Ilene Siemer
Executive Director

Ilene brings nearly 20 years of experience in PR and marketing to the Olive Tree Arts Network. She is a forward-thinking project management professional who excels in strategic planning and execution, resource management and staff development.  Her strengths include budget oversight, stakeholder/customer relations management, vendor relations, creative problem solving, team building and workstream and marketing/PR management.

There are six religions in Ilene's immediate family, so interfaith work suits her well. Every day, she is inspired by the magnitude of talent and dedication reflected in the team of OTAN teaching artists. She is grateful to be able to watch the team develop artistically and as accomplished interfaith educators. She learns something new at every event. Her favorite part of OTAN is the spark of magic when two kids find something they have in common with each other.
What drew you to Olive Tree Arts Network?...
Jamie Olah
Education Manager

Jamie Olah is an educator with more than 12 years of experience empowering young people to tell their own stories. She teaches theatre, visual art, critical literacy and creative writing with schools, fine arts organizations, and summer camps around the Chicagoland area. As a theatre artist, Jamie specializes in writing, directing and devising contemporary, image-based physical theatre.

Jamie is passionate about empowering young people to share their own stories and express their most authentic selves. She is proud to be a part of OTAN and generate dynamic programming that allows students to celebrate their unique identities while forming significant connections with their peers. She is inspired daily by the members of the OTAN teaching artist cohort, and she considers herself incredibly lucky to work with such passionate educators and talented artists. She is excited to see OTAN continue to grow and blossom as a leader in interfaith arts education.
What drew you to Olive Tree Arts Network?...
Michael Wildman
Associate Manager, Learning Experience Design

Michael believes in bringing out the best in people and organizations and is proud to facilitate the work of the amazing staff at Olive Tree Arts Network. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin - Platteville and is completing a master's in Instructional Design and Learning Technology at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. He specializes in project management, marketing, technology implementation, client engagement and learning experience design.

Michael has a passion for social justice, history, music, and learning. He was drawn to the work at OTAN because of its incredible mission to bring youth from different backgrounds together by using creative outlets like art-making, performance and poetry. He believes teaching skills like empathy and inclusivity can be a powerful catalyst for change.
What drew you to Olive Tree Arts Network?...

Teaching Artists

Yuri Basho Lane

Yuri Basho Lane is an actor, vegan chef and teaching artist living in Chicago since 2003.

"I love to share my beatbox talents with the Poetry Pals students and love seeing their reactions!"
Favorite experience...
Iris Jacobson

Iris Jacobson is an interdisciplinary artist/educator who creates paintings, collages and sculptures using an intention/witness writing process. She facilitates this expressive, therapeutic process at Open Studio Project. Iris is also involved in art/dance/theater in the Jewish community and with work at Chicago Jewish Funerals.

“A favorite teaching artist experience of mine was helping redirect an angry boy, who could not think of any answers to Poetry Pals questions and did not want to participate, to write out his angry answers. I watched him slowly calm down, smile, feel satisfied and connected to the rest of the group.  I am always happy to see all the kids so excited to reconnect with our staff and their new friends!”
Favorite experience...
Adam Gottlieb

Adam Gottlieb is a poet, singer-songwriter, bandleader, and full-time independent teaching artist. He loves hip hop, Bob Marley, and studying world religions.

"There are lots of little moments that I remember where different kinds of breakthroughs have happened: a student discovers they can write a meaningful line of poetry; a large group falls into a calm, peaceful mode while listening to a student recite the call to prayer in the mosque; Catholic school students walk their guests through the Stations of the Cross; Jewish students explain their many holidays to a fascinated group; kids discover common interests in TV shows, books and movies, and so many more. These are the most rewarding moments."
Favorite experience...
Ethan Parcell

Ethan T. Parcell is a composer, artist and educator living and working in Chicago. He works in the fields of music composition (especially for young musicians), performance (principally spoken), writing (mostly to sing it later) and visual art (largely handwritten).

"A story with many variations- in my first year, at my first Tri-Faith session, three boys were working on a poem together (one from each school) and were viscerally and physically shy with one another. From a distance, you could tell they were trying hard but sort of averting their eyes and speaking very quietly. They just needed a good finishing line to their poem and were stuck for a while. When one suggested the line "also God is good" the other two lit up with approval, and then all three of their body languages shifted instantly - high fives were had, big smiles, and they never turned quite so inward the rest of the day."
Favorite experience...
David Clauson

David Clauson is a dramaturg, translator, and playwright from Detroit, Michigan. He has worked with the City Theatre of Pittsburgh and Yale Repertory Theatre, has written Biblical plays for the company Arches 'n' Bells, and now lives and works in Chicago.

