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Portraits of the Valley

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around the Valley.

Karissa Bone

The day I discovered songwriting, I was eight years old singing Hannah Montana in the living room in the suburbs of Saginaw. MI. I started writing songs on my children’s Yamaha acoustic guitar with the intention that Miley Cyrus would sing them. I was so far removed from the ‘music industry’ I didn’t even know what I was doing– I just loved writing and telling stories. Somehow, my crazy 8-year-old mind had it right all along, I was going to be a songwriter. Following years of classical training on piano, I stumbled upon Interlochen Arts Camp. I attended their songwriting camp two years in a row and then decided to transfer to their boarding school for my last year of high school to major in songwriting. I remember making the decision about 4 days before the school year started. Read more>>

Evie Abat

I think my story in the arts started in the 2nd or 3rd grade when I created this after-lunch salon for my friends and me. It was a whole 5-minute, post-repast thing during which I’d enlist some friends to sing something with me a capella. I even wrote and directed my first original play about a chocolate factory, and was mortified, when I didn’t get the standing ovation I expected from my classmates at the end of the story. It prepared me for life in the arts. Fast forward through double degrees in Public Relations and International Studies at American University, Master’s Degrees in Liberal Studies at Georgetown and Counseling at Marymount University, and, finally, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Read more>>

Desiree Raydeen

Funny enough, my business was started on accident. Let me explain. Back in 2020 during “The Great Panini” I needed to find something constructive and creative to do and so my boyfriend Joseph, asked me if I knew how to sew and if could make him a mask. I was taught how to sew since the age of four and it was an easy enough project and got to work. He posted it on his Instagram @cabelloart_bag and he has a very large following and so what was supposed to be a post of appreciation turned into people requesting if they could purchase. As time went on and we as a society moved away from using masks less, I now had my own personal inventory of fabrics and needed to get creative with what to make. Read more>>

Young Saudi

I grew up always listening to music to the point where I knew I was bound to try and make music, I tried once when I was 18 but couldn’t figure it out so I gave up haha, once I found myself in an actual recording studio I felt determined and finally made music, after finding my sound I fell in love with the production and found music to be my passion and devoted myself to its craft. I think every artist has their ups and downs, it could be hard to get heard and expensive to record, I’ve always worked hard to fund my passion, whether that be 2 jobs, spending lots of time researching the game, and learning from different people. I’m at the point where I’m comfortable where I’m at and now it’s time to just apply some pressure. Read more>>

MoAnanda

Singer-songwriter Moana Avvenenti was born and raised in Saint Martin in the Caribbean and moved to the US in 2009; first to study, then to work. In 2018, she taught as voice faculty for a semester at SAM, a music college in India, where she met producer/multi-instrumentalist/audio engineer Ananda Dhar-James. The following year, Moana and Ananda got a contract together as the acoustic duo on the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity in the Mediterranean. Both of their name would not fit on the guest program, so they become MoAnanda! Ananda moved to Los Angeles later in 2019 to study at Musicians’ Institute, and the duo started writing music. Since then, they scored a couple of ads for Renault Twingo and a toothpaste in Japan. Read more>>

Meekoh

Anchored by his love of mellifluous songwriting and timeless melodies, Meekoh has carved out his own unique sound through a blend Pop Folk & Latin Rock. His story began in 2009 while he was busking on the rugged streets of Bend, Oregon. Over the next few years, his rise from packed dive bars and street corners quickly turned into sold-out festivals and national tours with platinum artists Shannon Bex (Danity Kane) and Grammy winner Lonnie Chapin. In 2017, Meekoh moved to LA where he started working with some of the top people in the industry, such as Justin Bieber’s hit producer, HARV, and multi-platinum producers Marius Feder & Sergiu Gherman (Kendrick Lamar, 88 Rising, Hozier). Read more>>

