Meet the Staff

Art Center Staff

Grace's self portrait

Grace Pegan Abusharkh is the Director of Volunteer Engagement, managing the Art Center’s vibrant community of volunteers and interns. Grace has worked in volunteer management, education, and visitor services at a variety of Bay Area and Washington, D.C. institutions, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the White House Historical Association, the U.C. Botanical Garden at Berkeley, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Grace holds a B.A. in history and art history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters of Arts in Teaching in museum education from the George Washington University. Grace believes that art is an essential part of the learning experience and that creativity can and should be taught, it can change the world.

Selene's self portrait

Selene Foster is the Curator, working in collaboration with the Exhibitions Team, overseeing objects in transit and on exhibition, as well as supporting the presentation of artist-in-residence program installations. Selene has worked as an exhibitions and events coordinator, curator, designer, and artist in the Bay Area for the past 10 years, working closely with artists at several arts and arts-education non-profits, including Root Division, the Museum of Broken Relationships, and BAASICS. Selene received a B.A. from Bard College in New York, and an M.F.A in Studio Art from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Selene believes art is an integral, and often necessary, form of communication; she is committed to creating opportunities for artists and scientists to share their personal voyages, and discoveries, with diverse audiences.


Alexa's self portrait

Hi! My name is Alexa Gelfenbaum. I am a House Manager here at the Palo Alto Art Center where I manage both internal and external events at the art center and at events we participate in throughout the community. I started volunteering at the art center in 2006, began interning with the Children's Fine Art Department soon after, and then became a House Manager in 2008. Outside of the art center, I have been working with children professionally for over 15 years as a guide through development, both as a teacher and as a nanny. I also help lead a group of adults with disabilities on monthly outings through a city program. I have my degree in Child Development. Art has always played a major role in my life, as my mother is a ceramicist, and I feel it is a valuable connecting tool to both people and to our internal selves. I encourage children, and people of all ages, to engage in art at all levels, and revel in the discoveries.


Kathleen's self portrait

Kathleen Gordon is an art instructor for the Palo Alto Art Center’s Children’s Fine Art program, where she teaches hand-building techniques to parents and kids and wheel throwing techniques to teens ages 11-18. Kathleen began to share her love for clay with parents and kids alike as a teacher at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo fourteen years ago, before which she worked as a tenured special education teacher in New Jersey, was on the board of the San Francisco Silver Clay Guild, and was active as the president of her kids’ Montessori School and a Girl Scout troop leader. She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and achieved a degree in special education from the Southern Connecticut University. To Kathleen, art provides time to focus, and is is a wonderful way to slow down and integrate the beauty and intrigue of her regular life with her complex and original thoughts.

Lora's self portrai

Lora Groves is currently an installation crew technician for the Palo Alto Art Center, who works with a terrific team to make possible the world-class exhibitions that take place within the auspices of the Art Center gallery space as well as in various Art Center sponsored public venues. Beginning in 1995 Lora has worn many hats at the Palo Alto Art Center, including teaching adult studio classes and workshops as well as serving as mentor for the Carrie Abramovitz high school scholarship program. Lora holds both MFA and BFA degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute, and has pursued extensive study in physical therapy, and poetry, which fuel her ongoing yogic, Sanskrit and eastern philosophy studies as well as the ever continual study of painting. Lora’s fascination with art manifests in involvement in it’s natural sources and resources—hiking, reading of all kinds, meditation, drumming, and tending garden, family, rescue dogs and studio.

Ken's self portrait


Ken Heiman is the Marketing Coordinator for the Art Center, and is responsible for marketing and public relations efforts, including media contact, press releases, and Enewsletters. Ken has more than 20 years’ experience in public relations and communications, and has worked in the corporate world, retail, government, and for several nonprofit organizations over the years. He earned his B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University. Ken appreciates the beauty and complexity of contemporary art, and believes that everyone should pursue his or her artistic dreams.

  Angela Karamian is the School and Teacher Program Manager at the Art Center. She taught visual arts for grades TK-8 at Costano Elementary School in East Palo Alto for ten years. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling around looking at art and visiting beautiful places.
Karen's self portrait

Karen Kienzle is Director of the Palo Alto Art Center and oversees the vision, budget, marketing efforts, and staffing of this vital community organization. Karen brings more than 15 years of exhibition, education, and arts management experience to the Art Center, having worked previously as the Assistant Director for Exhibitions, Education, and Community Outreach at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University, and Assistant Curator at the San Jose Museum of Art. She received her B.A. in the history of art from UC Berkeley and her M.A. in museum studies from San Francisco State University and she is a graduate of the Getty Museum Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University. Karen is passionate about supporting the inner artist in everyone and frequently appreciates the work of other artists by visiting museums and galleries in her travels around the country and world.


Karen Kwan is the Director of Development for the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation. Karen has been a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) since 2011, and has raised more than $17M since 2003 for organizations such as the Asian Art Museum, Music for Minors, Community School of Music and the Arts, San Jose Repertory Theatre, and others. Karen is passionate about visual and performing art, and is the happiest when the experience of roaming a museum or attending a theatre production is shared with her husband and daughter.  

Lucy's self portrait

Lucy Larson, Director of Education, oversees the vision for Art Center programs which serve kids, teens, and families including Project LOOK!, Cultural Kaleidoscope, after-school, weekend, and summer art classes, and family days. Lucy brings more than 15 years of experience as a museum educator to the Art Center having worked previously at the San Jose Museum of Art, the Exploratorium, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Art History from UC Santa Barbara and her M.A. in Museum Studies from J.F.K. University and currently serves as Vice-Chair of the California State Summer School for the Arts. She is passionate about making sure that all the young artists and scholars in our midst have the opportunity to nurture their artistic skills so they continue to view themselves as creative individuals throughout their lives.

