Our Staff

Here they are—the people behind Western New York’s most vibrant contemporary photography and visual arts center. Their shared commitment to serve artists and the artistic practice, engage audiences with exhibits and events of interest, and inform the larger not-for-profit cultural field as to what’s groundbreaking in the visual arts reaches approximately 300,000 people each year.

Claire Leggett

Acting Executive Director


Claire Leggett holds an MS in Arts Administration and a graduate certificate in Fundraising Management from Boston University, and received her BA in History from the State University of New York at Cortland. She has worked in both the visual and performing arts, with organizations including the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Cortland Repertory Theatre in Cortland, NY, and Eureka Ensemble in Boston, MA, to bring art and community together.

Lauren Tent

Education Director


Lauren Tent is the Education Director at CEPA Gallery where she oversees the in-school, after-school, and summer arts programs for youth and also runs the workshop program.

She received an associates degree in photography from Villa Maria College, a B.A. in photography and an M.A.H. with a focus on Art History and English Education, both from the University at Buffalo. She has been with CEPA as Education Director since 1999, but has been involved with CEPA since an internship and employment as an assistant in 1985. She has taught photography classes at Villa Maria College, Daemen College, and the Visual Studies Department at the University at Buffalo.

Sophie Barner

Sophie Barner

Executive & Curatorial Assistant


Sophie Barner is the Administrative & Curatorial Assistant to the Director at CEPA Gallery.

Sophie Barner is currently attending SUNY University at Buffalo for an MA in Critical Museum Studies. She graduated from Chatham University with a BA in Art History, Art Museum Studies, and Studio Art. She has experience teaching art at a variety of organizations including Assemble: a community center for art and technology, summer camps at the Castellani Art Museum, and volunteering at children’s art clubs. Her interests lie in creating a more inclusive and intersectional future art world. Barner’s past work experiences include internships at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Castellani Art Museum, and the Niagara Falls Heritage Center.

Ruby Merritt

Ruby Merritt

Gallery Manager & Installer


Ruby Merritt is a Buffalo based professional artist, adjunct professor and teaching artist. Growing up in between the Great Lakes the lush natural ecosystems of wetlands, old growth forests, and gorge canyons immensely influences Merritt’s artwork, research and interactive performance work. Merritt received her BFA, concentrating in Drawing and Painting from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Masters of Fine Arts at the University at Buffalo, in 2013. .

Michelle Tomaino

Michelle Tomaino

Teaching Artist

Michelle Tomaino is an artist, a photographer and enjoys mixed media, creative writing and Photoshop 

Michelle started an internship at CEPA in September 2014 through the Western New York Employment Training Program and has since been a teaching artist for our youth program as well as our Alternative Perspectives Program.

Joseph Poloncarz

Joseph Poloncarz

Flutie Fellow


Joseph Poloncarz is a film photographer, and teaching artist in Buffalo, New York. He first came to CEPA in 2012 for a photography program through Autism Services. He became really interested in the darkroom and over the years taught himself a lot about film, chemistry and all things darkroom. He became an assistant teacher and quickly was teaching his own classes to his Alma Mater, Autism Services Inc. 

Joseph was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 and suffered depression since high school. Photography helped him battle his mental health issues. He is thankful to the Doug Flutie Foundation for the grant that has allowed CEPA to hire him, not only as a teaching artist but as the coordinator of the grant. Joseph plays hockey, likes watching football and is truly a darkroom genius.

Sponsored by the Doug Flutie Jr., Foundation for Autism, Inc. and the Stenclik Family Charitable Fund

Nicole Chochrek

Artist in Residence


Nicole Chochrek (b. 1990, Texas) received a Masters of Fine Arts from the University at Buffalo in 2022. She received a bachelors in Geography and Environmental Science from the University of North Texas in 2015. From 2015-2017 she helped establish Puppets for The Planet, a satirical puppet troupe that toured across North Texas discussing the impacts of fracking and the lack of regulations around the oil and gas industry. As a dyslexic, Nicole’s practice often utilizes visual frameworks to better understand contemporary issues. In naming, deconstructing, and translating complex information into a visual language, we can expand our ability to communicate ideas and solutions.

As an interdisciplinary artist, Nicole has exhibited nationally and internationally from Al Shaheed Park in Kuwait (2015), to El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera Gallery in Buffalo, New York (2022). She attended Laboratory Art + Residency in Spokane, Washington, and presented her research on air quality and the impacts of fire season through the National Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in Phoenix, Arizona (2019). She was awarded UB’s Arts Collaboratory Student Residency (2020-2021) and will now be working with CEPA Gallery through the Creatives Rebuild New York Grant. She lives and works in Buffalo, New York.

Nathan Ely

Educational Coordinator


BA in Cinema and Photography from Binghamton University, MFA from SUNY at Buffalo. Drawing on years of experience in event planning and photography, as well as college teaching and his studio practice, Nate works to expand and support CEPA’s educational outreach programs. The particular focus of his work is in traditional/experimental photography. He is currently spearheading CEPA’s Mobile Darkroom initiative, which aims to bring material photography experiments to underserved children across WNY. This program offers a mode of photography that has all but vanished from our daily experience of cameras, reconnecting students with the history and phenomena of photography.

Robert George

Robert George

Curatorial Fellow


George has a B.A. in English and in Media Studies (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), and he is currently enrolled as a Studio Arts MFA student (SUNY Buffalo). His primary artistic focus is photography, which he is studying and teaching at the university level. As an undergraduate, he was focused on the ways in which media can be used to perpetuate dubious claims of truth. His current work exploits these signifiers of truth as a means of exploring the current trend through which conspiracies degrade our shared reality.

Sponsored by FujiFilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program and the Stenclik Family Charitable Fund

Alyssa LaMartina

Marketing and Education Intern

Alyssa LaMartina is a senior at Villa Maria College pursuing a BFA in Photography with a minor in Business Administration. She loves photography because it allows her to express herself and bring people together. She enjoys participating in art festivals to share her work with the public. Alyssa plans to obtain a Master’s Degree in Art Management or a related field after graduation and is grateful to CEPA for allowing her this opportunity.