Jessica Castillo

I walked past a tattoo shop in Michigan when I lived out there for a bit and saw a “help wanted sign” — the rest is history. I’ve been working in tattoo shops since 2015 and in piercing since 2017. I’ve worked at different shops and done countless events, and just recently I took a leap of faith and decided to open my own shop — Rosebud’s Body Art & Boutique. The tattoo/piercing industry can be very toxic and is cis male dominated. I want to create a safe, cozy, and inclusive space for artists to practice and expand. We feature women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ artists and makers here! The front room is a handmade seller’s boutique, and the back room is the studio! Read more>>

Dylan Storme Smith

I am 25 years old Dylan Storme Smith. I was born and raised in a city called Cape Town in South Africa. I grew up playing soccer since I was eight years old with the hopes of making it professional; I wanted to better myself to compete at the highest level so I researched how to improve my abilities in soccer. Because of my passion for soccer and sports, I decided to study BSc Sports and Exercise Science. My initial dream of playing soccer professionally became less of a priority when I realized I enjoyed helping others achieve their fitness goals and better their athletic performance in sports. While studying, I took upon the role of a soccer coach at an organization in the city where my passion grew for helping the youth achieve success in their sport. Read more>>

Tara Mulligan

I never thought I would be a potter. Musicals like CATS, Phantom of the Opera, and The Sound of Music were gateways into my theatre obsession. My mom noticed my love for performance early on and signed me up for singing, tap, ballet, and acting classes. From 4th grade until college, I had been in over 20 shows and continued to support theatre on the administrative side after college by moving to New York City and working for a Broadway theatre company. I had always used performing arts as a form of creative expression and never expected my artistic journey to lead to pottery. It wasn’t until two years ago that I started working with clay after my friend Sam recommended a throwing class at a local studio. Read more>>

Celia Behar

I started out in the entertainment industry. I earned my B.A in drama from Ithaca College and moved to NYC soon after where I pursued acting and sang in a band based in my hometown of Westport, CT. Eventually, I ended up working at the Sundance Channel in their PR and Marketing department and from there I moved into the Creative Department of Showtime where I worked as an Admin and Production Assistant. I enjoyed my time there while also auditioning and performing, but I never felt as if any of it was my true calling. By some strange twist of fate, I was downtown on 9/11 and was lucky enough to make it home that night. What I saw that day and during the days that followed when I volunteered at Ground Zero made me realize that it was time for a change. Read more>>

Nikie Monteleone

I grew up with a paper in one hand and a pencil in the other and was fortunate to have a really encouraging mom who knew I was destined to do something creative. She pushed me to go to Art School to “live out my dream” and that I did! I first went to The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore where I declared ceramics as my major. I quickly moved to fashion for a love of prints and patterns before discovering my love of 3D in little too late. Graduating with a fashion degree and not really wanting to do that anymore, I bounced around in from the Art Gallery world to helping out on set of feature movies & commercials and eventually landed in graphic design. I still had this 3D itch I wanted to scratch so at 27 I went back to school to The School of Visual Arts in NYC where I finally studied animation. Read more>>

Ericka Lopez

HoneyBox was a daydream born in my apartment kitchen. It started on a Pinterest board and has blossomed into a beautiful business full of color, vibrance, & life. I started doing HB on my own and now have grown a team of incredibly talented employees. We’ve had lines out the door & have sold out all major holidays. We’ve hosted classes, crafted grazing tables, & now are extending our services into Paso Robles and Los Angeles! I have big dreams of expanding for 2023 and I am so excited to see how this new year unfolds. I believe wholeheartedly that if you have a dream and the drive to work for it; it will be yours. I’m very thankful for the success and support I’ve seen thus far in my business. Read more>>

Andrew Magarian

As a young actor, I remember sitting on the steps behind the theater and helping out some of my classmates with their scenes. I really enjoyed that process, seeing it click and come together. I’ve also always been very drawn to sports, teamwork and learning to compete and win by getting it right, doing what you’re capable of, reaching, chasing your potential. I saw a correlation to successful sports teams and how a cast and crew come together to share their story. I wanted to do that, put those things together. At that time, UCLA and John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and the Celtics were dominant. They became the influences that guided me on creating a way to teach, coach and story tell. Read more>>

