top of page

Dr. Janice Tisha Samuels, Founding Executive Director

Janice is a writer, education technology professional, arts enthusiast, and woman who loves to create opportunities and platforms to support people and causes. She is a committed educator and advocate because it is her personal mission"to help people know themselves, own their power, and become the best of what we are capable of as humans, dreamers, and believers." 

Chantala Kommanivanh, Lead Artist

Chantala is an award-winning Lao American Artist, Educator, and Musician.

He is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation award in 2009 and is a two-time awardee of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Advance Opportunity Program Fellowship award in 2011 and 2012. Congress Lady Tammy Duckworth has also recognized him for his service of excellence to Illinois’s 8th district arts community in 2013.

Chantala earned his Bachelor degree at Northeastern Illinois University in 2008 and a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts in 2012. Today he has found his way back to his hometown of Chicago and teaches at his alma mater since 2012, where he is an arts professor.

Luis Franco, Lead Graphic Designer

Franco is a visual artist based in Durham, NC who uses paint and graphic design to develop images that serve as social commentaries on the unique experience of being a black or brown person in America. His artwork integrates references to music, popular culture, and social justice movements in a socio-political format he refers to as a visual activism.


Franco’s artwork has been featured in gallery shows across the US in places like the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University, Busboys and Poets locations in Washington, DC and Hyattsville, Maryland; The Franklin Arts Center Resident Artists’ Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Perspectives Exhibition Art Gallery in Montclair, NJ.  Franco received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Art with a concentration in Visual Communication from North Carolina Central University.

Dan Kwon, Animator

Dan is a musician, designer, and creative based in Chicago, IL. Dan has over 7 years experience serving in the church AVL industry and working in media production, creative development, and music. Dan is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University ’17 and is currently pursuing a career in the music industry as a session artist and as a creative in the production industry. 


Juan Pablo Ruiz, Teaching Artist

Juan Pablo Ruiz is a painter born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in Chicago. He studied History and Art at Northeastern Illinois University and received his MFA at the historic Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia – the first and oldest Art School and Museum in the United States. His representational paintings consist of autobiographical narratives and allegories dealing with the environment, politics, and violence. He has exhibited in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.  He is set to start teaching in the Art Department at Northeastern Illinois University this Fall.

Liz Gomez, NYAM Emerging Artist, Mentor, and Thought Leader

Liz is an international portrait and mural artist whose work captures not only a person’s perceived identity but also how they know themselves.  Her work celebrates authenticity and the depth of the spirit.


Originally from San Antonio, TX, Liz  traveled to Chicago to pursue a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and now currently holds an artist residency in Bronzeville, with the Hunter International Gallery.   In recent years, Liz’s practice has expanded to include performance. She is an active member of the Participatory Music Collation, which combines experimental music, movement, spirituality and community engagement.

Elexsis Miller, NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Elexsis spends her time understanding black life and its impact on American culture, and focuses her energy on the good health and mental strength of the African Diaspora.

Marquis Sewell, Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Marquis is a 19 year-old who attends Morehouse College. In being born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Marquis provides a different perspective on the beauty that is within his city. Through the use of his photography, Marquis hopes to cultivate a new perception of his hometown and to create awareness of social issues across the country.

Leah LaQueens, NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Laqueens is a self taught Chicago based artist who focuses on women's empowerment and activism through art. LaQueens has been painting for15 years. She is currently working on a start up business called LaQueens & Things, which will include commissioned fine art , logos, digital and hand painted apparel.  Laqueens plans to place original artworks on clothes so that everyone can feel like a walking canvas and wear their personal beliefs on fabric. She plans to pursue a BFA in fashion design.

Millie M., NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Millie is a rising junior in high school with a 4.9 GPA.  She is a growing artist who started becoming serious about her art practice three years ago. As a teenager working with NYAM, she hopes to spread awareness of gun violence and to positively impact her peers.

B'Rael Ali, NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

B'Rael is a painter, poet, and dancer who sees himself as a creative force and bringer of truth. Art for B'Rael is a way to solve the problems of today in order to create a better future. His work predominately features dancing figures that are meant to express the African American experience in thematic and stylistic compositions that combine historical symbols and ritual with visions for the future. B'Rael has a BFA in painting and drawing from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Daria Velazquez, NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Daria is a self-taught artist living in Chicago who expresses her thoughts, real-life experiences and beliefs through her work. Using art for self-care and self-expression for the last 7 years has inspired her to become an Art Therapist. Daria plans to pursue a Master's degree in both Psychology and Art after she graduates high school in 2018.

Please reload

bottom of page