City Lore is proud to induct thirteen new honorees to the People’s Hall of Fame for their contributions as New York City Teaching Artists and Supporters!

For the 15th People’s Hall of Fame Awards we are honoring the roles that teaching artists, arts specialists, and arts administrators play in New York City schools and communities. With this award, we pay tribute and celebrate the honorees and their contributions to arts education in NYC, along with honoring all NYC teaching artists for the impact of their work and dedication to NYC communities.

The People’s Hall of Fame is an awards celebration honoring grassroots contributions to New York’s cultural life. Taking as its symbol a historic New York subway token, we present “tokens of our esteem” to individuals who are contributing creatively to the culture of communities in New York City. The awards this year were selected by City Lore’s Education Team. Nominations also were solicited from other organizations that provide arts in education programs in NYC schools. 

Lu Yu, theater artist

“Teaching is Learning.”

Lu Yu is an experienced actor, singer, dancer and director. He began his career as a child in Taiwan, working in radio and later moved to films and television in Hong Kong. In New York City, Lu has worked with La Mama Experimental Theatre Club (ETC) (a member since |972) and Pan Asian Rep, among others, and he co-founded the Yangtze Rep. Lu has been a teaching artist since 1972 and has worked with City Lore since |993. He holds a M.S. in Education from Long Island University. Of teaching, Lu says “I don’t think of the things I do as work, because so much of what I do is really gratifying-watching children grow. Watching them transform and seeing their joy as they shine on stage, I think to myself, this is right.

Joann Cassianos, arts specialist and arts liaison at P.S. 11

“Heightening a child’s artistic awareness means not only introducing varying art forms and styles, but also, and perhaps more importantly, awakening their hearts to the surrounding injustices and helping them discover their own voice as they navigate through and speak up against them. Thank you, City Lore, for heightening mine!” 

Joann Cassianos has worked as an Arts Specialist, Arts Coordinator, and Arts Liaison at P.S. 11 in Queens for 28 of her 30 years there. Recently retired, she is enjoying her newfound freedom from the early morning alarm clock, along with spending extra time with her precious grandchildren, Ody & Charly. She is thrilled and deeply honored to be a recipient of City Lore’s

People’s Hall of Fame award. She is grateful for having worked closely with the one and only Amanda Dargan for 28 years, for the current Education Team, Sahar Muradi & Malini Srinivasan, and of course, for some of the very talented teaching artists being honored here tonight: Haifa Bint-Kadi, Yahaya Kamate, Hector Morales, Lu Yu, and George Zavala. She is truly humbled.

Kim Grier-Martinez, dancer & choreographer

“I believe in utilizing dance as a means of expression while also prioritizing the holistic development of each child, ensuring every youth is given the opportunity to be seen, heard, and nurtured.”

A native NewYorker, Kim Grier-Martinez holds a Bachelor ofFine Arts in Dance. She is a dancer, performance artist, master teacher, educator, and choreographer. Ms. Grier-Martinez is presently Artistic Director of Rod Rodgers Dance Company. As Artistic Director Ms. Grier- Martinez is committed to sustaining and improving the ethnic, social, geographic diversity, and curricula that reflects global awareness. Her special passion for teaching young people has manifested by using dance to mentor and guide them from childhood to young adulthood. In 2002, she established the Rod Rodgers Youth Program and Ensemble. Her work as a teaching artist and facilitator continues with ArtsConnection and 92NY.


Jojo Gonzalez, theater artist

“I am not a teacher of art, I am a curator for young artists.”

Jojo Gonzalez’s work embraces Arts Education, Theater, Film, and Television. As an Arts Educator, he is a recipient of The Linda Leroy Janklow Award for Teaching Artists and has taught for Arts Connection and Whitebird Productions. He has appeared in numerous international, regional, and Off-Broadway productions such as Thalia Theatre (Sibiu, Romania), The Cultural Center of the Philippines, Long Wharf Theatre, LATC, La Jolla Playhouse, and Laguna Playhouse to name a few.

He received an OBIE Award for his work in Ma-Yi Theatre Company’s Production of THE ROMANCE OF MAGNO RUBIO . His Television work include Recurring Roles on MANIAC (with Emma Stone and Jonah Hill) and THE PATH, as well as Guest Star Roles on NEW AMSTERDAM, MADAME SECRETARY, THE BLACKLIST and BLINDSPO T. Film Roles include GOING IN STYLE (with Morgan Freeman, M ichael Caine and Alan Arkin), PIRATES OF SOMALIA (with Al Pacino), THE SMURFS MOVIE (with Hank Azaria).

George Zavala, visual artist & theater artist

“Hacer arte es cultura” – Anonimo.

“Making art is culture.” -Anonymous. An auspicious omen foretelling my future in the arts.

Obrero del arte multimedia, George Zavala ha exhibido y creado instalaciones desde 1991 en New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Puerto Rico. Un miembro del Taller Grafico Rafael Tufiño en el Taller Boricua del Barrio, NYC. BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Award por escultura 1994. Teaching artist in NYC from 1988-2019: South Bronx Community Action Theater, Teatro Pregones, City Lore, Elders Share The Arts, Creative Alternatives, Arts Horizons, Museo del Barrio, Mind Builders Creative Arts Center.

