Teaching Artists

Char Applen, Ceramics
Teaching Artist

First year at the Center: 2008

Char was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. She has had a love for art as long as she can remember, and loved to draw while growing up. She received her education at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. While attending the university, she also studied art.

Char moved to Arizona in 1989, and she took her first ceramic class in 2002 where she truly found her voice. Char is interested in form and texture and how to use 3 dimensional forms to incorporate 2 dimensional designs.

Char has shown her work throughout the Valley at different events throughout the years. Char currently works in the Phoenix area as a surgical nurse. Since 2008, Char has been teaching the beginning throwing ceramic class at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Profile photo of Heather Horvat Atwood

Heather Horvat Atwood, Writing
Teaching Artist
First Year at the Center: 2019

Heather Horvat Atwood is no stranger to the written word, with flash fiction being a favorite medium. Having completed a literary fiction novel, she is now working on a memoir about sexuality and self-abuse. Heather is a graduate of the Mountainview MFA and regularly freelances for local publications. Her work has appeared in The Blue Guitar Magazine, Sunlight Press, and Every Day Fiction. “One-Way Ticket,” a story about mental illness, was a finalist for the Spring Fiction Contest. When she’s not writing, she’s adventuring in the desert or mountains.

Elizabeth Behnke, Ceramics
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2017

Elizabeth Behnke has been teaching beginning ceramics at the Phoenix Center for the Arts since 2017. A ceramic artist herself, skilled in both handbuilding and wheel throwing, Elizabeth learned her craft at the Center by taking classes first in the mid 90’s and then continuously since 2006.

While learning clay, she practiced commercial real estate law, and upon retirement became a pottery teacher and dedicated volunteer at the Center.

Michéle Ceballos Michot, Adult & Teen Ballet
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2014

Michèle Ceballos Michot has taught and performed worldwide. Locally she has choreographed for Southwest Shakespeare Co., Arizona Opera, the Phoenix Conservatory of Music and New Carpa Theatre. She founded Opendance a non-profit 501(c)3 educational outreach company, was one of the co-founders of the Arizona Dance festival, and is a founding member of La Pocha Nostra LIVE Art performance troupe. Her work led her to receive the Creighton School District Partner Award, nominations for the Governor’s Arts Awards and a nomination for a Zoni Award for choreography. Michèle studied at the National Academy of Ballet & Theatre Arts, the American Ballet Theatre school and the Joffrey Ballet school in NYC, in London at the Royal Ballet School and teachers training in Tbilisi,Georgia SSR . She danced with the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, Deutsch Oper Am Rhine, Dusseldorf, Germany, Ballet Hispanico of New York, Chicago Ballet, Ballet Mississippi, and El Ballet Nacional de Colombia. Locally Michèle teaches Ballet, Pointe, Choreography, Personal Fitness, Privates and workshops, and can be reached at opendance(at)msn.com.

Victor Contreras, Cerámica en español
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2019

Victor Contreras is a self made potter from El Paso, Texas. He discovered his fascination with clay at a very young age while making small clay pots and bowls out of the rich clay like mud that is a familiar to his home town. He first received a formal introduction in ceramics while in high school when his ceramics teacher, seeing his innate talent, introduced him to the ceramics instructor at University of Texas at El Paso, (UTEP). It was in that encounter that Victor knew he had found his passion. El Paso became the first chapter in his journey to his continued mastery of the art. He participated in several local art festivals and art shows where he exhibited his work and conducted live demonstrations. He also taught his first formal ceramic class at El Paso Community College in 1985. Victor has won several awards and shown work in galleries in Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona. He currently works in his own studio in South Phoenix.

Edna Dapo, Painting & Drawing
Department Head
First year at the Center: 2007

Edna Dapo is an international artist who currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is the Department Head of Painting & Drawing at the Phoenix Center of the Arts and also teaches Drawing and Life Drawing at Mesa Community College. Dapo has been painting for twenty years and has won numerous awards. Her work has been selected for NEW AMERICAN PAINTINGS (Volume 70) and is on the cover of American Art Collector (CA, V4 B2). Dapo holds an MFA in Painting from Savannah College of Art and Design, BFA in Painting from ASU, and a diploma from Art School Luka Sorkocevic in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Marilyn Field Johnson, Glass
Department Head
First year at the Center: 2017

From the day Marilyn Johnson was born, she demonstrated a passion for three things, animals, art, and helping people. Throughout her life, these three things have remained a constant. Marilyn taught Special Education for 28 years. She also ran a boarding stable, and bred and raised Tennessee Walking Horses for 15 years. Then spent the next 12 years breeding English Mastiffs.

