Meet Our Board and Staff Members
NWMAC FY 2018 Board Members
Kristina Gray, Crookston, Polk County
Kristina works as a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota Crookston. She is the Project Director of the Carnegie Library activities and is a board member of the Polk County Historical Society. Kristina lived abroad for 15 years when she taught English composition and other subjects in the Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. “All these countries have their own way of expressing their traditions and cultures.” She has written two books about Crookston’s history and loves the outdoors. Kristina said, “Art starts a conversation that might not get verbalized.”
Briana Ingraham, Red Lake Falls. Red Lake County
Briana is a former federal government employee taking a break from her career to raise three young sons. She serves on Red Lake Falls’ Civic and Commerce and the Economic Development Committee. She is also part of the Zehlians, the Thief River Falls branch of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. She has a strong interest in preserving the arts, history, and culture and believes we can best do this by educating the public through events, concerts, art walks, and performances. Her art form is music. She sings and plays the oboe in the University of Minnesota Crookston Community band. About Minnesota’s arts scene, Briana said, “I have really seen a big difference in the pride Minnesotans have in their arts programs compared to other states. There is a high quality and quantity of artists of all types here. The support for these artists — from the school programs up through the various community sponsored concerts or events, is something that other states would do well to emulate.” The arts are important to Briana personally, because singing and playing an instrument as an elementary student gave her self-confidence, and a way to express herself that she continues to utilize today. “The arts allow us to connect with one another, no matter our background or creed. In today’s day and age, we need to embrace and support that which unites us, and the arts are something we can all benefit from– across gender, age, religion, and race. We can’t afford to do without them.”
Janet Johnson, Malung. Roseau County
Janet is a retired art/English teacher and a current substitute teacher, artist, mentor and a teaching artist. Janet is a painter, book artist and potter, in addition to other artistic mediums. “I have made it my mission to promote art and artists in northern Minnesota…I truly believe in the theory that art is for everyone.”
Chris Lane, Newfolden. Marshall County
Chris works as a Video Production Designer at Digi-Key. He’s a painter, sculptor and a photographer. He also has experience working with digital art and stained glass. Fun fact: Chris attended school for fine arts in Scotland and exhibited art there during college.
Mary Ann Laxen, East Grand Forks. Polk County
Mary Ann was one of the founders of River Walk Arts Gallery and Gift Shop in East Grand Forks. She has served on the River Walk board, exhibited and sold photography note cards, and charcoal drawings. At the age of 65 Mary Ann went sky diving and when she was 70, she went paragliding off the Swiss Alps. “My foray into the world of art didn’t begin until I was in my 50s. Before that I was immersed in the world of health care administration. What began as a way to relax and unwind became for me, a world of art and creativity…Because I believe that the arts should be available to all ages, I have agreed and value serving on the Board. I am living proof that “we are never too old try something new!”
Connie Nelson, Hallock. Kittson County
Connie is retired from a career with phone companies in California and Minnesota. She has been and is active in a number of art forms including painting, drawing, acting, directing, other performance art, as well as singing. Connie paints murals, pet portraits and more on commission.
Aliza Olson, Roseau. Roseau County
Aliza is a History/Political Science Instructor at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls. She has been involved in fiber arts most of her adult life. Currently, she focuses on traditional fiber arts and folk arts, including spinning, Nabinding, and simple weaving.
Elizabeth Rockstad, Ada. Norman County
Elizabeth owns Studio 4:13 in Ada. She is a mosaic artist, a K-12 Art Teacher and a Star Wars nerd. She wants to support the arts in any way she can. “Being a NWMAC Board Member allows me to work with many different types of art and artists in the Northwest region. Art enables us to reflect and grow in our understanding of ourselves and each other. We use art in order to thrive in our world.”
Brook Rufsvold, Red Lake Falls. Red Lake County
Brook is a Special Education Strategist. She has a lifelong passion for art and has experience writing, designing theater sets, stage directing, judging speech competitions and painting murals. “I have a love for art and creativity.”
