Board Members

Britany Affolter-Caine, Ph.D.

Program Director

University Research Corridor

Works in Lansing/Detroit, lives in Ypsilanti Township             

Britany Affolter-Caine is the program manager for Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC), an alliance of Michigan’s largest research universities and one of the nation’s top academic clusters focused on increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world. Britany has managed the development and dissemination of research reports that inform key stakeholders on the URC’s critical contributions to the state’s economy, including the Annual Economic Impact and Benchmarking Series and reports on alumni entrepreneurship, the blue economy, talent, and Detroit. She also manages programs and events that foster greater research collaboration across URC universities and with industry. In addition to her work at the URC, Britany has been a long-time board member and currently serves as the co-chair of the board of directors for the Arts Alliance, an organization that supports and advocates for the creative sector in Washtenaw County. Prior to the URC, Britany was the director for talent at Ann Arbor SPARK, director of Intern In Michigan, a talent retention and attraction program, at the Detroit Regional Chamber, and a senior research associate for the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution on the Great Lakes Economic Initiative, which focused on the creation of a federal-state agenda to promote the Great Lakes Region. Britany earned her PhD in higher education policy from the University of Michigan, focusing on the process of inter-organizational collaboration. She also earned a M.Ed. in secondary education from Wright State University, and a BA in political science from Wittenberg University.

Colby Spencer Cesaro

Creative: vocalist, actor and dancer

Vice President

Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities  (MICU)

Works in Lansing, lives in Dexter

Colby Spencer Cesaro serves as the Vice President at the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities association (MICU). In her role, she focuses her time analyzing data on the contribution of higher education institutions, their students and graduates to the economy and enhancing awareness of the importance of higher education. Prior to coming to MICU, Cesaro worked as the Senior Director for Research & Strategy at the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN) and with the Anderson Economic Group, a boutique economic consulting firm with offices in East Lansing, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois.

Cesaro is co-chair of The Arts Alliance board, working collaboratively with the organization on grant-writing, membership development and advocacy. In her spare time, Cesaro produces shows and performs with Ann Arbor Musical Theatre Works, a regional musical theatre company with a mission focused on raising awareness and funds for social and medical issues facing the community. She also performs with local choirs and dance companies when possible. Cesaro also serves on the board of Ballet Chelsea, a non-profit ballet school and performance company. Cesaro’s background, prior to her professional career in economics, was in theatre, dance and vocal performance.

Cesaro is passionate about issues pertaining to women’s health, education and social justice and is a member of the Board of Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) focusing on advocacy and policy pertaining to youth access/education. Cesaro holds a Bachelor of Science in elementary and special education from New York University and Master of Public Administration in urban/social policy and econometric/quantitative analysis from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City. Cesaro held a fellowship at Columbia University as a teaching assistant for quantitative analysis and operations management graduate courses.  Colby serves as the co-president of the Columbia Alumni Association of Michigan. She has also taught in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

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Stewardship Committee Chair

Kim Easter

Creative: performing as vocalist Kim Vox.
Major Gift Officer

Law School, University of Michigan

Works and lives in Ann Arbor

Treasurer

Merrill Guerra

Creative: vocalist
Realtor & Home Staging Professional

Red Barn Realty
Works and lives in Ypsilanti Township

Merrill Guerra is an experienced and professional marketer for sellers and an energetic and hard-working advocate for buyers selling over 50 properties for over $10 million in sales in her first 5 years. She was one of the Top 250 Agents out of over 2000 agents at the largest brokerage in Michigan in under 3 years and top 10% of Realtors® nationwide. She has been recognized with the Gold Award and President’s Council of Excellence for her performance. Guerra specializes in the Lincoln School District area of Ypsilanti Township, as well as serving the cities of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Belleville, Canton and surrounding areas. She utilizes her skills as a former start-up business founder and CEO and UM MBA graduate to negotiate successfully for her clients.

Guerra feels a strong commitment to the community and has served non-profit organizations throughout her career. She currently serves the board of The Arts Alliance of Washtenaw County as its Secretary and on the Community Involvement Committee for the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors. Guerra supports a number of local community and school organizations as well through sponsorships and advertising such as Lincoln School Athletics, Lincoln Little League, Lincoln High School Drama and Band, Relay for Life and Community Music School.

