Currently residing in the city of San Bernardino, Alejandro Gutierrez Chavez is a strategic leader, social entrepreneur, and dedicated advocate for the arts. Born and raised in San Bernardino County, Alejandro’s journey has taken him from acquiring a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from California State University, San Bernardino, to roles such as a 6th grade math teacher for Duval County Schools, Research and Evaluation Analyst at First 5 San Bernardino, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Impact at El Sol to co-founding the nonprofit youth initiative, Lifting Our Stories.
Recognized as one of the area’s 30 Most Influential Leaders Under 30, Alejandro is a first-generation Chicano and former educator. His deep belief in art as a catalyst for change and a platform for amplifying voices fuels his work.
Beyond his professional endeavors, Alejandro is an outdoor enthusiast, constantly seeking to explore and appreciate the natural world. Whether in his work or his personal life, Alejandro’s mission is to inspire, innovate, and provide the tools for others to fulfill their highest potential.
Saniyyah Thomas was born in Camden, New Jersey and raised in the Inland Empire of San Bernardino County. She attended San Bernardino Valley College in 2008 and graduated in 2012 with her Associate of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences. During the past three years she has worked as a Behavioral Support Specialist for a non-profit company that assists adults with special needs.
Regional Program Director T. Faye Griffin (pronounced “tee fay”) is a multi-hyphenated creative with an extensive arts management background in performance, literary, and visual arts. Her work in television as a writer-producer has earned her three NAACP Image Awards. She now leads Arts Connection’s regional outreach and program management in the High Desert.
A proud product of South Central Los Angeles, T. Faye currently resides in Apple Valley where she hopes developing inclusive and accessible programming will help build stronger community bonds, enhance the region visually, and “broaden pathways for the High Desert’s creative community to be seen widely, heard clearly, and compensated fairly.”
Regional Program Director – Morongo Basin
Elena Yu is an interdisciplinary artist and arts organizer living in Twentynine Palms CA. She is the Morongo Basin Regional Program Director for Arts Connection. Her arts organizing emphasis is on developing public programs and exhibitions that consider and care for all aspects of a community ecosystem; bringing together local residents, artists, partnering organizations, and sites around experimental contemporary art.
Before joining Arts Connection, she was the Assistant Director of Programming for High Desert Test Sites, and has also worked as a teaching artist with Groundwork Arts and the Hammer Museum.
Elena is originally from Culver City, CA an holds a BA in Art from UCLA. She serves on the board of Copper Mountain Mesa Community Foundation and Bezerk Productions. Making clothes, hiking with her dog Kiko and looking at lichen are all also important parts of her life and practice.
Arts Education Program Coordinator
Andrea ‘Dre’ Bonales is a 22 year-old artist from Rialto, CA who enjoys working with many mediums, but her main forms are animation and film. She graduated from Riverside City College in 2021 with a degree in Film and Television along with a degree in Fine and Applied Arts. Since then she has worked on a variety of different projects such as directing her first film “The Core,” with the help of close friends and acquaintances.
Currently, she is working with Arts Connection as the Arts Education Program Coordinator and as a Teaching Artist. She has presented her various skill sets within and outside her community. In November of 2020 she released her comic book series “Torn” which pushed her to sell her work in local art events. With her connections to the film industry she was presented work on projects amongst other artists such as DJ Khaled, Law Roach and Comedy Central.
Although her time experiencing these events may seem short she has gained a great deal of knowledge through them. She hopes to continue her growth by gaining a Bachelor’s in Animation and working within the industry for a while to eventually come back to her Inland Empire community and teach her knowledge to the youth.
Yulissa Mendoza is a multi hyphenated artist and community engager who was born and raised in San Bernardino. The foundation of any work that they do is to create a safe space that serves as a building block in order to amplify voices, empower marginalized communities, and carve space for those often overlooked. As Art Director at the Arts Connection they developed Blocks of Care as a way to create movement and change within the city through art by engaging with 13 artists over a 5 month period. They have also developed and lead the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program and space at the Garcia Center to mentor and provide supportive resources for local artists to help build their platform and skills by assisting the artists in facilitating community engagements such as workshops, galleries, and gatherings. Yulissa is also actively involved in the regional community, having curated The Artlands first ever pride gallery event in Redlands and was recognized by the city via a proclamation for their increasing efforts in creating space for the LGBTQ+ community. Through their botanical art, they have provided mutual aid for community movements and members such as slowbloom coffee co-op, BLM, and local LGBTQ+ orgs.
Willis Salomon is a visual artist, photographer, and creative based in the Inland Empire and Los Angeles areas. He grew up in the IE area but has also spent time in Hawai’i. He studied Visual Communications from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.
Prior to the Arts Connection, he spent his time in Los Angeles in commercial fashion, doing art direction, photography, wardrobe styling and set design. As well as a visual display artist in various retail locations.
Currently he is a freelance photographer, with a focus on fashion and product, as well as food and bev. And also consults for social media marketing for small businesses. If he’s not out exploring in the outdoors, he is working on his personal art practice which involves art installation and photography.
Romaine Washington (she/her) M.Ed. grew up in San Bernardino and has been a high school English teacher in the public school system for over 20 years. Washington has served as a Poetry Out Loud (POL) judge in both San Bernardino and Riverside County and was a POL coach at Los Osos High School in 2020 and 2021.
She has two collections of poetry, Purgatory Has an Address, 2021 and Sirens in Her Belly 2015 and her writing has appeared in numerous publications. She is a fellow of the The Watering Hole, South Carolina and the Inland Area Writing Project, UCRiverside. She is the editor of These Black Bodies Are…A Blacklandia Anthology. Her writing has provided opportunities to share her work on NPR, and KPFK and on a National Poetry Slam team.
Washington believes that open mics help create open minds and hearts. We listen with kindness and care and share our writing in hopes of being understood. It is a perfect venue where honest conversations can thrive. Poetry Out Loud is an extension of the basic concepts of open mic and invites well-established poets into the conversation.
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