Meet Our Staff And Board
Our staff at Great River Arts are dedicated to providing the community with a variety of arts experiences.
If you'd like to help us, check out our Opportunities At GRA page for more information.
Michelle Kiley | Executive Director
As an experienced community development professional and emerging creative placemaker/public artist, Michelle seeks to curate people inspired spaces. Her work results in collaborative and customized concepts (temporary or fixed) for a public space(s). Michelle holds a B.A. in Local and Urban Affairs and an M.S. in Tourism, Planning, and Development from St. Cloud State University. In 2017, she was selected as one of twenty individuals across the state, to participate in the “Emerging Public Artist” workshop - hosted by Forecast for Public Art. In addition, she is an alumna of the 2018 “Teaching Artist Roster Program,” offered through the Central Minnesota Arts Board (CMAB).
Zoe Zehner | Assistant Director
Zoe Zehner-Back is originally from Chicago, but she has lived in a variety of communities, including Red Wing, MN, Cody, WY, Owatonna, MN, Mason City, IA and most recently St. Cloud, MN, as well as internationally, first in Brussels, Belgium and later in Paris, France. A lifelong painter, Zoe graduated from North Park University in Chicago with her Bachelor's in Art. While painting is her preferred medium, both acrylic and watercolor, she is also a photographer, writer, and musician.
A recent transplant to Little Falls, Zoe and her husband Ben fell in love with the community after visiting in 2018 for an overnight stay at a local B&B to celebrate their anniversary. They have always dreamed of owning their own hobby farm, complete with greenhouse, orchards, and animals, oh my! It was then that they finally began to pursue a path to that dream, and they moved to Little Falls in 2019.
After holding a number of jobs, from Barista to Assistant Manager of Medical Records and Transcription, as they moved around the country following Ben's career, Zoe is very excited to not only be putting down roots, but also to be putting her art degree to official use. She has continued painting and selling her artwork and other handcrafted goods, whether commissioned or through the local farmer's market. In her free time, she also enjoys playing with her three young kids, cooking, baking, knitting, cross-stitching, and traveling. Someday she hopes to have a pygmy goat named Bootleg.
Ashley Maciej | Event Specialist
Ashley Maciej was born in Little Falls, MN and has continued to reside close to the area throughout her life. She is a musician with a short military background, which has helped improve and open many opportunities for her, while being a member of the 34th Infantry Division (ID) Red Bull Band.
She is excited to have the opportunity to engage with local artists that might help inspire some new unique ideas in her own art making. She currently plays music, is beginning in the direction of jewelry making, and is an animal fanatic, highlighting her love of natural beauty anyone can find in the art of nature.
Ashley has previously worked at Camp Ripley with the Visitors Bureau and Public Affairs team, but is very excited to take a step into the heart of Little Falls and become an engaged member of Great River Arts.
Martin Nelson | Marketing Specialist
Martin Nelson was born in Minneapolis and grew up in Willmar, MN. He moved to Brainerd, MN in 2010 and has been involved in the arts and community in the area since that time.
Martin primarily works as a mixed media collage artist, but does painting, sculptural, and installation work as well. He creates his artwork with the use of found materials and an abundance of old magazines, books, newspapers, and other interesting printed matter collected in the studio. His work covers many topics including the environment, history, culture, mass media, and human interaction within all things.
Over the years he has held gallery director and curator positions at select galleries in the Brainerd lakes area, including the Franklin Arts Center Gallery, and the Central Lakes College Art Gallery, as well as being Co-Owner of The New Bohemain Gallery. In 2017, Martin received his Graphic Design degree from Central Lakes College, and continues to use his presentation and layout skills through his design and mixed media work.
He has exhibited his work at the Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND, and Minneapolis Institute Of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, along with other select galleries and exhibition spaces both locally and nationally. In 2016 his work was published in Studio Visit Magazine Vol. 33. He lives in Brainerd, MN and works out of his studio located in the Franklin Arts Center.
Darla Hueske | Retail & Administrative Assistant
Darla Hueske is a native of western ND. She moved to Little Falls in 2019.
She has devoted her life searching for beauty and meaning in life. She has resided and worked in Texas, Arizona, New York, New Mexico, Andalusia Spain, Southern England, Australia and Egypt. She has traveled and photographed in more than 300 cities and 24 countries. She digs deeply into the regions where she lingers, creating art and film out of her time spent there.