Denise's self portrait


Denise Laxen di Zazzo I’m Denise Laxen di Zazzo, the Art Center’s Family, Teen & Outreach Programming Coordinator. I'm from Sweden, where I held positions at museums and art centers including curator, museum educator, project leader, and program director; there I earned a Bachelor’s in Culture & Media Production and took on studies including online research, art history, art education, and leadership. Art sets us free, challenges our minds, ideas, habits; it provokes thought, connects dots and initiates dialogue while also validating and affirming our inner thoughts, fears, and anxieties — this is why my husband, daughter and I seek out and engage with art as often as possible.

Rebecca's self portrait I’m Rebecca Passarello and I’m the Children’s Fine Art (CFA) Program Coordinator; I plan the quarterly CFA classes and summer camps. Before working at the Art Center, I worked for a computer company as a manufacturing engineer, volunteered at elementary and middle schools and, most importantly, am a mom of 3 teens. I have a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and an MBA. Although I am more “crafty” than artistic, art is important in my life because it is beautiful and often thought-provoking.
Suzanne's self portrait

Suzanne Ramirez is the lead for the Visitor Services team, providing support to many Art Center programs, including facility rental, studio classes for children and adults, Project Look school tours, and front office operations. Suzanne has a varied background, having worked as a winery chemist, contact lens R & D technician, and as a volunteer for numerous nonprofit organizations. She received her B.A. in biological sciences (emphasis in molecular biology, minor in chemistry) from San Jose State University. Suzanne loves observing people of all ages discover and express their creative side, and expresses her own creativity with blue-ribbon baking.

Sharon's self portrait

Sharon Reich is an art instructor for the Palo Alto Art Center’s Children’s Fine Art program where she teaches painting, printmaking, sculpture, and mixed media classes to kids ages 2-11. Sharon has enjoyed more than twenty years of Art Education experience with many age groups using mediums such as ceramics, painting, printmaking, crafts, sculpture and drawing...with a sense of exploration and encouragement! She graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BFA/Art Education Certification, Preschool through Adult, and holds a current California Teaching Credential. Sharon’s travel and exposure to multi-cultural art expands her creative horizons as she designs innovative curriculum and prototypes with energy and passion.

Fanny's self portrait


Fanny Retsek is the Studio Program Director responsible for the Art Center’s adult art classes, workshops and drop-in programs, and, with her team, the smooth operations of our three bustling adult art studios. Before coming to the Art Center in October 2014, Fanny worked at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art for seven years where she was the founding director and master printer of the ICA Print Center and was also a professional printer at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. Fanny received her MFA with an emphasis in printmaking at San Jose State University and her BA in European Studies and French from Loyola Marymount University. Fanny is a strong believer in the power, importance and relevance of community art studios and continues to be dedicated to her own printmaking studio practice.

Amanda's self portrait Amanda Salisbury is a Visitor Services Assistant at the Palo Alto Art Center where she keeps the front desk and current exhibition running smoothly. She has previously worked in Bay Area yoga studios and as a summer camp director for the Palo Alto YMCA. She graduated from Foothill College with a degree in Art history and a certificate in French, and she loves all things Egyptian, Impressionist, and book-related. Amanda loves sharing the magic of art with everyone.

Raquel Seifert is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Working Together program. In her previous roles, she has worked as an account manager in a variety of industries and volunteered at a range of schools in Redwood City. When she is not at the Art Center, she appreciates meeting new people, volunteering in the community, playing table games with her family and most recently practicing yoga again. 

Paulina's self portrait

Paulina Shapona is an art instructor for the Palo Alto Art Center’s Children’s Fine Art program, where she teaches drawing, painting, pastels, cartooning, fashion design and puppet performance workshops to children ages 5-11.

Paulina, who also teaches for the Pacific Art League, PALY Adult Education, and the Community School of Music and Art, sells and shows her artwork internationally, ran her own Fine Arts School, and is a social worker for Community Action Commission, has taught at the Palo Alto Art Center for 14 years.

She graduated from the Western Business School and received her Masters in Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, and Archival Restoration after studying at the SF Academy of Art, the Arts and Crafts School in Oakland, and apprenticing for five years with Ugo Graziotti, the Master of the Renaissance School of Italy.

Paulina’s philosophy as an educator and artist is to inspire personal creative growth in all her students, broaden their perception of the world around them, and to help them recognize the beauty of their own existence.

Miki's self portrait Miki Shim-Rutter is the Studio Assistant and Corporate Team Building Coordinator. Miki was formerly a Graphic Designer with 20+ years of experience working in the marketing and advertising world in Chicago, but now practices her second career as a full-time potter. She received a BA in Visual Communications. For Miki, art allows us freedom of expression, giving life and voice to what we cannot express with words, and with her pottery, the balance between artistry and functionality is explored to bring beauty to the everyday objects and events.
Anna's self portrait

Anna Soland is the Exhibitions Coordinator and works in collaboration with the Exhibitions Team, overseeing objects in transit and on exhibition. Prior to working at the Art Center, Anna was an Assistant Curator for Collections Research and Storage at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. She received her B.A. in Art History and Anthropology from the University of Rochester in New York and an M.A. in the Advanced Studies of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Anna enjoys working behind-the-scenes in museums, making sure works of art are safe and accessible for this generation and the next.

Rick's self portrait





Rick Stoner is the Adult Studio Technician. After a wide ranging career I have come home to art and the creative process at the Art Center. I studied at Ohio State University. The process of creating art fascinates me and inspires me to write poetry and stories.