Staff & Board Members


Gary Bernstein

Founder and President Emeritus

Gary Bernstein founded Wingspan Arts in July 2001, bringing over 25 years of professional experience and background in business, marketing, producing and arts management to the non-profit organization. Prior to founding Wingspan Arts, Gary spent eleven years on the Board of Directors for Blue Heron Theatre where he was named Managing Director in 1994. Under his leadership as Executive Director, the Blue Heron Arts Center opened in February 1999 on East 24th Street in Manhattan.

During his tenure at Blue Heron, Gary’s production and touring highlights included the Audelco Award winning drama We Are Your Sisters, a riveting tale about slavery seen by over 25,000 young people nationwide, Tony Vellela’s Admissions, the true story of racial quotas at colleges, and a 25th anniversary revival of the Drama Desk Award nominated play Medal of Honor Rag, depicting Vietnam veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Rescuers, a drama about Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, was presented by special invitation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Gary’s Off-Broadway production credits include the 1999 co-production with Roger Alan Gindi of Tony Vellela’s What We Don’t Confess. Working with Queens Theatre in the Park, Gary developed and marketed Celebrating Our American Heritage, a theatre series for young audiences. Gary has also served as an evaluator for the Rockefeller Foundation MAP grants for theatre.

A graduate of Cornell University, Gary spent sixteen years as a marketing executive at leading New York advertising agencies, where he worked with a variety of clients including Hershey Foods, Sheraton Hotels, Panasonic and Merck. Throughout the 1990s, Gary was a consultant and producer developing independent television, video and educational projects. Credits include ‘Brooklyn, USA’ a documentary hosted by Oscar-winning actor Vincent Gardenia which aired on local CBS affiliates nationwide, ‘What’s Up?’ a tourism video featuring Regis Philbin, and ‘A Walk on The Wild Side,’ a marketing video for the New York Zoological Society hosted by the late legendary actor, Jerry Orbach.

Paul Ashley

Executive Director

Paul Ashley has been a key member of Wingspan Arts’ growth as an arts education provider in the New York region for the past 10 years. Paul has a strong connection to the arts and education communities in New York City and has represented Wingspan at many events and conferences, including the 2009 AATE/ATHE: Risking Innovation Conference and the 2012 National Afterschool Association Convention. In his time with Wingspan he has been involved as a teaching artist, site director, Director of Afterschool Programs, Education Director and – as part of the summer conservatory – directed Blood BrothersHow To Succeed and choreographed The IT Girl.

Before Wingspan Arts, Paul spent a number of years traveling nationally and internationally as an actor. His many stage credits include Crazy For You (National Tour), Mame (w/Carol Lawrence and Loretta Swit), and Forever Plaid. In New York he was seen in The Donkey Show (DJ) and in the Fringe Festival award winning a cappella musical, Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo!

Paul holds a BA in Musical Theatre from the University of Northern Colorado and has attended Columbia University’s Institute for Not-For-Profit Management and Harvard’s Executive Education course in Performance Measurement.

Ben Bingham

Operations Manager

Ben oversees program operations, managing the systems and communications the Wingspan Arts team needs to effectively run our programs.

Ben joined Wingspan in July 2015 from Baltimore. He brings extensive operational experience, having previously managed operations across a number of different industries, including artisan bread-making and digital marketing. He lives in Harlem, is a diehard Arsenal fan and his favorite restaurant is Cafe Habana.

Meghan Blakeman

Education Program Manager

Meghan started as a Site Director and Teaching Artist before joining the Wingspan team as a Program Manager. She holds a B.A. in Theatre Education from the University of New Hampshire and is the Artistic Director of Underling Productions, a local classical theatre company. Prior to joining Wingspan, Meghan was a teaching artist and actor galavanting throughout New England.

Matt Freeman

Education Director

Matt Freeman has worked with organizations such as Tectonic Theater Project (inaugural Education Director), Brooklyn Academy of Music, The New Victory Theater, New York Cares, The New York City Arts-in-Education Roundtable, and The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) where he served as the first Assistant Director of the M.A. in Applied Theatre.

Matt holds a B.A. in Theater and Arts Administration from Muhlenberg College, an M.A. in Arts Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an M.A. in Applied Theatre from CUNY SPS.

Emily Gnagey

Director of Finance & Operations

Emily Gnagey oversees financial and operational management for Wingspan Arts. Since joining the Wingspan team in 2009, Emily’s experience in developing and implementing business management strategies has been important for our growth.

