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

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.

Robert George

Robert George

Education Coordinator


Robert 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.

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

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.

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 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.

When not buried in the archives, Rachel can be found baking, writing, stargazing, or researching the historical impacts of sex work. Her undergraduate seminar work – Love for Sale: Prostitution and the Building of Buffalo, 1820-1910 – has been published in the historical journal The Exposition, and her current project (Bed Politics, Bad Medicine: Sexual and Medical Exploitation of Women in Nazi Concentration Camps, 1940-1945) is still in progess, using primary sources and other resources provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to build her thesis.

Curtis Kreutter

Marketing Fellow


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.

Sponsored by FujiFilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program

Carson Feero

Development and Outreach Fellow


Carson Feero is a Buffalo native who grew up taking CEPA photography classes and after-school workshops. He graduated from Bard College in May 2022 with a B.A. in Written Arts. In the past, he has worked with the Just Buffalo Writing Center as a workshop leader and volunteer.

Sponsored by FujiFilm Foundation for Creation Fellowship Program