Our team

  • Jana Simms-Bergsma
    Background

    JANA SIMMS-BERGSMA

    Jana Simms-Bergsma is a St. Catharines based artist and educator. After graduating from McMaster’s Studio Art program in 2008, she worked as a scenic artist painting sets for theatre, events, and film. Her work has been enjoyed by audiences at the Shaw Festival, Theatre Calgary, and the Banff Centre.

    She has had the pleasure of working for many Canadian designers and alongside talented craftspeople in IATSE 828. She began teaching in 2009 and has had the privilege of sharing her ability with a variety of age groups and skill levels at Rodman Hall, the Parkway Artist Guild, and most recently the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre. Her passion for self-expression is infectious. She has successfully convinced the public to help her with large scale paintings, sidewalk art, garden flags, and sharing their secret wishes

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  • Katherine Sunita
    Background

    KATHERINE SUNITA

    Katherine has practiced art in many forms since she was a child. Art has been her escape, her medicine, her saviour. Having experienced the power of creative expression through trauma and tumult, she feels the need to pass on the messages of the creative muse, to reach through every barrier to the safe expression of emotion, thoughts, dreams, desires.

    Katherine has taught art for more than 20 years, all the while practicing my craft as a muralist, painter, writer, sculptor. Her arts education at The Art Centre in Toronto has inspired her methods of both instruction and art making, having learned in many media from bronze casting to life drawing, Katherine’s ultimate goal is to inspire others to create, to look, to feel, to open their minds to the inner child’s calling to play.

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  • Joel Smith
    Background

    Joel Smith

    A Niagara based photographer since 1996, Joel Smith captures and creates landscapes that show the emotion and respect of his Niagara environment.

    His first exposure to photography was in 1993 when hiking through New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. It sparked his love for landscape and shooting in nature. While Joel’s commercial practice has been diverse, including portrait & wedding photography, Joel has always loved landscape photography and has returned to his first love.

    His landscapes now include cities, urban landscapes and captured moments in time. Joel has explored the unique and variant landscapes offered up by the Niagara Region, from the large green forest to the waterfalls that meander through it all, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Having been born and raised in Niagara, his art works are about discovering and shooting the unseen areas of the region in his own unique way.

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  • Shauna MacLeodFounder, Executive Director

    SHAUNA MACLEOD

    Founder, Executive Director

    Shauna MacLeod brings a lifelong relationship with the arts and mental health to her role as Founder and Director of Willow Arts Community. She is the proud mother of her teenage son Colin, and a passionate believer in the power of community. Shauna grew up in rural Niagara and spent much of her youth seeking sanctuary in her willow tree, writing poetry and dreaming of a better future. Moving to St. Catharines in 2009 to pursue post secondary education, she graduated top of her class in the Liberal Arts University Transfer program at Niagara College and pursued History and Canadian Studies at Brock University.  

    In 2010, Shauna lost her brother, an avid musician, to a lifelong battle with addictions and mental illness. Shauna also uses her own recovery story to advocate for support and stigma reduction. Driven by her first-hand experience of the need for a supportive and creative community, Shauna spearheaded a grassroots movement within the arts and mental health community in Niagara. That movement would grow into what is now Willow Arts Community. In 2019 alone, the Willow supported more than two hundred Member Artists with lived experience of mental health and substance use through access to free programs and partnerships.

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  • Michelle NichollsPresident - Programming and Special Events

    Michelle Nicholls

    President – Programming and Special Events

    Michelle Nicholls is a local Arts Administrator, Educator and Artist. Michelle believes that through learning, creating and interacting that the arts have transformative capabilities and can become significant to our community – and to us as individuals.

    She is a practicing visual artist who explores various forms of painting, printmaking and book-binding in her work. She also enjoys participating in dance and collecting vinyl.

    Michelle is passionate about developing creative communities. She is responsible for outreach, special events and marketing for the City of St. Catharines Cultural Services Office. In her previous role at Rodman Hall Art Centre, she managed and delivered arts education and outreach programs for the community. Michelle has worked in museums and galleries across Niagara, as a Collections Manager, Archivist, Exhibition Designer and Educator.

    Michelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Brock University and has obtained her OCT (Teaching License). She is also a graduate of the Visual Arts Honours Program at Brock and has received a Diploma in Graphic Design from Niagara College.

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  • Laurie SadowskiVice Chair - Research

    LAURIE SADOWSKI

    Vice Chair – Research

    Laurie Sadowski (BMus: Wilfrid Laurier University; MA in Musicology: York University; MA in Community Music: WLU; Arts and Healthcare training: University of Florida).