Guerra received a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. She was recognized by the National Association of Women Business Owners with the 2009 Pioneering Spirit Award, Zell Lurie as its MBA Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008, as well as the Michigan Business Review as a finalist for its 2009 Innovation Michigan Awards and StartUp Nation as one of the Top 200 Leading Moms in Business for 2009.  As CEO and founder of RealKidz, Inc., a start-up company providing branded apparel for plus-size girls located in Depot Town, she generated extensive press coverage in BusinessWeek, NewYorkTimes.com, Women Entrepreneur, The Detroit Free Press, Ann Arbor Business Review and Crain’s Detroit Business.

“When I’m not working with clients and helping out in the community, I’m enjoying my family on our little farm in Ypsilanti Township.  With a cow, two llamas and about 40 chickens, we keep busy with their care and trying to keep the cows and llamas out of the school parking lot across the street.”

Michael L. Henry

Creative: filmmaker (former)

Senior Advisor

Cavanaugh Advisors

Works and lives in Ann Arbor

Michael L. Henry is an elected Democratic Party precinct delegate, chairman for the Ann Arbor Democratic Party and serves on the board of the Arts Alliance for Washtenaw County as immediate past chairman.  Henry is involved with a number of other organizations such as: the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Black Caucus, Ann Arbor Chapter of the NAACP, Michigan Democratic Party State Central Executive Committee, 12th Congressional District Democratic Party, Neutral Zone Teen Center and the Cultural Leaders Forum.

Henry is respected locally as a leading political strategist and talented fundraiser.  He has served as campaign manager, chief strategist or campaign advisor for numerous city and countywide campaigns and frequently advises candidates running for statewide, district and local offices. Henry has helped train or advise numerous citizens interested in running political campaigns or running for office. He views his next “big personal project” as recruiting, training and electing more Black men, women & other people of color to local, district and state-wide offices throughout the State of Michigan.

Henry is a senior advisor for Cavanaugh Advisors, a Michigan-based company. He is an award-winning writer with 27 years of experience as a producer/director; 24 years in the fields of direct-mail, online and social media marketing; and 19 years in the area of converging technology. Henry’s experience can be best characterized as “the business of leveraging technology, media, marketing and creative tools to influence people and public opinion.”

During his tenure at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, Henry concentrated in film/video studies and communication; served as a researcher; teaching assistant; workshop facilitator; and producer or director for more than 12 stage productions. He has been honored with the prestigious Hopwood Playwright’s Award; received an African American Downtown Festival Award for Community Leadership; and is an honoree for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Celebration of Black Men.

Henry has served in various writing, marketing, production, technical and management roles with: Advanced Commodities & Services in Detroit, Washtenaw Enquirer Newspaper, ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings, McKenzie & Roby Co. in Chicago, U-M Executive Education Center, U-M College of Engineering and Cavanaugh Advisors.

In 2004, Mr. Henry mounted a Michigan production of the stage play, The Meeting, written by Jeff Stetson. The production depicts a fictional meeting in a hotel room between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they discuss the merits and frustrations with their differing approaches to civil rights and social justice.

Linette Lao

Creative: graphic designer and creative writer
Founder & Designer

Invisible Engines
Works and lives in Ypsilanti

Linette Lao’s life and career has centered upon interdisciplinary learning, collaboration and creativity. She is grateful to have made a life of engaging in projects that she is passionate about— some for work, some for play.In 2000, Lao founded Invisible Engines, a design studio focused on supporting nonprofit and community organizations. Her clients include the Kellogg Foundation, Great Lakes Observing Systems, Living Arts and Alliance for the Arts in Research Colleges. Prior to founding Invisible Engines, she designed for the Atlanta Jewish Times, Style Magazine, U.S. Digital and HealthMedia.