Elwyn Ruud, Karlstad. Kittson County
Elwyn Ruud brings artists to the schools in northern Minnesota in her role as the Northwest Minnesota Arts Coordinator for COMPAS. She taught elementary school for 36 years before retiring a few years ago. She has also worked for 25 years as a grant writer for four area school districts to secure funding for artist residencies. In addition, Elwyn paints and draws as a primary grade artist in the Roseau and Red Lake County School Districts. Elwyn “serves on the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council to help bring arts to all areas of our communities. The arts are a gift for all ages and I want to be part of bringing that gift to our students, teachers, artists and communities.”
Katya Zepeda, Crookston. Polk County
Katya is the Executive Director of United Way of Crookston. She is an arts advocate and paints and sculpts as a hobby and has experience creating murals. She was exposed to the arts at a very young age and feels it’s important to pass that on to the next generation. She enjoys collecting artwork through her travels.
Mara Hanel, Executive Director
Mara (formerly Lunde and Wittman) has been the Executive Director of the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council forever. Yes, that long! She estimates that she knows 1,000+ wonderful artistic people who love to live in Northwest Minnesota, just like herself. She grew up in East Grand Forks and was very active in all the arts, including dance, drawing, trumpet, piano, singing, photography, fine craft, theater, and creative writing. For many years after graduating from college in Duluth, Mara combined Arts Administration with visual art and textiles with some choreography here and there.
Mara is happily married to a man who loves to be active in church with her, travels the world, parent, and works on art together in their spare time. Mosaics, stain glass, gardening and landscape design are current passions for them. “We thoroughly enjoy our blended family of seven plus a dog. Yes, we need that huge SUV that I drive around for our full family, as well as to move art displays. Love our lake time and get-aways for adventure… that often include theatre, a quiet walk through a museum, and observing top notch sports, and strolling outside… spontaneous, relaxed fun, barely any TV.”
The arts and service to others in the arts is part of every single day for Mara. Her art and the artistic expression of others is what makes her life so rich, and full of meaty topics for discussion. “Visual art, performing art, creative writing, they can all handle those hard topics. Art can create an amazing emotional response, transformative. It awes me with its expression of beauty. Enough said? Love my job working with artist and The Arts.”
Kristin Eggerling, Promotions Specialist
Kristin works as a freelance writer and community activist. She is a published author — Breath of Wilderness: The Life of Sigurd Olson. She loves the process of research, interviewing, and telling the story of places and people. She serves on a number of boards, including the local library board and regional and state boards focused on sustainability, conservation, the arts and community development. She loves travel, good food, films, reading and spending time with her family. In addition to writing, she creates mosaics and mixed media art. “Art is so important for our society as a whole, and for each of us as individuals. It has the power to transform our lives and regularly does.”
Kat Allen, Showcase Specialist
Kat is an artist, designer, art director, author and mother of three kids. She holds a B.F.A. from Savannah College of Art & Design, and studied art in Florence, Italy. She studied, lived and worked in Colorado, Minneapolis, Chicago, Savannah, Milwaukee and abroad and has worked professionally in brand and marketing design for almost ten years. Currently, she lives in Grafton, North Dakota with her family and is originally from northwest Minnesota.
Jane Anderson, Training and Networking Specialist
Jane Anderson lives in Thief River Falls. In addition to her position as the Networking and Training Specialist with the NWMAC, she is also the Executive Director of the Thief River Falls Area Community Theater. She is a classically-trained soprano with a B.A. in vocal performance from Bemidji State University, where she studied voice with John Keston. “I love every aspect of performance art. Besides singing, acting, and directing, I have recently taken up costuming and it’s become another passion.” Jane explains, “Arts are important because I believe we weren’t born to merely survive, but to thrive. Why are we here, if not to enjoy the beauty of the earth and the other people in it? To fully understand and enjoy, we need to express ourselves and also to see and hear what others are thinking and feeling. Art is a profound way to connect with ourselves and each other.”