Em Johnson

EXECUtive director

Em joined Blue Sky Center in 2016 with a vision to challenge traditional community development methods. She envisions building capacity in the Cuyama communities through creative placemaking and grassroots entrepreneurial empowerment. Her role at Blue Sky Center has led to a focus on developing Blue Sky’s business plan through creative placemaking strategies. Em holds an M.B.A. in Social Entrepreneurship and Strategic Leadership from Antioch University in Santa Barbara, CA, and a B.A. in Arts Administration from Drury University.


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Jack Forinash 

executive director

Prior to joining the team full time in 2018, Jack Forinash served Blue Sky Center for two years as an organizational development consultant. Jack brings to New Cuyama over a decade of rural development experience, with a focus on affordable housing, nonprofit finances, organizational transparency, and research. As a leader in conscientious design/build ethos, he brings empathy and consideration to the practice of applied arts, architecture, and good old-fashioned fun.


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Melanie Shaw

Hospitality manager

Melanie Shaw is a longtime resident of the Cuyama Valley and loves all things hospitality. She brings to the team a wealth of knowledge about the region, experience from her most recent work as program coordinator for Cuyama Valley Recreation District, and a background in agriculture business management from Bakersfield College. Melanie is excited about taking on our hospitality initiatives and developing a space at Blue Sky Center for events and retreats that continue to benefit our surrounding townsites.


Jensen Lorenzen

Blue Sky Ventures Consultant

With over 20 years of professional experience in the start-up foodservice industry, Jensen joined the Blue Sky Team in March 2018 because he believes in the power of food-based entrepreneurialism to create and support rural community building. Jensen is a founding partner of Larder Meat Co., an online CSA-style pasture-raised meat delivery company and is leveraging this unique experience to help launch new ventures on behalf of Blue Sky.



Sam Ihrig

Production Manager

Sam grew up in the Pacific Northwest. After studying Industrial Design at California College of the Arts, he moved to Brooklyn, NY where he lived for the past four years. His work experience ranges from Urban Agriculture & Education to Sculptural Production & Research and is currently working with the organization on housing research/advocacy as well as design. Sam is interested in exploring the potentials of art and design as a tool for social engagement.



Alicia Muniz

Community Coordinator

Alicia is a long-time resident of New Cuyama. She brings to the team knowledge of the Valley, experience from her past work at Cuyama Elementary helping others, and is dedicated to helping create more opportunities for the youth in and around New Cuyama. She is excited to join the team and work with existing and new small businesses through the “Made in Cuyama” Initiative.


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Abigail Gallup

Rural Community Designer

Raised on a farm in the Midwest, Abigail cares deeply about agrarianism and endurance as a way of life and finds herself continuously returning to rural places, where she feels most at home. An anthropologist, she is fascinated by cultures and environments and views storytelling and exploration as conduits of real change. Abigail is motivated by questions of intimacy and flourishing, and she is eager to share her love of the human journey and to learn from the Cuyama community.


Aeysha Kinnunen

Rural Community designer

Aeysha comes to California from the Land of Sky Blue Water. Born and raised in Minnesota, Aeysha likes to think of life as one big art project. She works to recognize truth and beauty wherever she goes and tries to help the world articulate itself on its own terms. Aeysha is a toymaker, performer, poet, educator, and organizer. She is excited to build a life in the Cuyama Valley while focusing on arts and creative community engagement.


Maria Y. Carpenter

Development Coordinator

Maria is born and raised in New Cuyama. She currently attends Cal. State Bakersfield with the aspirations of becoming a local elementary school teacher. She brings ample knowledge of the Cuyama Valley, diligence as an active community member, and open arms to those who are curious about life in the high desert and all the perks that come along with it.



Luke Viscusi

Rural Community Designer

Originally from the Northeast, Luke is an architectural designer with a passion to pursue community-centric design initiatives. Luke firmly believes that architecture isn't about the thing you build - it's about the community you empower around the thing you build. If not in the office, he can usually be found attending one of New Cuyama’s many community meetings or playing pick-up soccer in Richardson Park.



Board of Directors

David Kietzman, Board President

Chief engagement officer & partner
Momentum solutions team  

"I love the community, resiliency, and potential that lives in New Cuyama. I’m looking forward to seeing programs expand and the community thrive as we roll out new rural economic initiatives in partnership with the residents."

Fabiola Espinosa

New Cuyama Resident and Local Advocate

Fabiola Espinosa lives in the Cuyama Valley and works in various areas of agriculture. As a resident, she has witnessed the growth of the Hispanic population in the Valley and is familiar with the needs of this part of the Cuyama community. She joined Blue Sky Center because of the organization’s dedication to equality and the development and growth of the local economy. Her goal is to support Blue Sky in developing new economic opportunities for future generations and improving the day-to-day lives of all residents in the Valley.

Tom Gottelier

Creative Director / Co-Founder
Designers On Holiday

Tom Gottelier is a designer whose work is driven by the philosophy of simplicity and minimalism that heightens and deepens the outdoor experience. He is creative director and co-founder of the Designers on Holiday collective and DOH studio based between Los Angeles, USA and Gotland, Sweden. Prior to starting Designers on Holiday, he was the creative director at Featuring-Featuring studio in London, president of the Royal College of Art Union and head designer for Design for Sustainable Development in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has over a decade of experience of playing between the design and rural worlds and is incredibly excited help Blue Sky Center push forward.

Cecilia Sullivan, Board Treasurer

Director of Finance
Landmark Global, a bpoSt company

"I contribute to Blue Sky Center by utilizing my finance background to ensure the economic health of the organization."

Dr. Paul Chounet

Retired / Former superintendent
Cuyama Joint Unified School District

"I serve Blue Sky Center to facilitate the local community in developing a sustainable economic base."

Pilar Diaz

City of Los Angeles Board of Recreation & Parks

Pilar is a nonprofit professional with two decades of experience that include roles in grantmaking, corporate partnerships, program implementation, and community organizing. Her work has been focused on ensuring that underserved communities have a voice and receive resources. She is currently appointed as a commissioner on the City of Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Parks. Pilar earned her undergraduate degree in Ethnic Studies from University of Colorado at Boulder and Master of Public Administration degree from California State University, Northridge.

Ami Pascual Spear

Regional Director of Philanthropy
Mercy Housing California

Ami Pascual Spear is Regional Director of Philanthropy at Mercy Housing California, a national affordable housing developer. She was also a consultant to social and environmental justice nonprofits, raising over $4.7 million for programs. Ami was the founder and executive director of the SoMa Foundation, an economic development corporation providing working capital loans to small businesses in San Francisco while operating a social enterprise for homeless youth and adults. She has an M.C.P. in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a B.A. in English and American Literature from UCLA. She is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship on democracy.





Burketriolo Family Foundation

Coldwell Banker Community Foundation

Cuyama Orchards

Duncan Family Farms

E&B Natural Resources

Enterprise Community Partners

The Fund for Santa Barbara

Hutton Parker Foundation

McCune Foundation

Pacific Western Bank


Santa Barbara Office of Arts & Culture

Santa Barbara Foundation

Santa Barbara Pistachio Company

Topa Topa Brewing Co.

USDA Rural Development

Zannon Family Foundation