ISC’s core team consists of a small but dedicated full-time staff, which is guided by the wisdom and experience of ten board members. These folks curate all of ISC’s live events, organize its outreach work, and keep the organization running from day to day.
ISC’s administrative offices are headquartered in downtown Jonesborough, in a two-building campus that includes the historic Chester Inn (a state historic site!) and the 14,000-square foot Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall.
Meet the Staff
Kiran Singh Sirah
Kiran Singh Sirah is President of the International Storytelling Center (ISC), prior to his appointment at ISC, Kiran developed a number of award-winning arts, cultural and human rights programs in cultural centers across the UK and Ireland. Widely recognized for advancing storytelling as a tool for building social empathy and intercultural understanding, he has spoken and led programming at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the US Senate of foreign relations, US state department, and the Pentagon. Kiran champions his beliefs in the power of human creativity, arts, storytelling and social justice through his advisory role to UNESCO Scotland and through his service as a Rotary Peace Fellow. In 2017, Sirah was awarded the “Champion of Peace” recognition at the Rotary International Day ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva. Kiran firmly believes Storytelling not only has the power to enrich lives, but it also holds the key to building a conflict free society.
Krystal is responsible for coordinating the talent logistics for the National Storytelling Festival, managing the daily operations for the 26-week Teller-In-Residence Series and providing general administrative support of all programs. She joined the ISC staff full-time in July of 2017.
Lesley is responsible for planning, coordinating and directing all Center activities including facility rentals, gift shop stock and staff management for the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall.
Lesley has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Management from East Tennessee State University. Lesley joined the ISC staff in July 2020.
Festival Registration Coordinator
Marianne is responsible for overseeing all mail, phone, and online registrations for the National Storytelling Festival as well as on-site Festival registration. Marianne joined the staff in 2012.
Director of Development
Ben Weakley is the International Storytelling Center’s (ISC) Director of Development. Before coming to ISC, Ben served as the Director of Development for Clemmer College at East Tennessee State University.
Ben spent fourteen years in the U.S. Army, beginning with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and finishing in 2019 at a desk inside the Pentagon. While military service gave him leadership experience and technical skills, Ben credits storytelling and the arts with giving him the tools to make a successful transition into the civilian world.
Ben is an award-winning poet and author who teaches writing workshops for veterans and other communities. He loves creating spaces where people can speak truth and tell their story, with special care for those from communities who often go unheard. It is this passion for building community through the power of language that brought him to the ISC, where his unique experiences and passion for storytelling power his mission to develop the resources and partnerships that will grow the ISC beyond its upcoming 50th anniversary.
Angela serves as the communications associate. She administers all aspects of ISC’s marketing and digital communication efforts, including ISC’s web presence, traditional marketing, media relations, program ad sales, and coordinates sponsorships for Festival and Teller-in-Residence programming.
Angela is a graduate of East Tennessee State University and holds a master’s degree in Brand and Media Strategy, and a bachelor’s degree in Media and Communications. Angela joined ISC in 2021.
Director of Programs
Susan is responsible for the overall direction and artistic programming of the National Storytelling Festival, the Teller-In-Residence Series, as well as ISC’s visitor activities and regional outreach programs.
Susan is a graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Science degree in educational psychology. A former teacher, she began her work with the organization in 1989.
Customer Service Host
Sarah is responsible for welcoming and serving our on-site visitors at the ISC, providing information and support for registrants of the National Storytelling Festival and the Teller-In-Residence Series. Sarah is responsible for overseeing the vast volunteer program at the Center. She also assists the facility director with various activities. Sarah joined the staff in 2021.
Director of Finance & Operations
As the Director of Finance, Sandy is responsible for ISC’s accounting practices, maintaining financial records, preparing financial management reports and procedures, as well as administering the employee benefits program. As the Director of Operations, Sandy is responsible for the direction and coordination of the organization. She is responsible for the growth and profitability of the organization. This role includes expense control, staff management, facilities oversight, and department supervision.
Sandy has a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from East Tennessee State University. She worked with Lewis and Associates, a public Accounting firm in Johnson City, Tennessee for three years before joining the ISC staff in February of 2003.
Dr. Alicestyne Turley
Freedom Stories Project Director
Born in Hazard, Kentucky, prior to becoming an educator and public historian, Dr. Turley has worked in law enforcement, as a community organizer, and was the first African American administrator for the City of Toledo’s first woman mayor, Donna Owens. Also, the founding Director of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education at Berea College, Dr. Turley is a long-time scholar of history, political science, sociology and anthropology. More information.
