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

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.

Her experiences, including working at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Cortland Repertory Theatre in Cortland, NY, and Eureka Ensemble in Boston, MA, inform her commitment to uniting art and community.

Nathan Ely

Education Director


Nate Ely has a BA in Cinema and Photography from Binghamton University, and an 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.

Sophie Barner

Sophie Barner

Assistant Curator & Gallery Manager


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.

Interested in exhibiting at CEPA? Please submit exhibition proposals to Sophie via submissions@cepagallery.org.

Robert George

Education & Administrative Coordinator


Robert George has a BA in English and Media Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and an MFA in Studio Art from SUNY at Buffalo. His personal artistic practice explores themes of media literacy and truth through documents and photographs of alleged UFO sightings.

Robert helps to ensure the smooth operation of CEPA’s activities and initiatives. He also draws upon his experience of teaching photography at the university level in order to help instruct students of all ages.

Photo Credit: Doug Levere

Rachel Nicolosi

Archive Associate


Rachel has a BA in History from SUNY Buffalo State, and an MLIS in Library in Information Science (with a focus in Special Archives and Archival Management) from Simmons University. As a librarian, Rachel has worked in both public and academic spaces; as an archivist, Rachel has worked on various projects with the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY and the Cambridge Historical Commission in Cambridge, MA, and has spent several years serving as a research assistant to local historians in the Buffalo-Niagara area.

When not at CEPA, Rachel can be found working with the Greg D. Tranter Collection at The Buffalo History Museum, or assisting with the collections at the BHM Research Library.

Curtis Kreutter

Marketing Associate


Curtis received his B.F.A in Graphic Design from Buffalo State in 2021 and has been building his practice as a graphic designer, photographer, and multi-media artist here in Buffalo, NY.

His main focus has been expressing his love for live music by working as a live music photographer, capturing shots of nationally touring bands and local acts in venues across the Western New York region. He has worked with and volunteered for local organizations such as Delaware Camera, Buffalo Arts Studio, Buffalo Iron Works and Intrepid VX.

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.

Ruby Merritt

Ruby Merritt

Community Engagement & Teaching Artist


Ruby Merritt is a professional Visual Artist and a Teaching Artist from Western New York, which allows her to work independently with many art organizations and schools. She has been an adjunct instructor of Fine Arts at Niagara County Community College and the University at Buffalo since 2013. Merritt is Studio Manager and Assistant to the Director, Robert Hirsch of Light Research, since 2018 who works closely with CEPA. She works on curatorial projects, exhibitions, designing content, archiving past projects, and conducting services to artists and professionals in the field.

Starting with CEPA in 2019, Merritt began as an art handler, curatorial assistant, and head installer (preparator) working closely with the exhibiting artists and CEPA members. Alongside designing and producing exhibition materials, and developing marketing materials for social media and community outreach, she now focuses on engagement in the gallery space with the public and school groups while crafting workshops for photo fun and professional development.

Michelle Tomaino

Michelle Tomaino

Teaching Artist

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

Michelle had an internship at CEPA in September 2014 through the Western New York Employment Training Program. Since then, she has been a teaching artist for our youth programs as well as CEPA’s Alternative Perspectives Program.

Sofía Iñigo-Payne

Marketing Fellow

Sofía has a BFA in graphic design, illustration, and animation from Purchase College. Her experience includes working as the marketing intern for GreenStar Food Co-op in Ithaca, NY, and freelance illustration and brand design in Ithaca, NY. Her particular work focus is currently on type design, branding, and short hand-drawn animations.


Sponsored by the Fujifilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program

Kristina Ebert

Gallery Fellow

Kristina, the gallery fellow, graduated from SUNY Fredonia with a combined BFA degree of Graphic Design and BA in Art History, Kristina is detail-oriented and has skills in critical, formal, and historical analysis. Her graphic design interest lie in posters, packaging, album covers, and book design.

Kristina’s philosophy is that good design is pleasing to look at, but great design is what inspires. Kristina firmly believes that ‘the devil is in the details,’ and she pays close attention to the things around her – deciphering their design and social implications.


Sponsored by the Fujifilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program

Kenneth P. Budziszewski

Education Fellow

Kenny received their BS in Business Administration focusing in the Music Industry, however, their professional focus has been on building their career in the photography industry.

Kenny is a cofounder of Buffalo Film Club, an employee of Delaware Camera and an independent photographic film development and analog camera repair tech. Their goal is to build up the photography community of buffalo through education and networking.


Sponsored by the Fujifilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program