Ron King

Ron King is one of the finest trumpet / composer / arranger artists in the world today. A Grammy-nominated soloist, he is also one of L.A.’s top studio lead / jazz / improvisational trumpet players. He has received many awards from the IAJE, NAJE, ASCAP, and the RMA. Ron King grew up in rural southern California and began to play the trumpet at the age of 8. He quickly excelled at his chosen instrument, and by the time he was in the 6th grade, at only age 11, he was winning top awards and honors in solo competitions. This continued until he graduated from high school. He then went on to complete his college education, graduating with Honors from California State University Los Angeles with a Major in Music and a Minor in Musicology. Read more>>

Sara Snyder

I knew really early on that I loved to sing. I started by singing loud in school choir and making up songs on the playground when I didn’t have friends to play with. I moved around a lot and it took me a long time to get to know myself as a result because I was always just trying to fit in wherever I went. On the plus side, I grew up everywhere….on horse farms in Maryland and taking the subway in NYC. Every few years we would hop somewhere new and eventually I went to college for musical theatre: a version of my life that was a “safer” choice for me. I moved to LA to finally pursue music after graduation. I started looking for a change when I felt stuck in a personal rut and after applying, was accepted to a music mentorship program in Norway. The Lillehammer Institute of Music Production and Industries (LIMPI for short) was the first of its kind and we would be the first graduating class. So I moved to Norway for a year. Read more>>

Chi City

After signing a partnership deal with Empire Distribution CEO Ghazi Shami in late 2019, Chicago-born recording artist/songwriter/businessman/entrepreneur Shantez Jackson aka Chi City was set on a mission to overcome all obstacles and leave a musical imprint for upcoming artists similar to himself to follow. Collaborating & co-writing w/ some of today’s most relevant artists such as Justin Bieber, Kodak Black, Jamie Foxx, Usher, Nicole Scherzinger, Diplo, City Girls, Skrillex, Cardi B, G-Easy, and Machine Gun Kelly, to name a few, Chi City took his accomplishments as an artist & songwriter and launched his own entertainment management company to help others pursue their dreams and career in the entertainment industry. Read more>>

Jeremiah Regan

Growing up drawing was always a fun hobby I did on my own. Watching my favorite cartoons after school and on Saturday morning trying to duplicate those characters in my sketchbook. Collecting as many “how to draw” books as I could to learn all the little tricks of my favorite characters. In school, drawing was always my go-to when it came to projects. If the assignment allowed it, I would always choose to draw something because it made the schoolwork more enjoyable. It wasn’t until high school that I thought about turning to art for a possible career. I just couldn’t picture myself in any other field when it came to choosing what you wanted to study in college. Read more>>

Xochilt Khoury, Matthias Baker, and Taylor Scott

Haunt Comp is an education-based haunted house design competition for people new to the themed entertainment industry. We started this organization back in 2020 while we were in college. At the time, we loved haunts but could not find an outlet to learn more about that side of the industry. In addition, there were a lot of student competitions that gave us interesting challenges but did not teach us about how the themed entertainment industry worked. It was then we decided we wanted to make a competition based on haunted house design that had real-world deliverables and workshops taught by industry professionals so that participants could learn what they needed to do. Our hope is that even if a participant does not win our competition, they walk away with material for their portfolio and a better understanding of how the industry operates. Read more>>

Melissa Barrow

I began dancing at the age of two years old in Maryland where I was born. I moved to New Jersey when I was about to start 3rd grade and continued dancing there. The sounds, the energy, the excitement, all of it really intrigued me. Growing up I also did soccer and cheerleading. When I was about eight years old my parents gave me the decision to either give up dance or soccer because it was becoming too much to do two activities, and it certainly wasn’t cheap! I made the decision to quit soccer and fully focus on dance and auditioned for the competition dance team. My studio owners in New Jersey convinced me to audition because they thought I would be a good fit. Read more>>

