Meet the 2020 Ampersand LIVE Performers

Every fall Forterra delivers an evening of storytelling about people and place with some of the region’s most inspiring and original talent.

In light of COVID-19, this year’s Ampersand LIVE won’t be live in the way of years past. We’ll be recording performances in a variety of locations, indoors and out, and assembling a single cinematic piece for you to stream at home. But as always, Ampersand will be very much alive — with intellect, emotion, artistry, and fellowship. Take a moment now to read about this year’s artists, thinkers, and activists, whose creativity is fed by passion and concern for our lands and communities. And join us on October 29.

Etta Cosey is a 76-year-old African American woman, married for 54 years and living in Seattle for almost as many. She has worked in food service management as an administrative/clinical dietitian for state and federal government agencies. She has two children and four grandchildren.

In the ‘90s Cosey started traveling internationally and has since visited 30-plus countries with organizations such as Road Scholar and Eagle-Eye Tours (always with a pair of binoculars along). Her favorite birding experience was at the Chobe National Park in Botswana.

She started bird watching in 2004 on a visit to see her daughter in Fort Worth, Texas, and babysit her 1-year-old grandson. Strolls along the city’s Trinity River were filled with birds, most of which she had never seen before. While there she bought her first birding book, “Birds of Texas,” and became totally besotted by anything with feathers. Shortly thereafter she retired. She had been given a priceless gift — bird watching — that opened doors to learning in the classroom and in the field from experts, including Georgia Conti, Jan Bragg, and Bob Sundstrom, and to travel and new friendships. She’s been blessed by the openness of the birding community, beginning with Phil Kelly at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge where she spent nearly 2 ½ years birding with him each week. Cosey went on to coordinate a birding program for seniors through Seattle Parks and Recreation and to complete the Seattle Audubon Master Birder Program under Dennis Paulson. She is a member of Seattle Audubon Society, Washington Ornithological Society, and Western Field Ornithologists.

Cosey believes bird watching develops patience and memory skills, soothes anxiety, sharpens observation skills, fosters an appreciation of nature, and instills a desire and determination to take an active role in preserving and protecting wildlife and their habitats.

Degenerate Art Ensemble (DAE) has shown its work throughout the U.S. and Europe and is known for large-scale dance and theater projects, concerts, site-transforming spectacles, and ongoing public experimentation. Recent highlights of the group’s work include a major exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in 2011, a commission by director Robert Wilson to interpret his work “Einstein on the Beach” in 2012, and a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet in 2013. In 2012 Degenerate Art Ensemble was commissioned by the city of Seattle to create a massive site-specific work, “Underbelly,” in collaboration with Olson Kundig Architects to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. The group’s 2015 work, “Predator Songstress,” premiered at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco in 2015. In 2016 DAE teamed up with Czech rock legend Uz Jsme Doma for an epic orchestral work inspired by the group’s music at the Archa Theatre in Prague with the South Bohemian Philharmonic Orchestra. DAE’s newest work, “Skeleton Flower,” was first seen as a work in progress at the Spotlight USA Festival in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It had its world premiere in Seattle in 2019, will be performed at the International Festival of Contemporary Dance in Mexico City in August 2021, and will have its New York premiere in October 2021.

Christopher Icasiano is a Filipino-American percussionist and composer from Redmond, Washington. Now based in Seattle, he has been performing and touring professionally for over 15 years. His specialization in free-improvisation and experimental music combined with his vast experience with pop and rock have made him a highly sought after collaborator in all genres of music. He co-founded the grassroots arts organization Table & Chairs, as well as the Racer Sessions, a weekly performance series and free-improvisation jam session. He is committed to anti-racist and anti-sexist organizing within Seattle’s DIY and art communities in order to create more accessible and safer spaces.

E. J. Koh is the author of the poetry collection “A Lesser Love,” winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize, and the memoir “The Magical Language of Others.” Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and World Literature Today, among others. She earned her master of fine arts in literary translation and creative writing from Columbia University and is completing the doctoral program at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a recipient of The MacDowell Colony and Kundiman fellowships. Learn more about Koh and read her poem “Happy.”

Heather Thomas Loepp (Santee Sioux) is a performing poet and musician and practitioner in the sacred art forms of Native beading and divination. She emerged from the cornfields in a constellation of lightening bugs in Sioux City, Iowa, coming of age in Seattle and Tacoma. She has received accolades that include various publications in journals (but she feels this form of litany is no fun), played countless shows in a band called Santee in exchange for mostly pizza, worked as a music and arts journalist, and pursued many other strange efforts, such as being dropped from a bush plane into the Arctic Circle to interview the Inupiat amid a soundtrack of polar bear warnings. She is currently working on finishing her first book of poems, entitled “If I Were an Unhooked Rabbit,” and studying at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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Amanda Morgan is from Tacoma. She studied at Dance Theatre Northwest and Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and she attended summer courses at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Boston Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet. She participated in Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s exchange with the Palucca University of Dance in Dresden, where she also performed with Dresden Semperoper Ballett. Morgan joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2016 and was promoted to corps de ballet in 2017.

