CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia Names Ariel Shelton And Melinda Steffy As Co-Executive Directors

They aim to amplify the value of fiscal sponsorship, support members, and elevate cultural contributions.

By: Jan. 30, 2024
CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia Names Ariel Shelton And Melinda Steffy As Co-Executive Directors

CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia - a dynamic nonprofit organization that provides equitable access to management resources for arts, culture, heritage, and social justice projects - is pleased to announce Ariel Shelton and Melinda Steffy as the organization's new Co-Executive Directors, effective immediately. Shelton and Steffy bring a combined 40 years of experience as arts and cultural administrators to their new positions.

"Championing the outstanding efforts of our 80 current projects - innovative and unique causes that bring joy, education, immersive experiences, and economic vitality to the city - is work that I am excited to pursue in this new co-leadership model," Shelton shared. "I am committed to mobilizing necessary resources to amplify the value of fiscal sponsorship, enhance our capacity to support our members, and elevate the cultural contributions that this robust organization and its vibrant network bring to the community."

"For me, this period of pandemic disruptions and social upheavals, which have deeply affected the cultural sector, represents an opportunity to reshape and reimagine what's possible," added Steffy. "Systems reinvention has always been at the core of CultureWorks, and I'm looking forward to continuing that commitment by finding new ways to foster abundance and collective well-being, making it possible for creative practitioners and communities to thrive. This new shared leadership model, at the board and staff levels, represents the organization's deeply held values around empathy, equity, and resource-sharing. Both Ariel and I are artists as well as nonprofit administrators, and we bring a breadth of experience to shape the next chapter of CultureWorks."

Founded in 2010, CultureWorks' philosophy centers on sharing and leveraging resources to overcome barriers to artistic and cultural expression, particularly for historically marginalized communities. This ethos shapes their services and co-working space management, where members benefit from a collaborative, creative environment. Members of CultureWorks are able to access a shared workspace, consulting support, fiscal sponsorship, and management services, including legal tools, essential insurances, finance, HR support, bookkeeping software, and donor/grant management. Over the past 14 years, CultureWorks has served 180 projects representing the breadth of Philadelphia's diverse cultural community, and supported more than 850 co-working members.

Shelton and Steffy have already begun several initiatives to uplift CultureWorks members and the Greater Philadelphia arts and culture ecosystem, including:

  • Refocusing as a member-first organization: listening to and learning from CultureWorks members to reimagine the breadth and depth of the organization's offerings.

  • Providing a next level of services that will enhance members' fundraising, marketing, business development, and more, and serving as a hub for grassroots projects across arts, culture, heritage, and social justice sectors.

  • Building a robust co-leadership model that serves as a case study. This approach to nonprofit leadership is inherently collaborative and non-hierarchical and helps others reimagine how their organizational structure can be more equitable and community-rooted.

  • Celebrating and advocating for the work of CultureWorks members as Philadelphia gears up for pinnacle events in 2026, like the World Cup and the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, to cultivate greater regional, national, and international presence for members.

Board co-chair Marángeli Mejia-Rabell notes: "As a long-time member of CultureWorks, I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Ariel and Melinda in this new stage of our journey. I am extremely proud of all the work done by our board and staff to get us ready for this transformative moment."

Fellow board co-chair Michele Walls adds: "Ariel and Melinda's collaborative vision, powered by their outstanding individual talents and cooperative leadership, will enable CultureWorks to better serve our members and strengthen the foundations of the arts, cultural, creative, and heritage communities of the Greater Philadelphia region."

About the New Executive Team

Ariel Shelton (she/her): Ariel has a robust background working to support organizations that uplift cultural expression across diverse communities. She is the co-founder of The Arts Administrators of Color Network, a non-profit organization she helped establish in 2016. There, she stewarded programs that provide professional development and networking opportunities for arts leaders throughout the United States.

She also served as Program Manager for the Social Impact department at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she helped manage projects and events geared towards amplifying the work of a diversity of artists throughout the performing arts sector on local and national levels.

Past professional experiences include work with The Pride Center of Maryland, The National Guild for Community Arts Education, National Arts Strategies, The String Queens, The MusicianShip, The Washington Women in Jazz Festival, Save The Music Foundation, the Lewis Prize for Music, and Washington Performing Arts. She has been a guest speaker at Georgetown University, Howard University, George Mason University, the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, and more. She currently serves on the advisory board for the DC Jazz Festival and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Harmony Project.

You can find her written work in the 2022 publication of A Grassroots Leadership & Arts for Social Change Primer for Educators, Organizers, Activists & Rabble-Rousers. The volume "highlights authors from around the globe, who have contributed to the ongoing effort to expand the field of leadership from a bottom-up, collective, collaborative, and horizontally-based perspective."

Ariel's passion for cultural expression began as a French Horn player. She has performed with various ensembles worldwide, including sharing the Grammy's stage with Lizzo and participating in an international festival in Guadeloupe honoring composer Chevalier de Saint George. Nowadays, she enjoys exploring her creativity through visual art making. Ariel is a graduate of Howard University, where she obtained a degree in Music Business.

Melinda Steffy (she/her): Melinda loves when creative practice and social impact collide, and her 20-year career in the nonprofit sector has been deeply shaped by her perspective as a visual artist and musician.​

In 2020, Melinda founded Concentric Strategy, a consultancy that brings an ecosystem mindset to nonprofit strategy and communications, and has worked with more than 20 clients representing the arts and culture, education, environment, philanthropy, and social justice sectors.

Previously, Melinda served as Executive Director of music nonprofit LiveConnections (now World Cafe Live Education), where she was the first staff hire in its start-up stage and led the organization for over eight years. LiveConnections specialized in culturally relevant, community-centered music-making: creating educational programs for city schools, leading song-writing residencies for youth, and presenting collaborative concerts. Melinda built infrastructure and significantly expanded programming, fundraising, marketing, and operations. She also spearheaded major community engagement projects such as the two-year "A Song Everyone Can Sing" initiative, focused on accessibility for people with disabilities in choral singing.

​She previously held positions at The Music School of Delaware, SteegeThomson Communications, and Woodland Montessori School; volunteered with Tshwane Leadership Foundation; and served on the boards of the Wilmington Classical Guitar Society and Chestnut Street Singers. Melinda has an MFA in painting from The University of the Arts and a bachelor's degree from Eastern Mennonite University. Melinda is a LEADERSHIP Philadelphia alum and Standards for Excellence Pennsylvania Licensed Consultant.