Ruben Castro

I was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico. From an early age, I was always interested in electronic music and when I first listened to Daft Punk’s One More Time, it completely changed my life. I downloaded FL Studio and just started clicking, trying to figure out how to make music! When I was 15, my best friend asked me if I could DJ her birthday party, being young and naive I said yes! Even though I didn’t really even know how a turntable worked but I still went for it. In 2016, I had the opportunity to play at Darkwoods Dream Festival in Tijuana, Mexico. I played alongside Marshmello, Paul Oakenfold, Nervo and many more talented DJs. It was the best day of my life but I was so nervous, thousands of people listening to my music, it was insane! From that day, all I wanted to do was play in front of people and make my own music. Read more>>

Nikki Steen

With over 40 years of dance experience and extensive training as a young, competitive gymnast, becoming a fitness trainer was a natural and easy transition for me. In the two decades since I was first certified as a personal trainer, I have acquired a wealth of knowledge about building strength, recovering from and working around injuries, pre- and post-natal training, and adapting a program to suit the needs of the body at advancing ages. My personal understanding of the challenges in maintaining a healthy body weight – along with issues surrounding diet and body image – significantly influence how I am able to successfully work with those that struggle with weight management. Read more>>

Pain Catalyst

Pain Catalyst started out as a five-piece band back in April of 2022. We were originally just planning on jamming together and playing a few covers, but we quickly decided to form a band and write music of our own. At first, we didn’t really know what form of Metal music we wanted to play, so we just labeled ourselves “Extreme Metal” since we all were familiar with different extreme genres of Metal music. Although, we later decided to label ourselves as a mixture of Thrash Metal and Groove Metal. On the first of June, we performed live for the first time at Impulse Music Co’s “Open Mic Night”. We then went on to play the next open mic just a month later. Eventually, we played at a local house show and a few shows outside of Santa Clarita. Read more>>

Debi Carlin Boyle

I started my company, “Fit By Design” over 27 years ago as a side hustle when I became a Spin Instructor and a Personal Trainer and realized no two people are alike when it comes to diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle. Much like snowflakes, we are unique human beings, we need to understand our individual responses to what we put into our bodies and how we treat them. I discovered at a very young age that lifestyle plays a vital role in how we look, feel, and react to everything that surrounds us. There are many things that feed us in life in addition to the food on our plate. As a young child, I watched as my family succumbed to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases that left me feeling helpless and hopeless. Read more>>

David Rocklin

I’m a novelist, book coach and reading series host living in the L.A. area with my family. My 8th-grade English teacher told me that she’d see me in print one day. That meant the world to me and I never forgot it. I thank her in the Acknowledgements for every book I write, and I send them to her (she likes them!). My first novel, The Luminist, was inspired by a visit to the Getty Museum, where I saw an installation of early photography. I think that I was already turning to thoughts of impermanence as my father was very ill (he’s since passed away), and the notion that these early photographs held for me, of holding a moment still, really resonated. My second novel, The Night Language, actually arose from one of the photographs I saw as part of my research into The Luminist. Read more>>

Michele Mignone

I am originally from the Central Coast of California but traveled quite a bit and lived in San Francisco, South Florida & Palm Springs through the years. Hospitality took me to many places…I started in this industry back in 2008 and combined my passions for alternative medicine and wellness with business and the hotel industry — paving the perfect career path for working in spas and hotels. I have now assisted in opening five spas nationwide and then stayed on to manage them. I was thrilled to receive the opportunity to return to the Central Coast to assist with the design, overseeing construction, pre-opening, and opening of Spa Cerro starting back in the Summer of 2018. Read more>>

Emily Manwell

Let’s take it back to 2012-2013. I was sitting in my photography elective class with Mr. Menkin. I thought photography was cool, but being a high school softball player, my mind was set on playing college softball. I had no clue what I wanted to do for a major, but softball was it. Mr. Menkin told me that I had an eye for photography, and sparked my interest in continuing into AP Photography the following year. Read more>>

David Frank

My musical journey started when I was young. Ever since I could remember I wanted to make music. As a kid, I was fascinated with instruments and would make sticks out of anything I could find and play drums on every surface. That being said drums were my first love. It wasn’t until later in life that I started playing 12 other instruments and writing songs. But honestly, the real reason I’m in music today is because of my older brother. Read more>>

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