Paul Kassel, Dean of the Northern Illinois University College of Visual and Performing Arts has been named to the Arts Leadership Council of Arts Alliance Illinois.

We’re excited to announce six new members of our Arts Leadership Council (ALC): Christina Bourné (Forward Momentum Chicago), Taila Howe (Chicago Underground Film Festival), Paul Kassel (Northern Illinois University), Elizabeth Neukirch (Elizabeth Neukirch PR Consulting LLC), Tony Santiago (Arts + Public LIfe), and Jorge Valdivia (Chicago Latino Theater Alliance).

The ALC is an advisory group that provides field intelligence, campaign strategy, programmatic feedback, and assists with membership recruitment.

Current ALC members include practicing artists, leaders of organizations, community leaders, and creative business owners from across the state of Illinois. ALC members attend 4 meetings per year and members commit to sitting on one sub-committee. As our eyes and ears on the ground, ALC members are consistently advocating for and recruiting new members to support the Alliance’s mission to fight for arts resources and policies that benefit our members and all Illinois residents.

Since 2022, the ALC has doubled in size, bringing in new perspectives and skill sets to advise the Alliance on strategy, programs, and membership development.

We are so excited to have these leaders with us and thank them for their tireless advocacy for the creative sector in their community and across Illinois! Read their bios below.

If you’re interested in joining the ALC, please contact Erick at

Paul Kassel

Dean, College of Visual & Performing Arts

Northern Illinois University

Paul Kassel is the Dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a full professor in the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University. He manages the operation of the Schools of Art and Design, Music, and Theatre and Dance. Paul also oversees the operations of the NIU Museum and the Community School of the Arts (CSA).

From July 2013 to July 2015 Paul was Interim Dean for School of Fine and Performing Arts at SUNY New Paltz, and Associate Dean for two years prior to that. He was a professor of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz (2004-2016) and at Stony Brook University (1998-2004) where he taught acting, voice, movement, directing, and directed plays. Paul began his academic career as Head of Acting at Bradley University from 1993-1998.

Paul’s book, Acting: An Introduction to the Art and Craft of Playing, was published by Pearson in 2006. He recently created a Substack– Playing: Notes on the art and craft of acting. He was the editor of The Players’ Journal,  an e-journal by and for actors and teachers of acting from 2004-2016. In New York City for eleven years as a professional actor, director, and writer, Paul worked off, and off-off Broadway, in regional theaters, and in several films and television shows. Paul has maintained his professional career since entering academia, most recently performing the role of “Stage Manager” in Our Town (2019) and directing Romeo and Juliet (2020) with Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois. Paul is currently developing a cabaret act of musical theater songs that surveys love from inception to maturity.

Professor Kassel received his M.F.A. in Performance from the Florida State/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training. He is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors’ Guild/American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. Professional associations include the International Conference of Fine Arts Deans, the Alliance of Arts in Research Universities, the National Conference of Arts Administrators, and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.



Christina Bourné 

Director of Development
Forward Momentum Chicago

Christina Bourné is an accomplished nonprofit and fundraising professional with a focus in board and staff development, annual and campaign planning, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) implementation, and strategic planning. During her 15-year career, her unique skills have allowed her to work with longstanding and emerging leaders in arts and culture, education and youth services, and social justice in the nonprofit and corporate sector both locally and nationally. Christina considers herself a community organizer at heart and takes pride in building individual and organizational capacity through lasting change management frameworks that challenge clients and organizations to go beyond rhetoric to responsibility with equity and sustainability at the helm.

Christina currently serves as the Director of Development for Forward Momentum Chicago, Adjunct Consultant with Evolve Giving Group, and Board Chair of Awakenings Art. She also sings professionally with her family of nine comprised of her siblings and mother—The Bournés.


