Creative Catalyst

The San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Program strengthens San Diego’s creative economy by advancing the careers of local professional artists, and explores social challenges and opportunities through art. Since its inception, the Creative Catalyst Program has partnered with more than 30 arts and culture nonprofits and 45 artist fellows, reaching more than 170,000 community members.

Grants are awarded to artists and their respective nonprofit sponsors who work collaboratively with each other and the community to develop and showcase their art projects. The 2018 recipients include Erica Buechner with Art Produce, Thelma Virata de Castro with Asian Story Theater, Matt Morrow with La Jolla Playhouse, Evan Apodaca with So Say We All, and Maxx Moses with The Urban Collaborative Project.

The Creative Catalyst Program projects will be developed through the summer and fall of 2018, with the final works expected to be shared with the community in late 2018 and early 2019.

Support the Creative Catalyst Program

2018 Artists

Evan Apodaca

Evan Apodaca Apodaca is a filmmaker and media artist in San Diego whose films have been featured nationally on PBS and screened at film festivals and museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Chicano International Film Festival, the Tijuana Film and Food Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Apodaca and So Say We All will develop a video series exploring military culture in San Diego and its role in the development of the region. Apodaca will utilize So Say We All’s storytelling outreach channels, including its Veterans’ Writers Division, to create an historically-accurate work through a collection of oral histories that bring local stories to a wider, regional audience and strengthen the connection between the community and San Diego history.

Nonprofit Sponsor
So Say We All

Erica Buechner

Erica Buechner

Buechner is a professional dancer, choreographer and producer in San Diego, who has performed for a variety of established dance companies in the region. Since 2011, she has co-produced youTurn Arts, an annual arts event that features visual artists and musicians from the San Diego region.

Buechner will bring together members of the professional dance community with non-dancers, including individuals from local refuge communities and older adults in the City Heights and North Park areas, through creative workshops and a final performance that blends arts, movement-based learning, and story sharing. Dancers of all ages and abilities will explore the theme of “underneath” – what is hidden, secret or surprising in participants’ lives.

Nonprofit Sponsor
Art Produce

Matt Morrow

Matt Morrow Morrow is an accomplished theatrical director whose vision for theater is defined by inclusivity and community outreach. Using technology as a powerful vehicle of communication and storytelling, Morrow brings new audiences, specifically young adults and professional technophiles, to experience and appreciate live theater.

Morrow will work with local cast, musicians, stage managers, and students at The Arts Institute of San Diego and/or UC San Diego Game Development Studio to create a theater production that blends technology and art. Using technology as a powerful vehicle of storytelling, Morrow will engage new audiences, specifically young adults and professional technophiles, to experience and appreciate live theater.

Nonprofit Sponsor
La Jolla Playhouse


Maxx Moses

Moses is a renowned artist and mural designer whose projects blend community engagement and art to create works that incorporate the spirit of the surrounding communities. Moses also serves as an instructor, teaching the next generation of artists how to create a more inclusive and community-based arts ecosystem.

Working with The Urban Collaborative Project, which brings together residents and artists to beautify areas in Southeast San Diego, Moses will help transform a vacant lot along Imperial Avenue Corridor by creating a functional art installation that will serve as a centerpiece for a community engagement space. Throughout the process, Moses will host workshops to teach hands-on mural making to youth in the Southeast San Diego-Encanto area.

Nonprofit Sponsor
The Urban Collaborative Project

Thelma Virata de Castro

virata-de-castro-web Virata de Castro is a Filipino American playwright whose work explores a variety of subjects and styles, such as underserved communities, including immigrants and incarcerated individuals. She is also the founder of San Diego Playwrights, an all-volunteer network working to get local playwrights produced in San Diego.

Virata de Castro will work with Asian Story Theater to perform workshops across the region and create a theatrical piece that broadens multicultural awareness around domestic violence. She will work directly with those closest to the topic, including survivors, family members, law enforcement, and legal advocates. Through the project, de Castro will give a voice to the voiceless and connect the audience to the issue of domestic violence in a safe, intimate setting. All performances will include panel discussions and be open to the public.

Nonprofit Sponsor
Asian Story Theater

2016 Artists

Steve Gunderson

Actor, composer, arranger, orchestrator, musical director, director and playwright

Sponsor: The San Diego Ballet

Steve Gunderson

Steve Gunderson is an actor, composer, arranger, orchestrator, musical director, director and playwright. As a musical arranger, Gunderson created Off Broadway’s Back To Bacharach & David (which was revived in Los Angeles with the participation of Burt Bacharach and Hal David), he co-wrote and arranged the score for the musical Suds, which has had dozens of productions worldwide, and most recently he co-created and arranged the score for the World Premiere of Everybody’s Talkin’: The Music of Harry Nilsson starring Tony Award Winners Alice Ripley and Gregory Jbara. As an actor he has had major roles in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Cygnet Theatre, New Village Arts, North Coast Rep, Diversionary Theatre, and he has won several San Diego Critics Craig Noel Awards.