Kate is responsible for providing administrative support for ISC’s managerial staff with a focus on coordinating the logistical activities of the National Storytelling Festival. Kate joined the organization in 2006.
Assistant to the President
Lynnea works closely with President Kiran Singh Sirah on a variety of projects, but focuses mainly on developing webinars and workshops teaching applied storytelling principles. She also assists in grant writing, curriculum development for the Learning Library, and general administrative duties for the President’s office.
Jimmy Neil Smith
Founder & President Emeritus
ISC’s talented Board of Governors consists of ten individuals with backgrounds in areas that encompass performing arts, the humanities, education, peacebuilding, and fundraising. Together, their insights help guide the organization’s mission and work.
Meet the Board
Ariel Gratch, Vice Chairman
Second Term Ends 2024
Assistant Professor of Communication Arts Utica College
Ariel Gratch is an academic and a storyteller. As an academic, Ariel has published on how storytelling takes shape in the digital age, how storytelling plays an integral role in shaping our identities, and how storytelling is an educational tool. Ariel is also a storyteller who likes to experiment with new ways of telling stories, be it through audience participation, the incorporation of new media, or by drawing on avant-garde performance techniques in his telling. He has performed at the National Storytelling Festival’s Story Slam, the New Orleans Fringe Festival, the Experimental Methodologies Symposium in Surrey, the SOS Winter Storytelling Festival, and at many universities and theatres in the United States. Ariel loves to tell and listen and believes that we become our best selves through storytelling.
Second Term Ends 2024
Director of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts, Retired
Bonnie Macdonald is a champion for the arts. A life-long arts enthusiast, she served as the director of the Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts working to create a Public Art Program and build the Kingsport Carousel. Bonnie has also been active with and served as president of Tennesseans for the Arts. Bonnie received her BA from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and her MBA from the University of Tennessee. In retirement, she also serves on the board of Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council and the Exchange Place Steering Committee, knits, makes baskets, and dreams about travel. She is married and has two adult daughters.
First Term Ends 2024
Cayden Mak served most recently as the Executive Director at 18 Million Rising, a digital-first organization working to nurture and connect racial justice movements in Asian American communities across the United States. His ongoing interests in popular cultures on and of the internet, as well as how technology shapes our understanding of ourselves and one another, have animated his work for the past two decades from academia to activism. He is a recognized leader in the field of media justice, and has been honored for his work galvanizing community action for internet freedom.
He lives in Oakland, California, with his devoted dog, Phoenix. His writing about the internet, power, and culture can be found at bodywithout.org
Second Term Ends 2023
Professor and Chair, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at ETSU College of Public Health
Claudia Kozinetz is an epidemiologist, professor and Chair, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, ETSU College of Public Health. A sound story is an important tool for informing the public of health issues and risks. Storytelling is thus an important skill for our public health students to master. A native of Massachusetts, Claudia lives in Johnson City, TN after residing for over thirty years in Houston, TX. She finds it a great honor to collaborate and support the ISC.
First Term Ends 2023
Associate Professor, Department of Social Work at ETSU College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences
Donna Cherry is a social work educator, licensed clinical social worker specializing in trauma, and co-founder/executive director of Huschka House, a transitional living program for youth at-risk for homelessness, including those aging out of foster care. She believes in the power of story for her students and clients to understand and heal from trauma and find meaning and purpose in life. Donna is a native of Oregon and is proud to be part of the Johnson City/Northeast Tennessee community and especially delighted to be part of ISC Board and ISC’s SHEro’s Journey program for at-risk female youth.
Erin Rosolina, Chair
Second Term Ends 2022
Marketing Manager at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Erin Rosolina believes in the power of storytelling to build a more compassionate world. A North Carolina native, Erin majored in Sustainable Community Development at Berea College, was selected as a Compton Mentor Fellow for her work in Big Ugly, West Virginia in 2011, and now helps connect people and nature through her role as marketing manager at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. She lives with her husband Sam, two cats and an old dog. She can often be found rock climbing at her local gym or reading a book in her Knoxville home.
