Press Published: 26 Jul 2021

OPERA America Selects Participants of the Inaugural Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color

OPERA America is pleased to announce the inaugural participants in the Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color. This new initiative exists to advance racial equity in the field by pairing BIPOC professionals with executive-level leaders who can support them in achieving their career goals.

The mentee-mentor pairings are:

  • Mentee: Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas, Dramatic Soprano, Creative Performing Artist, and Producer
  • Mentor: Khori Dastoor, General Director, Opera San José; Incoming General Director, Houston Grand Opera

  • Mentee: Carlos García León, Individual Giving Manager, Cincinnati Opera
  • Mentor: Ishan Johnson, Associate Director, Philanthropy, Art Institute of Chicago

  • Mentee: Jaime Sharp, President and CEO, Opera NexGen
  • Mentor: Priti Gandhi, Vice-President of Artistic, Minnesota Opera; Incoming Artistic Director, Portland Opera

See below for profiles of the participants.

The yearlong program will provide mentees with guidance and support from BIPOC arts administrators and establish action plans for professional growth and long-term career trajectories. The pairs will come together for remote and in-person mentoring sessions over the next 12 months, including at Opera Conference 2022 in Minneapolis next May.

The program was established in 2021 as part of OPERA America’s sustained effort to eradicate racism and ensure equity throughout the field. It was designed by members of OPERA America’s Racial Justice Opera Network steering committee. It responds to the industry’s desire to correct practices of exclusion toward Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, North African, and Native American administrators, who face many systemic barriers that can adversely impact professional advancement.

“OPERA America reaffirms its pledge to be an agent for change in the determined and sustained effort to achieve racial justice throughout the field,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America. “We must confront the inherited practices and prejudices that have excluded BIPOC people from participating in the art form and that have prevented administrators of color from achieving leadership positions.”

The Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color is the latest addition to a series of OPERA America programs for increasing racial equity in the field. The initiative joins the IDEA Opera Grants (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) supported by the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation and the IDEA Opera Residencies supported by the Katherine S. and Axel G. Rosin Fund of The Scherman Foundation.

Other OPERA America programs focused on the advancement of opera administrators include the Leadership Intensive and the Mentorship Program for Women Administrators. To learn more about leadership development programs at OPERA America, visit operaamerica.org/LeadDev.

ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS

Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas
Dramatic Soprano, Creative Performing Artist, and Producer

Mentee

Award-winning dramatic soprano, multi-genre performing artist, and creative producer Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas has been praised by critics worldwide for her visually and vocally stunning performances. She has taken on leading roles at houses including Opera Australia, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Metropolitan Opera, shared the stage with Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis, and performed with Broadway in Chicago and on HBO. As a leader, she couples her international artistic viewpoint with a vision for the arts that seeks to create, educate, advocate, unify, and empower. This is evidenced by her new works currently in development, SHONDJ and Opera Reconstructed, her coaching and mentoring of aspiring artists, and her inaugural partnerships with Booker T. Washington HSPVA as the vocal artist-in-residence and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Notes for Peace. Kizart-Thomas has more than 15 years’ experience as a master vocal technician, songwriter, and arranger, with a focus on holistically integrating and freeing the artist’s mind, body, and spirit. A performer since the age of two who counts music legends McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield and Tina Turner among her relations, she consistently propels her vision of uniting tradition with innovation in all she creates.

Khori Dastoor
General Director, Opera San José;
Incoming General Director, Houston Grand Opera

Mentor

Khori Dastoor was recently appointed general director of Houston Grand Opera and will assume the new role in January 2022. Dastoor has served as general director of Opera San José since 2019, overseeing all aspects of artistic planning and business operations. Among her missions are renewing Opera San José’s commitment to developing and curating emerging talent and elevating the company as a vibrant artistic incubator in the heart of Silicon Valley. After enjoying a career as a lyric soprano, Dastoor joined the artistic staff of Opera San José in 2013 as artistic advisor and went on to become director of artistic planning. During her tenure, she has prioritized role debuts, allowing San José audiences to hear exciting new artists, and has produced successful new productions like Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick and the American premiere of Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella. Dastoor previously served as associate director of the Packard Humanities Institute and director of the San Francisco District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She received her Bachelor of Music from New England Conservatory and completed doctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Carlos García León
Individual Giving Manager, Cincinnati Opera