"Last year--a trio of girls from the three different faiths--who didn't quite gel at first--ended up having a great time. When visiting the Muslim school, the Jewish girl asked, "I'm so excited to visit your mosque--is that how you say it?" --it was a wonderful example of how we're not only teaching the facts about different faiths, but how to ask and learn respectfully. The Muslim girl later complimented the Jewish girl on her hamsa bracelet, and the Jewish girl explained that it had a protective spiritual function. The girls launched into an amazing discussion of how their faiths think about God's protection (at one point, the Catholic girl respectfully asked her Muslim friend, "Do you have sin in your religion?" and that started another amazing conversation). So much wonderful learning happening and connections made."
Favorite experience...
Thomson Jaffe

Thomson Jaffe is a professional child wrangler/pathological storyteller. She has a big imagination and an impressive unicorn collection.

"A really lovely moment for me last year came when a few girls decided to make me a part of the quilt square they created at our final tri-faith session. At first, I felt really awkward about it, but I realized that it was their way of expressing how the Poetry Pals teaching artists made them feel seen and appreciated. It was a testament to all of the hard work that we do to support the students."
Favorite experience...
Hera Shakir

Hera Shakir has been a creative since she can remember. She is a singer-songwriter, poet, and dance instructor from Chicago.

"One of my favorite teaching artist experiences was when we were at MCC a few years ago, and we asked the students if they could give us some examples of charity. An MCC student named wearing traditional Algerian clothing, Muhammad, replied, 'The best form of charity is giving someone a thousand rays of light from our smiles.'"
Favorite experience...
Allison Shackelford

Allison Shackelford is an educator, facilitator, writer, and performance artist who was raised in Birmingham, AL. She received a BA in theatre performance from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2014. She has happily called Chicago home since August of 2015.

"My favorite teaching artist experience was at the end of a tri-faith session in the spring of 2018. Watching all the students being genuinely sad to leave their new friends at the end of the program made my heart full. It was rewarding to see what exploring commonalities and creating art together can do for relationship building in such a short amount of time. So many hugs and Instagram handle exchanges."
Favorite experience...
Sara Thompson

Sarah Thompson is an actor and dramaturg who has worked internationally from Chicago to Greece. She enjoys traveling (especially nerdy historical tourism), and is fascinated by myth and folklore.

"We were between activities and the students had a little down time while we were waiting for another group to join us. Several of my students from different schools were sitting in a circle teaching each other a clapping game and making plans to socialize outside of the Poetry Pals program. They weren't talking so much about our curriculum, but what it showed me was that our program had been a success for those students."
Favorite experience...
Mojdeh Stoakley

Mojdeh Stoakley is a writer, performer, multi-media artist, and arts & public health educator. She is a board member at Surviving the Mic, founder of Lethal Poetry, Director of the National Poetry Slam, the lead teaching artist for Chicago Poetry Center's Poets with Class, and is passionate about trauma-informed and interfaith education.

"During a snack break between activities one of the children from a Jewish school addressed a couple of the Muslim girls and said, "You know, you're just like me and my friends! You like to play like us, and have pretzels like us! We're the same!" Which couldn't have been scripted better because it was just a child earnestly saying what she felt to be true!"
Favorite experience...
Nancy Kujawinski

Nancy Celia Rose Kujawinski (aka Celia Rose) is a singer, songwriter and educator originally from Alabama. She has toured throughout Africa as a cultural ambassador, taught songwriting to kids in Haiti, Israel, France, Canada and the U.S., and has completed four full-length albums of original music. She has three kids and enjoys springboard diving, rock climbing and traveling with her family.

"I have most enjoyed the tri-faith session experience [in which Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students meet and participate in Poetry Pals alongside one another]."
Favorite experience...
Nicky Margolis

Nicky Margolis is an alum of the Second City in Chicago where she co-wrote and performed in three original revues. Before that she traveled and performed with the Second City Touring Company. She has taught improv and sketch comedy to people of all ages. She is currently working on her Masters in Conflict Resolution at Dominican University.

"My favorite experience so far has been watching the kids give the tours of their holy spaces. They light up and their enthusiasm for sharing their culture is inspiring."
Favorite experience...
Madiha Syeda Hussaini

Madiha Syeda Hussaini is a Chicago-born Muslim, South-Asian woman who lives with her parents and four sisters in Skokie, IL. She is a creative nonfiction writer and an English professor at Harold Washington College. She loves reading memoirs, writing stories, and talking about space exploration and alternate universes. In her free time, she loves baking cookies with mini M&M's and re-watching The Lord of the Rings.

"I clearly remember my first memorable teaching artist experience. It was when we did Name...That...Faith! at MCC. The energy of the teaching artists feeding into the Muslim students who were so excited was such a magical moment to be a part of."
Favorite experience...
Ardarius Blakely

Ardarius studied at Furman University and is a former actor with Theatre at Monmouth.

Favorite experience...
Alex Ruiz

Alex Ruiz is a Jack Of All Trades Artist Teacher. He has been an Animator, Illustrator, Voice Over Artist/Actor, Writer, Chef, Teacher and Music, Film/Video Director -Producer.  Current projects include utilizing his production company to assist others promote their talents and projects as well as producing his dream project of a cooking show for network television or a streaming site.

My favorite student experience has been getting otherwise shy, quiet and unsure students open up and explore their newly found artistic abilities.
Favorite experience...