    Laurie is currently the Arts in Medicine Coordinator at Niagara Health, creating arts-based experiences for patients, families, and staff in outpatient oncology, and Adjunct Faculty at WLU, where she was recently awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage grant to develop an arts-based engagement strategy for those affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Other current projects include two St. Catharines Cultural Investment Program: Culture Builds Community Grants (one for those affected by MS, and another for youth at Pathstone Mental Health); chairing Arts & Health Niagara; co-chairing the Niagara Region Qualitative Research Interest Group; assisting with clinical research in the Niagara Health ICU; and developing a music/wellness project for non-arts university students. As an arts animateur, community music facilitator, published author, and music and wellness advocate, Laurie’s projects drive her passion to promote how the arts can enhance overall wellbeing.

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  • Patrick CrummeySecretary/Treasurer - Donor Development

    PATRICK CRUMMEY

    Secretary/Treasurer – Donor Development

    Patrick Crummey is a local social entrepreneur and advocate for mental health and substance use awareness. Patrick is a strong believer in the importance of social support for mental health recovery, and works to fight the stigma of mental illness and substance use wherever he finds it. 

    Professionally, Patrick brings his experience working in the professional development field in Toronto, as well as his insight as an entrepreneur and the founder of Spire Connect – a locally based corporate events development firm. Personally, he brings his own lived experience with mental health and substance use to Willow’s Board. Having experienced the isolating effects of mental illness and substance use first hand, Patrick is passionate about building communities for individuals to connect and recover.

    Patrick holds an Honours B.A from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict & Justice. He regularly contributes to Niagara’s only alternative arts paper, The Sound. In addition to The Willow, he is an active volunteer with Start Me Up Niagara.

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  • Jay LupishDirector of Marketing and Communications

    Jay Lupish

    Director of Marketing and Communications

    Jason Lupish is a multi-disciplined visual artist whose tool of choice is typically a camera. He has spent the past 15 years working in film and television and his short and feature length films have played at festivals around the world and received a number of awards and recognition.

    He often spends his spare time developing marketing and communications plans for small to medium sized businesses and spent a year as a Communications Consultant for the Niagara Region.

    In 2017, Lupish and his long-time producing partner started Jarico Films for Youth a not-for-profit film production company that produces films in collaboration with Niagara’s Youth, and offers employment opportunity and life-skills training for youth in need.

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  • Sarah LesniewskiLaw

    SARAH LESNIEWSKI

    Law

    A big believer in the transformative power of art, Sarah is excited to support the Willow Arts Community.

    Sarah was born and raised in Niagara, and has a Honours B.A. from the University of Toronto, LL.B. from the University of Windsor, and LL.M. from the University of Ottawa. In 2005, she was called to the Bar of Ontario as a Barrister and Solicitor. After earning her degrees and legal qualification, Sarah moved to Switzerland and then to the UK, where she lived for many years.

    She has worked in advocacy, research, campaigns, and communications across the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, including stints at the Women’s Budget Group, City & Guilds, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the British Prime Minister’s Office. She also co-produced a community art project called “Politics Uncovered”, which offered women in east London a beginner’s guide to politics.

    Now back in Toronto with her partner and young son, Sarah can usually be found working in digital strategy and communications, supporting political campaigns, or plotting a new project. Although not currently practicing law, Sarah retains her membership in the Law Society of Ontario.

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  • Devon Hopcraft

    Devon Hopcraft

    Devon Hopcraft is a self-taught artist born and raised in the Niagara Region. As a child, he was always expressing himself creatively in various forms; always putting on a show, clowning around, and making others happy any way he could. It wasn’t until he picked up a pencil and discovered that his endless creativity could flow from pencil to paper effortlessly that he knew he found his true passion.

    As carefree childhood faded, and an uncertain future seemed evident, Devon began to face the treacherous obstacle of mental health. Using art as his therapy, he has been able to begin healing, and hopes to encourage others to find solace in their passions.

    It’s hard to categorize Devon’s artwork. It exists somewhere between the realms of cartoons, street art, caricature, and abstract art. Primarily, using mixed media on canvas, his work often includes original characters – some created during adolescence. Inspired by a wide array of sources from all over including the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch; artists such as Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel; and the New York based art collective, PFFR. Devon’s art strives to portray the dichotomy of the chaos of reality versus the innocence of childhood cartoons. As a viewer taking in the sight of Devon’s work, you can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia, as he finds a way to bring in bits and pieces from assorted iconic animation from past decades.

    Devon’s ultimate goal is to further hone his skills as an artist through the Willow’s programs, while continuing to navigate his way through the confines of mental health. His hope is that he can share his journey and his gift with many people, giving them light through darkness.

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