Clyde Petersen is a transgender Northwest artist, working in film, animation, music, installation, and fabulous spectacle. Petersen is the director of “Torrey Pines,” an autobiographical stop-motion animated feature film with a live score. He is the founder of The Fellow Ship Artist Residency space.

Petersen has been the recipient of the Arts Innovator Award, The Neddy at Cornish, The Stranger Genius Award, Amazon Artist Residency, the New England Foundation for the Arts Touring Artists Grant, and various project grants from 4Culture, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and Artist Trust throughout the years. His work has been featured in museums, galleries, DIY spaces, and film festivals around the world.

Emily Pinckney grew up along the Salish Sea in Tacoma where she spent 25 years of her life. She knew since she was 3 years old that she loved the ocean and at 10 decided to be a marine biologist.

Pinckney attended Humboldt State University and Duke University and graduated with a degree in marine biology and conservation and a minor degree in dance science and wildlife management. She has done research at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, the Louis Calder Center at Fordham University, and the Bocas del Toro Research Station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Her areas of study included phycology, local extinction events, biodiversity loss from climate change, human impacts on marine environments, systems of subjugation on climate change, and sensory physiology of marine animals.

Although she was involved in volunteerism early in her youth, her experiences as an underrepresented scientist led her to focus her efforts on teaching environmental justice principles and equity as well as educating underserved communities on how to navigate systemic barriers to community-based environmental decision-making. Policy, STEAM accessibility, youth involvement, and education are the focus of her work. She currently serves on the Washington State Environmental Justice Task Force, Sustainable Tacoma Commission, 500 Women Scientists, and the Tacoma Urban League Young Professionals. After working in research spaces, Pinckney moved to zoo and aquarium learning institutes as the community outreach educator for the Seattle Aquarium and now the youth volunteer coordinator and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice specialist with Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

When Pinckney is taking a break from science and policy, she choreographs with inspiration from many different styles of dance, mainly contemporary, African, and jazz. Her intersection in her identity within the environment and the environmental movement are the focal topics of her art. She also enjoys scuba diving and hiking with her dog.

Cuban-born Juan Alonso-Rodríguez is a self-taught artist and arts activist with a career spanning over three decades in Seattle. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and is included in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, Microsoft, Swedish Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, and General Mills, among others. He has created public works for CenturyLink Field, Sea-Tac Airport, King County Housing Authority, Epiphany School, Sound Transit, Chief Sealth International High School, and Renton Technical College. His awards include the 1997 Neddy Fellowship, a 2010 Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2016 DeJunius Hughes Advocacy Award, the 2017 Conductive Garboil Grant, a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship, and the 2019 Washington State Governor’s Arts Award for an individual artist.

From 1989 until its closing in 2013, Alonso-Rodríguez was represented by Francine Seders Gallery. He is now locally self-represented in his Pioneer Square studio where he also shows the work of POC, women, LGBTQ, and immigrant artists and hosts regular fundraisers for various nonprofit organizations. He is represented by SLATE Contemporary in Oakland, California, and by Jorge Mendez Gallery in Palm Springs, California. He has been instrumental in developing and encouraging business training for artists with various local arts organizations. Alonso-Rodríguez is a former Seattle arts commissioner and also served on the city’s Public Art Advisory Committee.

Shaina Shepherd is a singer-songwriter and vocal coach based in Seattle and frontwoman to soul-grunge band BEARAXE. Her notable vocal stylings have brought her into various creative spaces — from sharing stages with rock stars like Dave Matthews and Thunderpussy to being a soloist with classical ensembles around the country.

Inspired by Nina Simone’s commitment to representing the times with the ivories at her fingers, Shepherd describes herself as an “anthem artist,” translating pivotal moments in human history through her unique form of poetry. Her biggest inspirations are often from poets — Mark Twain, James Weldon Johnson, Maya Angelou. A teacher at heart, Shepherd includes moments of audience interaction or shared moments of reflection when performing. Her dynamic vocal combines the power of theater with the tender introspection of American folk music in a commitment to every song, story, and note being real, raw, and present.

Shepherd grew up around gospel music and not much else. She would watch her mother sing with the church choir and emulate the steady richness of her tone. Her passion for vocal technique led her to opera, then to musical theater, and then right back to opera. Shepherd studied and worked in the classical music world for many years before finding her own sound as a singer-songwriter. After graduating from New York University, she was immersed in the symphony world as an administrator, working closely with classical musicians. This experience inspired her to pick up the piano in November 2017. While finding her voice on the piano, she was finding her voice as the lead singer of Seattle progressive rock and soul band BEARAXE, where she has honed her craft as a gospel-influenced rock artist exploring themes of classism, sexism, and self-care. Shepherd’s influences include Fanny, Kurt Carr, Jeff Buckley, Leontyne Price, Quincy Jones, and above all others, Nina Simone.

When she’s not performing, she finds fulfillment as a choir director, teacher, and event producer in the Seattle music scene.

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