Before joining the Wingspan team, Emily founded Ever After Productions, a youth theater company in southeastern Michigan. Since 2003 this company has been making strong arts education available to the community. Emily holds a BA in Arts Management from Eastern Michigan University. She graduated from the American’s for the Arts Arts Leadership Institute in 2012.

Kali McBurney

Education Program Manager

As Education Associate, Kali oversees a group of after school programs and acts as a liaison between the school and Education team. She is often on-site at schools, as well as in the office.

Kali started at Wingspan as an intern in 2011 and later returned as an assistant. She then worked as a Site Director and Office Manager before her role as Education Associate. She has also worked for the Girl Scouts of America and the YMCA of Greater New York in their summer programs.

Kali holds a BFA in Drama from New York University.

Jeff Palmere

Program Director - Extended Learning Time @ Urban Assembly Applied Math & Science

As Program Director, Jeff is responsible for managing the arts enrichment and extended learning time of all 600+ students that attend The Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science. Jeff began his career with Wingspan as a Teaching Artist in 2013, when Wingspan was in its second year of partnering with AMS through Summer Quest. That Fall, he stepped into the role of Site Director and has worked at nearly a dozen Wingspan schools since. Jeff is also a stepper, performing at World of Dance, Comedy Central, and many other venues.

Jeff holds a B.S. in Political Science from the University at Albany.

Marissa Porto

Director of Theatre Programs

As the Director of Theatre Programs, Marissa is responsible for designing curriculum and programming for all of the Wingspan Conservatory programs. She also consults on creative and curricular matters for all theatre residencies.

Marissa has been working for Wingspan in some capacity since 2007 when she began as an intern! Over the years she has held a few different titles and has directed several shows as well as taught many classes in the Conservatory programs. Prior to working with Wingspan Marissa spent her time studying theatre and performing, which she still does on occasion.

Marissa holds a B.S. in Theatre from Skidmore College and an M.Ed in Educational Theatre from The City College of New York. She is also a certified theatre teacher in the State of New York.

Vanessa Rosas

Education Program Manager

As Program Manager, Vanessa oversees two of Wingspans largest after school programs, Club BSI/TAOTS in Brooklyn and PS 40 in Manhattan. She acts as a liaison between the school, parents, staff, and Education team.

Vanessa started at Wingspan as a Site Director in 2013. She has worked at four of Wingspan’s after school sites around NYC. She has also worked for Green Ivy Schools: Battery Park Montessori as their Summer Camp Manager this past summer. In addition Vanessa is also a photographer specializing in headshot/portrait photography, and a freelance theatre director. www.VanessaRosasPhotography.com

Vanessa holds a BA in Communications/Journalism: Public Relations from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, and a MA in Theater and Directing from Long Island University Post.

Nicole Scandiffio

Education Program Manager

Nicole is responsible for overseeing several after school programs and acts as a liason between the schools and the education team. She visits the schools often to offer support and help keep the programs continuously improving and growing! Nicole has been working for Wingspan for 6 years and started as a Site Director. Prior to working with Wingspan, Nicole taught preschool, directed theatre at a summer camp program and was a stage manager.

Nicole holds a B.A. in Theatre from Montclair State University.

Rachel Schweitzer

Development Manager

As Development Manager, Rachel plans and implements fundraising initiatives in support of all of Wingspan’s programs.

Prior to joining Wingspan, Rachel worked for several arts institutions in New York City, including as the General Management Associate for The Tank, a multidisciplinary arts space, where she managed programming, facilities and fundraising. She also served as an Associate at Winning Strategies Washington, a bipartisan lobbying firm in DC, assisting with client service and federal and foundation grant writing and research.

Rachel holds a BA in Individualized Study with a concentration in Cultural Policy from New York University.

Laura Lee Williams

Associate Education Director

As the Associate Education Director, Laura Lee works with the Teaching Artist roster on curriculum and classroom support.

Before joining the education team, Laura Lee worked as both an in-school and afterschool teaching artist for Wingspan Arts and several community-based organizations throughout New York City. Her residencies ranged from elementary school theatre arts classes and middle school social studies drama integration to leadership training facilitation and forum theatre workshops.

Laura Lee holds a BA in Performing Arts from Iowa State University and an MA in Educational Theatre from New York University.