Since 2002, she has had the pleasure of teaching in the creative writing program at Eastern Michigan University. This innovative and interdisciplinary program provides students the experience of exploring language in diverse forms— connecting visual language and written language. She is currently the board president of FLY Children’s Art Center, working to provide all kids with opportunities to discover the art of making things happen, for themselves, but also for the community and the world. Her work and life is fueled by a love of her community in Ypsilanti. She has been a resident of the city through many phases of her  life, as a student at Eastern Michigan University, as a homeowner, as a business owner and as a parent— and through this she has been amazed how the city supports and nourishes her  endeavors. In the last few years, she has been delighted to see recognition of the creative community in Ypsilanti— a palpable shift is underway. This is a long awaited opportunity for Ypsilanti, and one which she wants to see address social and economic equality— a success that is not defined by gentrification. She is excited to be part of the community working toward that vision.

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Ruth Lednicer

Director of Media and Communications

Planned Parenthood of Michigan

Lives and works in Ann Arbor

Ruth Lednicer serves as the statewide communications director for both Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, coordinating the media and both internal and external communications for the nonprofit provider of reproductive health care. She was previously the senior director of marketing & programs at the Michigan Theater, and prior to that served as the Chicago Public Library’s 80 branch system’s director of marketing & communications for 11 years. Ms. Lednicer spent much of her career in government, having worked for Mayor Richard M. Daley in various roles, including as Scheduler and as Policy Assistant, and as Press Advance for President and Mrs. Clinton on several domestic trips. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Indiana University.

Melissa Milton-Pung

Creative: historic preservationist

Project Manager

Washtenaw County Office of

Community & Economic Development

Works and lives in Ypsilanti

Melissa Milton-Pung is a project manager in the Office of Community & Economic Development at Washtenaw County Government. She holds a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Kentucky and a Bachelor’s Degree in Public History from Western Michigan University, with expertise in public policy and economic development. Milton-Pung was a Historic Deerfield Fellow in Early American Material Culture and is a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA). She began her professional practice in the consulting sector and worked on numerous Federal compliance projects and historic property designations throughout the Midwest and Upper South. In public service at Washtenaw County since 2005, she supports the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission in overseeing 13 local historic districts, administering grant projects and providing technical assistance for local governments seeking to stimulate local investment and preserve community character. Milton-Pung is past staff to the Eastern Leaders Group, is current staff to the Economic Development Coordinating Committee and does project management for local economic development with special focus on Commercial Property Incentives. She is the immediate past president and co-chair of public policy for the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and presently sits on the board of the Ann Arbor Historical Foundation as well as The Arts Alliance in Washtenaw County, where she previously served as board chair.

Jay Mullick

Managing Partner, PSMI, Inc.

Owner, Mélange Bistro

Works in Saline, lives in Ann Arbor

Mullick is the owner of Production Services Management, Inc. (PSMI) in Saline and Mélange Bistro in Ann Arbor. He also serves on the board of Alpha House, an emergency shelter for children and their families experiencing homelessness in Washtenaw County.

President/CEO

Deb Polich

Creative: theater and costume designer (former)

President/CEO

The Arts Alliance & Artrain

Works and lives in Ann Arbor

Deb Polich has served as president/CEO of The Arts Alliance since February 2012. A founding board member of The Arts Alliance, Polich has 30+ years of professional arts administration experience, including service as the president/CEO of Artrain, Inc. for 23 years and managing director at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor for seven years. Under Polich’s leadership, Artrain received the 2006 National Medal for Museum Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums. Polich earned a B.S. in arts administration from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). She serves/has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit arts and community organizations, including Creative Many Michigan, where she is currently treasurer, the Southeast MI Workforce Development and EMU’s College of Arts & Science Advancement Board, Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board and the Nonprofit Alliance Advisory Board. She serves on the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing and community grants committee. She is a University of Michigan and EMU Arts Management guest lecturer.

Viren Shah, MBA, BE, PMP

VP & CIO

Masco Cabinetry

Works in Ann Arbor, lives in Northville, MI

Susan Wagner

Creative: dancer

VP & Compliance Department Manager

Bank of Ann Arbor

Works and lives in Ann Arbor

Wagner is an attorney specializing in compliance. In 2014 she joined the team at Bank of Ann Arbor as the head of the Bank’s compliance department. There she coordinates the compliance and Community Reinvestment Act examinations and monitors state law and federal banking regulations. Formerly, Wagner was a staff attorney for Bodman, PLC in Ann Arbor.