Taila Howe

Director of Production
Chicago Underground Film Festival
marketing + creative
Doja Cat

Taila Howe is the Director of Production for the Chicago Underground Film Festival and runs the marketing + creative department for Doja Cat’s management team. She’s a Third-Culture-Kid with Polish roots, and has over ten years of cross-cultural and international experience bridging the communications gap between different societies, nationalities and perspectives. As a human-centered designer, nature lover and marketing strategist, she’s passionate about helping organizations grow their community, increase accessibility, and diversify revenue streams within the discourse of local and global social change.




Elizabeth Neukirch

Writer / PR Consultant
Elizabeth Neukirch PR Consulting LLC

Elizabeth Neukirch is a Chicago-based writer and PR/communications strategist. As the owner of Elizabeth Neukirch PR Consulting LLC, she works with arts, nonprofit and mission-driven organizations to create and execute public relations campaigns, with a focus on high-impact storytelling.

Her current clients/projects include the Fine Arts Building’s 125th anniversary, Far South Community Development Corporation, the Black Arts & Culture Alliance of Chicago, the National Hellenic Museum, and the Office of Inspector General for the Chicago Board of Education. Elizabeth is also a guest lecturer for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where for seven years she has led an annual PR workshop for students in the Masters in Arts Administration and Policy program.

Prior to starting her independent consulting practice, Elizabeth was senior vice president of Chicago PR firm The Silverman Group, where for a decade she represented world-class cultural institutions ranging from Lyric Opera and Steppenwolf Theatre Company to Cirque du Soleil touring productions. She received an honorable mention in PR Daily’s Nonprofit PR Awards for her national media campaign in support of Jessica Stockholder’s Color Jam public artwork presented by Chicago Loop Alliance. Elizabeth has also served as public relations manager for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, worked in Goodman Theatre’s Education and Engagement department, and was a contributing writer and advertising account manager for The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers.

As a fiction writer, Elizabeth is currently working on her first novel, a speculative Greek American immigrant story narrated by a chorus of opinionated village women. She is grateful for the support she has received for this project from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Tin House Summer Workshop, Ragdale Foundation and Vermont Studio Center. A graduate of StoryStudio Chicago’s Novel in a Year program, Elizabeth currently serves on StoryStudio’s Associate Board. She is a contributing writer for the Chicago Review of Books and Third Coast Review.


Tony Santiago

Creative Engineer
Arts + Public Life, We Will Chicago, Honey Pot Performances

Board Member
Katherine Dunham Center (E. Saint Louis)

A creative engineer centering technology to help connect people to the arts, Santiago manages Arts + Public Life’s Performance Residency and teaches the Community Actor’s Program for high-school-aged youth at Green Line Performance Arts Center in Washington Park. Professional credits include Community Data Manager for We Will Chicago with Honey Pot Performance, Spinning Home Movies with the South Side Home Movie Project Producer, and Editor and Technical Director of the Rapid Response Series with Illinois Humanities. Tony currently sits on the board of the Katherine Dunham Center in East Saint Louis. When not working, Tony enjoys cooking, biking, and watching movies on the big screen.


Jorge Valdivia

Executive Director
Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA)

Jorge Valdivia is the Executive Director for the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA). With over twenty-five years of experience in arts and media management. As a self-identifying Queer Mexican American, Valdivia has centered his work in diversity and equity through social practice, public engagement, and advocacy in the arts. He has won awards and been recognized for his contributions to both the Latino/Latine and LGBTQ communities. Prior to becoming executive director of CLATA, Valdivia served as the Director of Performing Arts for the National Museum of Mexican Art where he led the Museum in presenting a year-round calendar of events focusing on performing arts, literature, and film. There he also curated the Sor Juana Arts Festival, a multidisciplinary arts festival that he successfully expanded into seven cities. Valdivia has also cultivated partnerships in Chicago, across the country and beyond with various arts organizations and has curated festivals, events, and experiences on major stages like Harris Theater and Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago, Discovery Green and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin, and El Claustro de Sor Juana in Mexico City.


For a full list of ALC members, visit our Board and ALC page.