Project:The Artificial Woman” is a collaborative music/theatre/dance piece exploring artistic, romantic and power relationships between artists Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler and its reflection in today’s society. When Alma broke off the suffocating affair, Oskar eventually commissioned an artist to make a life size Alma doll, and in this tale the doll becomes the truth teller of the piece, ready to pounce on the roles that society dictates women are supposed to play, and turn them on their heads. With original score and words this project will create not just a new musical work, but new poetic material that will challenge and delight our artists and local audiences in telling this dark and very strange variation on the Pygmalion theme.

Michelle Montjoy

Practicing artist and teacher

Sponsor: Oceanside Museum of Art

Michelle Montjoy

As a practicing artist and teacher in San Diego county for over twenty years, Michelle Montjoy has had solo shows at the Oceanside Museum of Art, The Athenaeum Arts and Music Library and Art Produce Gallery in North Park.  Montjoy was included in the 2015 Cannon Invitational, numerous regional juried shows and was invited to show at Paseo Taos, and the OneBeat festivals in New Mexico.  She has facilitated many community art projects, taught art in public schools, the Lux Art Institute and The Athenaeum as well as being engaged with local professional artist collectives.

Project:River” is the reimagining of traditional techniques and attitudes of knitting into a contemporary role that connects communities through comfort, inspiration and empowerment.  Using large table top looms or finger crocheting forms, the community will be invited to contribute to a visual conversation by knitting or crocheting, braiding or knotting a form using old t-shirts.  The resulting unusual abstract piece of art will be installed as an exhibit and will embrace the connection, fluidity, and vitality of the many hands of the community involved. The multiplicity of those hands’ work becomes a conversation. Not nostalgic or sentimental, the artwork is a translation of domestic form to cultural object. It’s a retro-revolutionary approach to engagement and art making.

David Reynoso

Scenic and costume designer

Sponsor: The Old Globe

David Reynoso

David I. Reynoso is an award-winning scenic and costume designer living in San Diego most widely recognized for his designs on the Off-Broadway hit SLEEP NO MORE (2011 – OBIE Award) and for Liz Lerman’s HEALING WARS (2014 – Helen Hayes Award nomination).  He is an incredible artist, with a superb eye for design and a strong sense of storytelling. His work is visually stunning, conveying laser sharp character details and illuminating the world of the play. His designs can also be seen at regional theaters such as: American Repertory Theater, Arena Stage, The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, among others.

Project:Waking La Llorona” is a visually lush, immersive theatrical experience inspired by Mexican myths and folklore and their correlations to San Diego and other cultures throughout the globe. Inspired by the relationships between the Mexican legend of La Llorona (which has roots tracing back to the Chumash of Southern California), the Ancient Greek tragedy of Medea and the Irish Banshee story, this project will explore these legends through the lens of Medea, allowing themes of social oppression, sexism, and racial divides to rise to the surface. It will fuel conversations about ancestry, identity, social justice and cultural celebration while developing a new theatrical work with visuals at the forefront and inspiring an appreciation for Southern California’s rich and diverse history, with an emphasis on primitive Mexican folklore.

Janet Tiger


Sponsor: Playwrights Project

Janet Tiger

Janet S. Tiger is an award-winning playwright whose plays and monologues have been produced internationally and published in anthologies in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.  She is the recipient of an NEA-COMBO Fellowship Award, numerous contest awards and multiple commissions.  Tiger is a longtime member of Scripteasers, and was the Playwright-in-Residence at Swedenborg Hall from 2006-2008.  Her works have been performed at numerous venues, including The Naples Players Theatre (2016); the San Diego Fringe Festival (2014); the Oregon AARP Conference (2014); and the Kennedy Center (2014).

Project:Caregivers Anonymous” is a theatrical experience illuminating caregiving as a valuable element of our society and designed to entertain as well as to be a catalyst for change. A collection of connected monologues about a diverse group of ordinary, yet extraordinary people who care for others, this project will create awareness of the essential nature of caregiving. It will be a voice for family members and others who serve as selfless, often silent, under-appreciated, under-valued service providers and awaken the audience to the true Circle of Life: where once we were taken care of as babies and children, then throughout life we take care of others – grandparents, parents, relatives, friends, children, and at the end, others care for us again. It also serves as an introduction to the proposed H.R. 3377: Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2015 that could give Social Security benefits to caregivers.

Tim West

Stage performer, director and playwright

Sponsor: San Diego Writers, Ink

Tim West

Tim West is an active veteran stage performer, award-winning director and produced playwright; he is also a teacher and teaching artist.  His first short works were collectively staged as Strange Bedfellows, leading to commissioned works Phenomenal Acceleration (1999) and Universal Monster Show (2002). While feeding his appetite for collaborative projects, West honed his ensemble writing skills at The Aubrey Skirball-Kenis Foundation (2000-01). He formed Bad Quarto to mount A True Historie of Prince Prospero in the San Diego Fringe Festival. West’s award-winning play Great Reckoning in a Little Room (2013) was staged in Revelations Readings and published in Best of Red Bull (2016).

