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.


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 with city, state, and federal programs. These positions include working with homeless families, young adults, refugees, and immigrants. As an arts administrator, she has been a part of the collaborative arts organization, The Mahogany Project, since 2014, and became Executive Director in 2019. She is also an actor, voice-over artist, singer, and a self-described amateur musical theatre artist. Merri Ann 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 constantly 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

I am honored to have this next journey with Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. I began as an artist, not sure what I wanted from myself let alone my art. CD Forum was (and still is) a place of discovery for me. This organization has given me a chance to create, develop skills in arts leadership and now create programming to uplift other Black voices in Washington state. Lifted by Black women who believe in the power of art and Black voices (Stephanie Ellis-Smith (founder) and Sharon “Nyree” Williams (current Executive Director). I do not take this work lightly, I do this work because I believe in us, I believe we have the energy and power to create a world that is full of hope and love. Part of this season for me was about bringing it home. Lifting the Black Seattle Unicorns and giving meaning and home to those of us that are here from other places in this country. It is focusing on the depth of talent that is bubbling here locally.


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.


Cipher Goings

Youth Curator

Cipher Goings is an accomplished dancer. He is a 2019 YoungArts Finalist. He has been dancing since the age of 7 at Northwest Tap Connection Dance Studio and has been teaching since the fall of 2017. He has been trained in Ballet, Hip Hop, Modern, and Rhythm Tap. Cipher has performed professionally since the age of ten, first as a member of the New Horizon’s Modern and Tap Company and then with the Youth Tap Ensemble (YTE) beginning at the age of 12. From 2017-2019 Cipher was the dance captain of Northwest Tap’s YTE. He has received additional training and performance opportunities at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, DC Tap Festival, the Floripa Tap Festival in Brazil and the Tap Fam Reunion in New York. Cipher has taken master classes from many talented, notable dancers such as Savion Glover, Chloe Arnold,
Sonia Dawkins, Michelle Dorrance, Derrick Grant, Jason Samuels Smith, Gene Medler, Matthew Rushing, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Dianne Walker, Chester Whitmore and many more. He also was a part of the original cast of Black Bois by Dani Tirrell. Cipher also has premiered in music videos and short films such as Kwanza Jones: Problem- A
Public Service Announcement, Awolnation- Bad Wolf which has over 15 million views, and Youngarts mini film- Hell You Talmbout featuring Northwest Tap Connection.
Cipher currently is a junior at the University of Washington where he is studying dance.

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 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.



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? 

CD Forum

Uplifting Black Artists Since 1999

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Phone: (206) 323-4032


Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center

104 17th Ave S.
Seattle, WA 98144