Throughout her lifetime, she dabbled in various art forms in her “spare” time. In 1984 she took a stained glass class and was hooked. She worked in this medium almost exclusively for the next 16 years. In 2000, she took a Beginning Glass Fusing Class at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

That class turned her love of glass into an obsession. Marilyn continued to take classes and develop her fusing skills, and in 2017 was asked to teach in the Glass Dept. at PCA. Her great joy is to turn people on to an amazing art form and watch them flourish. She believes that there is an artist in EVERYONE!

Pamela Harris, Ceramics
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2017

Pam moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1981, from Cleveland, Ohio.  She had some ceramics training in college, but really developed her love of clay after starting classes at Phoenix Center for the Arts around 1990.  While teaching at the Phoenix Center she has been able to pass along her experience with handbuilding in clay.  In her own work, she creates whimsical angels, mermaids, flying people, and animals. Her other recent work centers around creating a plethora of textures in pieces that express “Life’s Journey”.  She strives to encourage an open, fun, and positive atmosphere for her students to create in.

Jon Higuchi, Ceramics
Department Head, Thunderbird Arts Center
First year at T-Bird: 2017

From the ground-up, Jon’s goal as “Artist in Residence” and Department Head has been to create a sustainable clay studio facility and develop a practical classroom curriculum that welcomes local valley clay enthusiasts from the curious novice to the more accomplished level student.

Jon has been studying pottery in Arizona for over 40 years as an artist and 22 years as a teacher. As a notable ceramic artist, he has commissioned works in several prestigious private and corporate collections in the Americas, Japan, Switzerland, Middle East and has been an award-winning exhibitor in juried shows and art galleries since 1978. Recently, a piece of his work is featured in the February/March 2021 issue of Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine.

Jon Higuchi is well known for his teaching of throwing skills on the potter’s wheel, glazing and the ancient Japanese art of “Raku” firing techniques. He is also well balanced in teaching the style of hand building. He fully understands each individual’s motivation and benefits for enrolling in a class. Some choose to start or to improve their clay skills as a hobbyist, teacher, or professional artist. Others take it as a therapeutic break from their high pressure careers, personal time from family, meeting/making friends or just out of curiosity. He believes in a hands-on approach teaching style, assisting beginning level students from beginning to end, through each step of the process to creating a finished clay piece. Experienced students have the opportunity to work more independently, utilizing his skills for problem solving and advancement to a greater skill level. He believes in learning the basic skills well, and then the doors to greater possibilities will open.

Shella Jacobs, Writing
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2018

Shella Parcarey Jacobs is a Filipino writer, baker, and aspiring chocolatier. She is a former journalist who worked as a financial reporter on Wall Street, the Chicago Board of Trade, and Chicago Mercantile Exchange for Dow Jones. Her work has appeared on Dow Jones Newswires, in The Wall Street Journal, and Barron’s. While living in New York, she also reported for Institutional Investor and Bridge News. After moving to Tucson, she wrote for the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen. Shella moved to Phoenix just two years ago and is now the owner of a small baking and chocolate business, shella74 chocolates. Shella earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University, where she was a staff member of the Yale Daily News, the country’s oldest college daily newspaper. During college, she also wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Shella was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was 10 years old. Her first language is Tagalog, but she taught herself English and discovered a love for English literature. As a teenager, she wrote and served as the managing editor of a citywide high school newspaper in Chicago. Currently, Shella is working on a novel based on her experiences growing up in the Philippines. This is her first year teaching at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Michaela Konzal, Dance & Youth Dance
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2013

Michaela Konzal is a dance educator, choreographer, and performer based in Phoenix, AZ. She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Dance in 2012. As a dance maker, Konzal’s choreographic and performance work has been seen in Arizona, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and North Carolina. She was recognized in 2016 as being a leader in the dance community with a nomination for the Mayor’s Arts Awards. She has also held administrative positions with nationally recognized arts organizations such as The Yard, American Dance Festival, and Ballet Arizona. Currently, Konzal teaches dance to all ages and abilities and is known for cultivating a high energy, judgement free, and positive classroom environment. She believes dance should be accessible to all ages and all body types. Let’s get to work! www.michaelakonzal.dance

Jay Melberg, Music & Youth Music
Department Head
First year at the Center: 1994

Jay Melberg has been teaching piano and voice at Phoenix Center since 1994. Mr. Melberg obtained his Music Education degree from the University of Arizona in 1987 and won the John Phillip Sousa award from Sahuaro High School in 1983. Highlights at the Center have included teaching summer camp, directing musicals, and performing with Sacred Blues Band. Mr. Melberg taught choir with the Phoenix Children’s Chorus from 1994-98, then developed piano classes for youth and adults. Recently he has added youth and adult guitar lessons to his reportoire. Jay directs many youth theater productions in the Valley, winning awards for Annie, Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell, Xanadu, Hairspray, Once Upon a Mattress, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Twilights Quest. He also wrote the musical Christmas Carol for Fountain Hills. Most recently, Jay composed the musical, House of Illusio for ASU. He loves teaching kids and adults all about music at Phoenix Center for the Arts!