Project:Upstart Crow” is a serial collaborative theatrical event based on the Lost Years of William Shakespeare, a narrative across six (6) episodes in a year-long mini-season of original drama. A writing team will pair younger writers from community organizations, high schools, and universities, with more experienced writers to mentor them.  Writers will be encouraged to use this opportunity to make literary and historical drama accessible, using Shakespeare’s own technique of mirroring his own social concerns in art, including exploration of some serious themes: addressing contemporary ethnic, religious and gendered identities via an earlier era of rapid and widespread social transformation. It is our world, seen through Will’s – imaginatively, collaboratively reconstructed to serve social needs with subtle messaging.

2015 Artists

Alicia Baskel

Alicia Baskel - Creative Catalyst FellowBaskel’s choreographic process fuses her two greatest interests: dance making and creative writing. Her performance work enlivens the space between reality and fiction, movement and language, creating an experience that takes the audience on a visceral journey.

Sponsor: Mojalet

Project: “Process Works” is a touring dance series that brings the experience of dance performance to local science institutions and their employees, encouraging professionals in various fields of science to value their own creative processes.

Todd Blakesley

Todd BlakesleyActor, producer, director and playwright who is well known for crafting unique theatre experiences. His work in “Dream Immersion” theatre eliminates the separation between actor and audience by engaging them in the same dramatic situation.

Sponsor: Playwrights Project

Project: “Dark Matter” is a script development, workshop production play about the world and what could happen if we all had to escape because of the ravages of extreme weather, water wars, over-consumption and unsustainable population and ideological strife which become too much to bear.

Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Brian Goeltzenleuchter - Creative Catalyst FellowGoeltzenleuchter’s artwork and design infuses interdisciplinary research into the creation of participatory environments, scripted and improvised performances, olfactory art, painting and object making.

Sponsor: San Diego Writers, Ink

Project: “Olfactory Memoirs” will work with members of a San Diego community to identify a topic that engages their collective memory and challenges them to approach it using the sense of smell. The artist will design evocative scent-scapes that will be adapted for collaborative performances with writers, media makers, or dancers and document these performances in a scent-infused book.

Matthew Hebert

Matthew HebertMatthew Hebert creates work that deals with technology and its effects on the environment and our sense of place. His work takes recognizable furniture forms and layers new forms of use and meaning onto them.

Sponsor: Escondido Arts Partnership

Project: “Information Retrieval” will transform used filing cabinets into solar-powered, kinetic dioramas that represent remembered landscapes. It will explore the effects of information technology on our experience of the landscape.

Bhavna Mehta

Bhavna MehtaEngineer-turned-artist who has become a well-known storyteller through her cut paper artistry. Her style is influenced by folk art traditions from India and based on the premise that everything is connected.

Sponsor: Oceanside Museum of Art

Project: In “Paper Pattern Story,” Mehta will collect stories of San Diego’s rich diversity, find common patterns and rhythms, and build a cut paper installation in which a larger overarching narrative will emerge.

Ron Najor

Ron NajorProducer/director whose film credits include “I am Not a Hipster,” which aired at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Sponsor: Media Arts Center

Project: “American Babylon” is an in-depth film documentary that profiles three Iraqi refugees trying to assimilate to American culture after being displaced from Iraq due to the war.

Noe Olivas

Noe Olivas - Creative Catalyst FellowSculptor and multimedia artist interested in social practice, the art of collaborating with others—both skilled artists and the general public—to co-create works of art and arts education programs.

Sponsor: New Children’s Museum

Project: “Untitled Space” is a rolling social sculpture using a 1967 Chevy Step Van. The vehicle will serve as an alternative, unconventional, yet utilitarian mobile space for which artists, performers, musicians, etc., to conceive their work within the context of a site specific neighborhood or city.

Roberto Salas

Roberto Salas - Creative Catalyst FellowSpecializes in public art projects that are inter-generational, crosses economic divisions and speaks to a local audience of similar yet unique life experiences.

Sponsor: Camarada

Project: “The Silent Buzz” is a public art installation to build awareness of the importance of bee pollination on future populations using plasticine (puddy-like modeling clay) cast into rubber molds to create a series of large scale bee shapes.

Mike Sears

Mike Sears - Creative Catalyst FellowSears is a San Diego-based actor, playwright and teacher. His work has been seen in New York City as well as regionally and throughout San Diego, at such theaters as the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego rep, and Cygnet theatre, among others.

Sponsor: The Old Globe

Project: “When it Comes” is a metaphorical theatrical tale that uses actors, text, movement, live music and shadow puppetry to share the story of a couple that tries to have a child and the experiences they encounter along the way.

Yale Strom

Yale StromViolinist, composer and multi-talented artist who is one of the world’s leading scholar-ethnographer-artists of klezmer music (traditional secular music of Ashkenazi and Hasidic Jews) and history.

Sponsor: San Diego Rep

Project: “Common Chords Extreme!” brings chamber music to two of the newest refugee groups in San Diego – Somali and Chaldean. The artist will compose one string quartet (premiered by the Hausmann String Quartet ) and one jazz quintet (premiered by the Tripp Sprague Jazz Quintet), each based upon Somali and Chaldean folk melodies.

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