Darla has been a photographer and writer for most of her life, working as a corporate and commercial photographer. Recently, she has delved into fine arts photography, studying still life art. She has won numerous awards for her work. Her photographs have been exhibited at galleries in western North Dakota and PhotoMidwest Center for Photography in Wisconsin.
Darla holds a B.S. in Communications from Minnesota State University and an M.A. from New Mexico Highlands University.
Renee Zeleny | Ceramic Arts Specialist (GRA Clay Center)
Renee Zeleny first fell in love with clay while in graduate school at SCSU when she took a clay class as a creative outlet. Upon following the advise of her clay instructor who responded to her question: “How do I make a living working with clay?”, she went to Japan and apprenticed with master potter Kada Kimura. She returned to St. Cloud, convinced master potter, Jasper Bond, to accept her as an apprentice and spent over 4 years learning all aspects of studio production, kiln building, and firing gas kilns under his instruction. Renee has been a professional potter since 1991, and for the past 23 years has primarily created functional pottery items for wholesale orders with long-standing customers.
Before becoming a mother (of 2 wonderful daughters), in addition to her studio work, Renee spent several years teaching clay hand building techniques to students (grades 2nd - 6th) throughout Central Minnesota via the Central MN Arts Board’s After School Arts Program. Though Renee was extensively trained in, and employs various methods of using the potter’s wheel, this will be her first time sharing “throwing” techniques. She will primarily be teaching hand building techniques, and the seldom-taught Japanese style of “throwing off the hump.”
Renee believes that handmade objects are important to help keep us balanced and centered, and serve as reminders of the connectedness that we have with each other and the earth. She is also convinced that food and drink look and taste better when using handmade dishes!
Michael Burr | Grant & Fund Development Officer
Michael brings a range of skills to his work in the arts. In addition to experience in music, theatre, and event production, he also applies expertise gained in his 30-year career as a communications professional, publisher, grant writer, project manager, and business administrator.
Michael serves as president and producer for Little Falls Summer Musical, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational theatre organization that he co-launched in May 2019 with his son Lucas. Michael also owns and operates Burr Energy LLC dba Microgrid Institute, a collaborative consultancy that he formed in 2013 to support private clients, communities, and state and tribal agencies who require sustainable and resilient energy solutions. Before founding Microgrid Institute, Michael spent 25 years as an analyst in the electric utility industry, most recently as editor in chief and associate publisher of Public Utilities Fortnightly. He has supported grant writing and management for programs exceeding $10 million in aggregate award value.
Michael also supports local arts and cultural development through volunteer service for such organizations as Little Falls Community Schools, Great River Arts, the Morrison County Historical Society, and the Charles Lindbergh House & Museum.
Mark Slupe | Great River Television Station Manager
After a successful career as a photojournalist, Mark Slupe has been serving as the Station Manager for Great River Television for the last five years. A native Minnesotan, he was born, raised and educated in Windom. Slupe is a graduate of Central Lakes College’s Videography program. True to the Minnesota spirit, Slupe enjoys an outdoors lifestyle which includes camping, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Slupe is a world traveler with a passion for introducing the Little Falls community to new cultures and foods.
Are you interested in joining the team? Check out our Opportunities at GRA page for current positions.
The Great River Arts Board of Directors volunteer their time and expertise to support creativity in our community.
If you are an arts advocate and would like to be considered as a GRA board member, please complete the Letter Of Interest Form and mail it to GRA (PO Box 157, Little Falls MN 56345) or email it to the Executive Director. The board reviews submissions quarterly.
Mark Gerbi, President
Neree Jackson, Vice President
Ron Bieganek, Treasurer
Sheryl Johnson, Yadira Frey, and Scott Saehr (members)
Neree Jackson, VP and long-time patron at Great River Arts (GRA) has accepted a new position in the Twin Cities and anticipates moving by the end of the year (2019). Neree has roots in the performing arts - graduating from the Perpich Center for Arts Education; in their Delta class in which she majored in vocal music. Jackson also sang, locally for four years with the Legacy Choir of Central MN and for two years with Sestri. After more than eight years serving GRA and it's members, Jackson will be leaving the board after December 2019. Her perspective and experience will be missed.
Visual Arts Committee