Anne Rasmussen, Ceramics
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2007

Anne was born in upstate New York and remembers always wanting to do something creative. She dabbled in many disciplines like fibers, writing, photography, metals but found ceramics at a community college in Phoenix, Az. As her practice became more serious, she sought a new challenge: teaching ceramics, which she loves more than would have expected. She has taught adult and children’s classes, as well as classes for Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury patients. While she enjoys handbuilding, her true love is throwing and her current work reflects her interest in Chinese history and shan-shui (mountain-water) landscape painting. “I love working in the arts. It’s an old tome but I have been asked how much I make as an artist and my answer is that I don’t make much money but I do make a life. I think art teaches us more than just how to make something. It teaches us resilience when things don’t go as expected, to become comfortable with ourselves, to think outside of our own boxes and to look at things two, three or more times over. Teaching these things through clay is incredibly rewarding.”

Don Ridley, Ceramics
Department Head, Phoenix Center for the Arts
First year at the Center: 2006

Don Ridley was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona. He began his ceramic studies at Marcos de Niza High School and continued his pursuit of clay at Arizona State University. After spending time as a professional musician and a brief stint in corporate management, Don returned to his pottery roots and spent several years teaching and working with Tom and Elaine Coleman at their studio in Henderson Nevada. Don has won numerous awards for his artwork. He continues to sell his pottery at shows and gallery’s throughout the southwest and currently heads up the ceramics program at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. His work in the past 5 years has evolved into a concentrated study of the relationship between the palate of glazes used and the various forms he constructs. This evolution has brought about a more focused interest in the alterations and textures introduced during the early stages of the piece, and their obvious and/or subtle interaction with the multitude of layered glazes applied.

Nik Ridley, Thunderbird Arts Center
Youth Department Head 
First year at T-bird: 2018

Nik brings more than 20 years in the arts industry (including theater, spoken word, and music production and youth workshops across the United States, and is currently a Youth Department Head and Resident Artist at Phoenix Center for the Arts Thunderbird Arts Center (Phoenix , AZ).

The founder of AZCRU, an Art+Apparel company based in Phoenix, Arizona, Nik provides fine art for both residential and business interiors and exhibits in galleries and art spaces across the USA.

Nik Ridley is one artist who has creatively morphed his artistic expression into the visual arts and design. His passion and desire is something that can be felt through to the soul of his art. The artists that have struck an “awe” chord with him have been, Jean Michael Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Roman Bearden, Miles Davis and all the Italian Renaissance Artists.
– Wendy L. Pitton R., 303Magazine

“Fine art allows me the freedom to express color, rhythm, text, and content in infinite ways. Design provides a structure for the ideas. And when placed on the right cloth, it’s like a living stage, pen, and canvas all rolled into one.”

Nik also works as a marketing and design consultant and is art curator for CRU:WALK ‘19, an art+fashion runway show in Phoenix, AZ.

Katherine Selph, Writing 
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2019

Katie is a Phoenix local who works full-time doing marketing for nonprofits. She has a love for reading, writing and the arts. She earned her Bachelors in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.

While her work requires writing professionally, conducting interviews and telling stories for PR, she still explores fiction and nonfiction writing in her free time.

Joshua Taff, Photography
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2020

Joshua Taff is a commercial photographer in Phoenix, AZ. His area of expertise is in the realms of portrait, editorial and lifestyle photography.

Over the past 20 years, his photographs have been printed in publications locally and nationally. Billboards and other advertisements have featured his work for agencies. In addition, he has been the featured artist in First Friday gallery events in downtown, Phoenix.