Mentee

Carlos García León (he/they) is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian who currently serves as individual giving manager at Cincinnati Opera. García León hopes to bring about a community-centric approach to the fundraising field and work toward positive change in the arts through philanthropy. García León earned their Bachelor of Music in bassoon performance with a communications minor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and went on to the University of Cincinnati to earn a Master of Arts in arts administration and a Master of Business Administration. In addition, they are a spoken word artist who performs at local open mics and has had their written work published in local and national zines and. García León was born in Atlixco in Puebla, Mexico, and had a passion for music early on. However, their drive for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice developed over the years through experiences in various music organizations. García León continues learning and working to fight for cultural equity and justice in their work and the arts field.

Ishan Johnson
Associate Director, Philanthropy, Art Institute of Chicago

Mentor

Ishan Johnson (he/him) is the associate director, philanthropy, for the Art Institute of Chicago. In his current role, Johnson leads with empathy and equity as he strengthens relationships with museum donors. Most recently, he served as the associate director of development for Chicago Opera Theater. While at COT, Ishan oversaw individual and planned giving, special events, and the organization’s first-ever endowment campaign. As manager of auxiliary relations for the Chicago History Museum, Johnson transformed the volunteer donor experience, exceeding all financial and membership goals. He is a graduate of the AFP Chicago Fellows program and proudly serves on the chapter’s Board of Directors as vice-president of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. He is also an alumnus of the Coca-Cola Scholars Program and a junior member of the Arts Club of Chicago. A lifelong advocate for opera, Johnson holds a vocal performance degree from Boston University, and he maintained a professional career as a singer for more than a decade.

Jaime Sharp
President and CEO, Opera NexGen

Mentee

Originally hailing from Orlando, Florida, Jaime Sharp (she/her) is a second-year master’s student in vocal performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). She proudly serves as the president and CEO of Opera NexGen and the administrative assistant for the Black Opera Alliance. She is also the co-founder and executive director of Hear Us, Hear Them, a Black-led, Cincinnati-based choral ensemble. This summer, she is working as the marketing and media intern for Opera Theatre Saint Louis. Sharp was elected vice-president of the CCM Graduate Student Association for the 2021–2022 school year and is also a graduate assistant in the Marketing and Communications Department. She was previously a marketing intern for the University Musical Society. Sharp received the Ruby Sword of Honor and two consecutive International Service Awards, in 2019 and 2020, from Sigma Alpha Iota for her dedication to arts in the community. Her work as both an administrator and performer revolves around creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all artists and creatives to thrive. Sharp holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Michigan.

Priti Gandhi
Vice-President of Artistic, Minnesota Opera
Incoming Artistic Director, Portland Opera

Mentor

Priti Gandhi was recently named artistic director of Portland Opera, effective September 2021. She has served as vice-president of artistic at Minnesota Opera since 2018, leading the artistic department and all aspects related to company programming, casting, and commissions for the New Works Initiative. At Minnesota Opera, she helped implement a departmental staff restructuring, created new processes for company-wide conversations regarding diversity in traditional narratives and casting, and become a frequent contributor to panels, podcasts, and articles regarding EDI work. She is also passionate about connecting to singers regarding career paths and resources, as well as creating more compassionate and inclusive spaces in the industry, and has spoken on these topics for OPERA America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and various opera companies. Before her post in Minnesota, Gandhi served as artistic administrator of San Diego Opera, overseeing all artistic contracting and management. She previously enjoyed a long performing career as a soprano, appearing with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, Théâtre du Châtelet, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and San Francisco Opera, among others. Gandhi graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communications with a minor in theater from the University of California, San Diego.

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