Kiran Singh Sirah
President of the International Storytelling Center
Kiran Singh Sirah is President of the International Storytelling Center (ISC), prior to his appointment at ISC, Kiran developed a number of award-winning arts, cultural and human rights programs in cultural centers across the UK and Ireland. Widely recognized for advancing storytelling as a tool for building social empathy and intercultural understanding, he has spoken and led programming at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the US Senate of foreign relations, US state department, and the Pentagon. Kiran champions his beliefs in the power of human creativity, arts, storytelling and social justice through his advisory role to UNESCO Scotland and through his service as a Rotary Pease Fellow. In 2017, Sirah was awarded the “Champion of Peace” recognition at the Rotary International Day ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva. Kiran firmly believes Storytelling not only has the power to enrich lives, but it also holds the key to building a conflict free society.
First Term Ends 2024
Ohio Teaching Artist, Storyteller, Writer and Transformative Language Arts Practitioner
Lynette (Lyn) Ford shares the gifts and heritage of the spoken word from her Affrilachian family. Lyn’s national and international festival programs and workshops encourage folks to speak personal truths and hopeful possibilities through folktales and original stories.
First Term Ends 2024
Lynda Harris retired to Jonesborough after over 30 years with the American Red Cross, based primarily with the National Headquarters in Washington, DC. Her service included being the National Director of Volunteers and retiring as the National Director of Operations for Health and Safety Services. She was recognized in 1992 and 2015 with the organization’s highest award for employees. Her early career was as a high school English teacher, reading specialist, and faculty member and then as development director for a small Catholic college.
Since her professional retirement in 2015, Lynda has been a full time community volunteer serving as a frontline volunteer on numerous local boards including the League of Women Voters, the Community Chest, a founding board member for Storytelling Resource Place, and the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild where she co-lead a partnership with the Ballad Health System to implement a bedside storytelling program for hospital patients and their families. In 2019 the program was awarded the Hamilton Arts and Healing Award by the National Association for Arts in Healing.
In addition to being a regular ISC volunteer, she coordinated the 2018 and 2019 National Storytelling Festival volunteers. She views storytelling both as a performance art and a birthright tool for initiating and sustaining global connectedness.
Second Term Ends 2023
Nikki Niswonger is a community volunteer that focuses her service on education, history and wellness. She has served on boards for the United Way, Frontier Health, Greeneville-Greene County History Museum, Community of Promise and the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. She was a founding member of the Greeneville City School Foundation and the East Tennessee Women’s Fund. Nikki currently serves at the secretary to the Niswonger Foundation. As a passionate patron of all Storytelling events, she has introduced many newcomers to the performances in October and throughout the year. She is dedicated to the mission of the ISC to have “a better life, a better world, through storytelling”.
First Term Ends 2023
Vice President of Finance and Administration for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership
Ryan Chupa serves as the Vice President of Finance and Administration for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership. He oversees the financial management for six non-profit organizations and serves on several regional boards. Ryan earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Milligan College, Master of Business Administration degree from East Tennessee State University and an Economic Development Certificate from the University of Oklahoma. Ryan grew up in Carter County, Tennessee and has lived in Johnson City since 2003. He believes the Appalachian Highlands is a hidden gem and storytelling will be a major component in the success of the region. Ryan lives with his wife Jessica and two kids, Reese and Carter. In his spare time, he enjoys biking, hiking, fishing, golfing and kayaking.
First Term Ends 2023
Senior Consultant for The Kaleidoscope Group
Producer, Speaker and Storyteller – O’Halloran Diversity Productions
Since 1969, Sue O’Halloran has performed nationally and internationally and led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion seminars in corporate and nonprofit settings. Sue is author of several books and curricula including Diversity in Our Schools, Common Cross-Cultural Mistakes, Kaleidoscope: Valuing Differences and Creating Inclusion and Compelling Stories, Compelling Causes: Nonprofit Marketing Success.
In addition, Sue produces award-winning multicultural performances including White, Black and Brown: Tribes & Bridges at the Steppenwolf Theatre and More Alike Than Not: Stories of Three Americans – Christian, Jewish and Muslim. She is producer/director of the www.RacebridgesStudio.com site which showcases over 250 social justice video stories and receives over half a million visitors each year.
Sue believes in the power of storytelling to bring people together. About her own storytelling skills, The Chicago Reader’s Critic Choice said, “O’Halloran has mastered the Irish art of telling stories that are funny and heart-wrenching at the same time.”
Board Emeritus Member – 2020
Terry served on the ISC Board from 2013-2019.
Board Emeritus Member – 2020
Thelma served on the ISC Board from 2013-2019.