New Executive Director Selected

By October 4, 2018October 10th, 2018No Comments

Christian Gaines Named New Executive Director of WESTAF


DENVER, CO — The WESTAF trustees are pleased to announce that Christian Gaines has been selected to serve as the organization’s new executive director. Gaines was hired following a national search that was initiated in May, 2018. He will move to Denver and begin work at the organization in mid January, 2019.

WESTAF is a nonprofit organization that weaves together technology, thought leadership, and innovation to energize, network, and grow funding for public sector arts agencies. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, it is one of six regional arts organizations in the United States. WESTAF provides advocacy, policy, arts programming, and professional development services to the arts agencies in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In addition, through its technology programs, it serves arts organizations and artists in every state in the country. WESTAF has taken an entrepreneurial approach to addressing the needs of the arts and culture field by developing technology products and providing software as a service (SaaS). The income generated from these services enables WESTAF to elevate the arts and culture field through a number of initiatives.

As executive director of WESTAF, Gaines will oversee the further development of WESTAF’s arts-based technology projects. Those projects currently serve approximately 3,000 arts organizations and more than 220,000 artists nationwide. He will also work to support the development of the 13 state arts agencies in the WESTAF region. WESTAF currently supports the agencies through the funding of legislative advocacy, professional development, grantmaking, and policy research and development. Gaines is well-acquainted with state arts agencies and their intrinsic value. He is currently concluding his second term as an appointee of Governor Rick Snyder to Michigan’s state arts agency, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA).

“WESTAF has many opportunities for strategic growth to support public sector arts agencies and the arts sector through technology, diverse thought leadership, and innovation,” said WESTAF Chair Erin Graham. “Christian’s experience in technology and arts entrepreneurship and strong background in developing cultural equity and inclusion programs are all assets to WESTAF. We’re looking forward to Christian’s leadership in building on WESTAF’s successes to date and taking the organization to the next level.”

Gaines most recently served for five years as executive director of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArtPrize is a nonprofit international art competition open to every artist working in every medium from everywhere in the world. For 19 days in the early fall, around 500,000 visitors descend upon the city, attending artists exhibit around 1,500 works that appear in over 170 venues and it’s all free and open to the public. $500,000 in prizes is awarded each year — half by smartphone-enabled public vote and half by a jury of art professionals. Through this process, ArtPrize encourages critical discourse, celebrates artists, transforms urban space and promotes cultural understanding. The event is also recognized for awarding substantial participation grants to artists, venues and educators each year, and for its contribution to the economic vitality of the region. While at ArtPrize, Gaines also oversaw software that matches artists to venues and managed the enhancement of a geofenced mobile voting platform.

Gaines’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is a strong fit with the leadership work in which WESTAF is engaged. During his tenure at ArtPrize, Gaines worked with staff and community partners to develop and implement programs that addressed and improved the end-to-end ArtPrize experience for artists, venues and visitors of color. Gaines is also experienced in and committed to issues of accessibility in the arts. A longtime board member of the nonprofit DisArt, he has worked tirelessly to ensure that ArtPrize involved and embraced disability culture through exhibits, events, programs and support services.

Gaines’ background includes extensive work in the film industry. For five years he worked at, an Amazon company, where he served as specialist in festival strategy and business development specialist overseeing the global expansion of, a film submission and adjudication platform connecting filmmakers to film festivals worldwide. He also served for eight years as director of festivals for the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California and for four years as festival director and director of programming at the Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Gaines shared,“WESTAF has accomplished so much since its inception, so it’s a cherished honor to have been selected as its next executive director. Working closely with the WESTAF board, staff, state arts agency partners and other key stakeholders, I’m eager to advocate tirelessly and joyfully to energize, diversify, network, and fund the creative communities in our treasured western states.”

Additional information about this change in staff at WESTAF is available by contacting Leah Horn, WESTAF’s Director of Communication at or 303.629.1166.