John Tzelepis, Metals & Jewelry
Department Head
First year at the Center: 2007

John Tzelepis has been dedicated to the art of jewelry and metals for more than fifteen years. He received his undergraduate degree in Jewelry and Metals from Skidmore College and his Master of Fine Arts in Metals from Arizona State University. His work has been exhibited in numerous national exhibitions, most recently at Emergency Arts in Chelsea, New York City and the Palm Springs Art Museum, Jorgensen Gallery, California, where he has won several awards. His sculpture and jewelry can be seen in several publications including 500 Necklaces, 500 Metal Vessels, and The Art of Jewelry: Wood. He has also contributed to several project-oriented books including 30-Minute Necklaces, 30-Minute Rings, and 30-Minute Bracelets. Inspired by architecture, while exploring the concept of artist as engineer or constructor, he fabricates his sculptural work with mathematical precision and proportion to investigate line, form, balance, and tension created by the physical effects of gravity and magnetism. Energizing negative space and activating kinetic possibility, the play of gravity and magnetism converge in points of dynamic tension, fusing physics with architecture.

Tiffany Velazquez, Dance & Youth Dance
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2018

Tiffany Velazquez’s work with movement began at Yuma Ballet Academy where she studied the classical forms of ballet and contemporary. After high school, she had an opportunity to attend Utah Valley University. After her first year in Utah, she followed pursuit back to Arizona after losing interest in traditional conservatory models. At Arizona State University, she grew into finding a voice as an artist through the introduction of unfamiliar movement styles. As well as exploring various art mediums lead by professors with an array of art modalities.

In spring 2018, she co-produced ‘The Delight Manifesto’ and presented her own work, ‘Nogitivity: ‘Heartbreak-Falling in Love’. This production was a full evening multi-media performance with original works at The Unexpected Gallery in Downtown Phoenix. This past summer of 2018 she had the opportunity to attend ‘American Dance Festival’; a six-week summer intensive at Duke University in North Carolina. At ADF, she honed her craft for movement choreography by entering work into the student performance and created a duet, “It’s Not that Serious”. In the same summer she also attended ‘Illadelphia: Legends’ a week long intensive solely focusing on urban dance forms.

Professionally, she has performed with CONDER/dance at Beta Dance Festival, Phoenix Art Museum, and Tiny Dances. The Sizzle Series for [nueBOX] in a work by Felix El Cruz, JordanDanielsDance at Mesa Arts Center, Scottsdale Community College, and Breaking Ground, and Liliana Gomez for ArtDetour in Warehouse 215 at Bentley Projects and Park Central/Grand Opening. Tiffany is involved at Phoenix Center for the Arts where she teaches both youth and adult creative, ballet, and improvisatory classes.

Wendy Willis, Printmaking
Department Head
First year at the Center: 2010

Phoenix printmaker Wendy Willis moved to the Phoenix in 1978. Her technical prowess, combined with strong conceptual imagery, has made Willis an artistic force in the Arizona printmaking community. While she works across several printmaking media, it is the “no turning back,” extreme method of reduction relief that is her forte. Willis is a member of Five15 Arts Gallery in Phoenix, the Department Head for Printmaking at Phoenix Center for the Arts, and the Membership Chair for the Arizona Print Group. “My recent work is inspired by what’s at stake as human actions endanger the Earth’s waters and life within. The beauty of the undersea world could be damaged irreparably by our actions if we don’t change our ways.” Her complex multi-layered, reduction relief prints, etchings and monoprints can be found internationally in museum, university and private collections.

Koryn Woodward Wasson, Painting & Drawing
Teaching Artist
First year at the Center: 2016

Koryn was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a teaching artist here in the valley. Koryn holds a BFA in Art Education with an emphasis on Printmaking. She taught high school for 12 years and has taught art for all ages. Watercolor is her daily practice, but she works in many media.

Koryn also works with her husband, Roy Wasson Valle, to create interactive public art installations. Her work focuses on wonder and joy, two things her daughters bring her daily.

Sandra Zally, Youth Art & Teen Artist Guild
Department Head
First year at the Center: 2002

Taking the scenic route, Sandra Zally launched her art education from the coast of Maine. She studied Fine Art at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine. In 1987, Zally rode the rails across the country to Phoenix, Arizona; where she took up studies in Advertising Art. Zally’s artistic interests embrace a wide spectrum of arts. She has painted scenic backdrops for several valley youth theaters; winning an AriZoni Award in Scenic Design for Phoenix Center Youth Theatre in 2006. Zally works as a teaching artist at community centers, senior centers and art schools around the valley. She promotes art within the community by encouraging and teaching young artists…and continues to be inspired by them.


Bassim Al-Shaker, Jamie Bonnell, Robert Isenberg, DIRTYOGA, CarrieAnn Therese, Therosia Reynolds, Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow