate of the Historical Black College and University, Delaware State University with two degrees Bachelors of Arts in Television Production and a Masters of Business Administration.

Staff

Nina Yarbrough

Business Development Manager

Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Nina Yarbrough came to Seattle in 2014 for the MFA in Arts Leadership at Seattle University. It was there that she first met Sharon and was introduced to CD Forum. With a background in theatre performance and playwriting, Nina has worked for stellar arts organizations while living in Seattle. Most recently, Nina served as the Capital Campaign Manager at Seattle Opera where she worked with an incredible team of fundraisers to support one of Seattle’s largest arts company. As the Business Development Manager at CD Forum, Nina will work to ensure the company has the resources it needs to thrive. Her background in fundraising and donor relations will be used to build strong relationships where she can connect the great people of Seattle to the incredible art that CD Forum loves to produce.

Merri Ann Osborne

Program Manager

Merri Ann Osborne brings to CD Forum her diverse and broad experience in program management both public and private and with city, state, and federal programs. This includes working as an advocate for young adults, homeless families, refugees, and immigrants. As an arts administrator, she is the Executive Director of The Mahogany Project, a collaborative arts organization that spotlights storytellers from the African diaspora through all artistic genres. Merri Ann is an actor, voice-over artist, singer, writer, and has a passion for joining with others on developing new works. She has performed locally, in California (her second home), Japan and the UK. She received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Masters in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford, Department of Peace Studies (Bradford, UK). She is always on the lookout for opportunities that combine her artistic creativity with her global cross-cultural experiences.  Merri Ann looks forward to working with performers and audiences to provide positive and memorable experiences when attending CD Forum events.

Dani Tirrell

Programming Curator

Dani Tirrell (Seattle, WA) Seattle’s Mayor Arts Award recipient 2019, is a Black, Trans Spectrum, Queer choreographer, dancer, and movement guide. Dani has guided people in Detroit and Seattle as well as sharing movement practices in other cities in the United States. Currently Dani is the curator for Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas (Seattle). Dani is the host and co-creator of several online talk programs Sunday Dinner, The Living Room, and Intimate Conversations.

 

Dani is the founder and current artistic director of The Congregation a movement/art group. Dani is currently teaching at Northwest Tap Connection and University of Washington Seattle and Bothell campuses. Dani has created work for Dance This (Northwest Tap Connection), Strictly Seattle (advance/professional track), Seattle Repertory Theater, Nina Simone Four Women (Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton).

Dani is an Arts Matter Fellow, Artists Trust Fellow (Seattle) and 4Culture Arc Fellow (Seattle).  Dani is the Artist in Residence at Velocity Dance Center (2020/2021) and one of 6 Artists in Residence at On the Boards (Seattle, WA)

Dani’s production of Black Bois (On the Boards and Seattle Theater Group) was a locally critically acclaimed work that produced sold out shows in Seattle and is in development for a documentary film. In 2019 Dani was the recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship Award and a Dance Crush Award for Black Bois (performance). Dani also received a 2018 Arts Matter Fellowship grant. Dani current work FagGod in collaboration with Anastasia Renee and Naa Akua was presented in Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas 2019/2020 season. Dani’s new work 46, is a photo exhibit styled, staged, and photographed by Dani. This work can be found online under Dani’s Instagram profile. 

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Tai Allen

Social Media Coordinator

Tai became a volunteer with CD Forum in March 2019, shortly after moving to Seattle from Portland, Oregon. First introduced to Sharon and the organization by her aunt who has a deep and abiding connection to CD Forum as an artist and supporter, Tai quickly realized that she’d found her community. Grateful to be a part of such a wonderful and uplifting group of people, Tai loves working with CD Forum. In addition to doing anything she can to support CD Forum’s critical mission, Tai also works for Conflare, a Seattle design studio and T. Maicee Photography as a photographer, web developer and design assistant.

Michael B. Maine

Photographer & Videographer

Michael B. Maine is a Seattle-based, socially engaged artist and creative consultant. Primarily working as a freelance photographer, he focuses on learning about and addressing issues of social inequity through media, concerned with studying the images that already exist and working towards being additive to the field in a way that increases representation both in front of and behind the lens.

In addition to his professional photography work, Michael makes a point to always have at least one personal project that explores something that keeps him up at night. Past work has focused on youth experiencing homelessness, stereotypes and the concept of deviance, and the mental landscape. Current work is focusing on race and class.

Michael feels strongly about investing in the community and does so primarily through volunteering—including board service and mentoring. He served as the president of the board for both Reel Grrls (a youth media organization) and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (an organization creating public/private partnerships to help reduce instances of sex trafficking by creating policies, programs, and partnerships designed to reduce demand and access).Additionally, he takes a multidisciplinary approach to mentoring younger people who want to learn more about media literacy and production, seeking out literature representing a range of age, sexuality, gender expression, race and ethnicity, physical and mental ability, and other forms of identity.

His ultimate goal is to help create a media landscape that is more fairly produced and representative of humanity and the range of human identities and experiences.

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Cipher Goings

Youth Curator

2019 YoungArts Finalist Cipher Goings, artistically known as Cipher Divine, is an accomplished dancer. He began his dancing career at Northwest Tap Connection (NWTC) and has been teaching there since 2017. Trained primarily in rhythm tap along with hip-hop, contemporary and ballet, Cipher has performed professionally since the age of ten in NWTC Youth Tap Ensemble (YTE) where he was a dance captain from 2017-2019.

 

He also was a part of the 2018 (original) and 2020 cast of Black Bois by Dani Tirrell. Cipher has premiered in music videos and short films such as Kwanza Jones: Problem- A Public Service Announcement; Awolnation’s- Bad Wolf which has over 15 million views; and, Youngarts mini film- Hell You Talmbout featuring NWTC.

 

In 2020 Cipher had many opportunities to showcase his work, Black Parade, for the Kennedy Center’s virtual event, Arts Across America. He’s also premiered work for Seattle Public Library’s Reflections: What the Water Holds, and Vote art Vote season 17 directed by Raja Feather-Kelly and curated by Dani Tirrell. Cipher is currently studying dance at the University of Washington and is the youth curator for Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas.

Stephanie Ellis Smith

Founder & Former Executive Director

Stephanie Ellis-Smith founded Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas (CD Forum) in 1999. She is the owner of the philanthropy advisory firm Phila Engaged Giving. She believes strongly in being a compassionate and generous member of society and has devoted much of her life to the enrichment of her community. Through a diverse background in the arts and sciences.

She has served on numerous boards and commissions including the Washington State Arts Commission, appointed by Governor Gary Locke; the Seattle Arts Commission, appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels; and the Central Waterfront Committee, appointed by Mayor Ed Murray. She is on the board of the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy, YWCA King/Snohomish County, the outgoing Board Chair of Artist Trust, and an Advisor to the University of Washington Press and BlackPast.org. She has been a trustee for KUOW Public Radio, Leadership Tomorrow, and City Club. She lives in Seattle with her husband, a teenager, and a Doberman.

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Board

Alyson Palmer, President
Stoel Rives, LLP

Jeff Cohen, Treasurer
FSG-Social Impact Consultants

Rick Simonson, Secretary 
The Elliott Bay Book Company

Dawn Chirwa
Philanthropy Consultant

Interested in joining the board? 

Contact Us