A multimedia art worker, George Zavala has been exhibiting and creating multimedia installations since 1991 in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Puerto Rico. A member of the Rafael Tufiño Print Making Workshop at Taller Boricua in Spanish Harlem NYC. BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Award for sculpture 1994. He worked a s a teaching artist in NYC from 1988-2019 with South Bronx Community Action Theater, Teatro Pregones, City Lore, Elders Share The Arts, Creative Alternatives, Arts Horizons, Muse del Barrio, and Mind Builders Creative Arts Center.

Haifa Bint-Kadi, visual artist

“The ability to impact and heal lives through the arts is probably one of the most important superpowers that artists hold.”

Haifa Bint-Kadi, a first-generation American born in New Jersey, is a multidisciplinary artist and curator whose career spans over 40 years. She received her M.F.A. in classical mosaic from lstituto d’Arte per ii mosaico in Ravenna, Italy, apprenticing under Maestro Constanta Crovotto in Terni, Italy. She has designed and fabricated public art mosaics since 1993 and has completed over 8 large scale mosaic pubic art projects. A curator for the City of Yonkers library system, she also works as a teaching artist in NYC and Westchester County public schools. Using historical archives as a reference, she has created over 24 public art mosaic and steel sculptures across the state and is a recipient of numerous awards, most recently the “Advancing Equity Award in the Arts from Artswestchester. Her current project is a series of mosaic “Dream Palaces,” a sight and sound installation to hold the joy and celebratory moments of Home.

Alberto Calixto Lopez Herrera, dancer & choreographer

“Teaching artistry se ha convertido en mi vida – a través de más de 20 años, es algo clave que aportó a la comunidad que quiero y la cual formó parte de.”

Teaching Artistry has become my life – across more than 20 years it’s a key contribution to the community I love and of which I am a part.

Alberto Calixto Lopez Herrera oversees Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, where he develops educational content and works with dancers, artists and musicians to ensure the company’s artistic cohesion and to celebrate Mexican culture. The company’s artistic director received an award for best choreography from the Berkshire Theater Critics in the summer of 2021, and he is credited with the company’s selection for performances at the Chelsea Factory and other notable venues this year. Since co-founding Calpulli in 2003, Lopez has developed and led school programs in an attempt to share cultural knowledge with hundreds of young people.

Yahaya Kamate, dancer, choreographer, & musician

“Teaching is work of the heart and what you believe can make a difference with your students.”

Yahaya Kamate became interested in traditional dance anddrumming as a child in Côte d’Ivoire, and, as a teenager, began formal training with his country’s National Ballet. He has performed with Fotemoban Dance Company, Djensia Group, and Camodgen of N’guatta Dolikro Dance Company of Cote d’Ivoire, and Affoubenou Sakassou Dance Company of Senegal. For the past 18 years, he has worked aslead dancer and choreographer for several companies in the United States, including Kulu Mele Dance Company and The Seventh Principle. He has taught dance as a teaching artist for 20 years with organizations such as Djoniba Dance & Drum Center, Mark Morris Dance Group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Harlem School of the Arts, Center for Modern Dance Education, the Center for Modern Dance Education, Chiku Awali, Bronx Art Ensemble, and City Lore. For the past 4 years, he has also worked with NJ Juvenile Justice Commission working with youth in juvenile detention. He believes that teaching is work of the heart and what you believe can make a difference for your students.

Phyllis Capello, writer & musician

“I’m a writer/musician/storyteller/teaching artist, my work exists because of community; fortunately, through my varied jobs I have the opportunity to celebrate the folks whose hearts, minds and muscles built and continue to build my city.”

Phyllis Capello has decades of experience as a teaching artist and continues to grow her craft and skill. Her work is rooted in community. As Dr. Aloha/ musician/clown, she entertains pediatric patients & families in four NYC hospitals for Healthy Humor. She sings and teaches in public schools & preschools across the city and performs nationally & internationally. Officially a writer teaching artist, she never travels without her ukulele, as music encourages students to engage & produce art across mediums. She constantly finds new ways to teach students how to express themselves. Using a bit of ASL she introduces workshops with a Maori proverb re the breath, spirit & word of life and begins classes with the Sicilian tradition of dedicating (poem, story, workshop, song) to a family or community member. She also supports early career teaching artists in growing and expanding their skills and she becomes an informal mentor to TAs. Capello is a NYFA fellow in fiction & the winner of an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. Her book, Packs Small Plays Big, was published in 2018 by Bordighera Press. She’s a founding member of the Ferlinghettigirls poetry/activism project presenting indoor/outdoor celebrations of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s legacy as artist and community activist. She also does Memory Work with The Remember the Triangle Coalition.

Lori Brown-Niang, theater artist

“Teaching artistry gives me the opportunity to create a world where children discover and explore their creative voices in order to speak their truth, make proactive change and find their joy.”

Lori Brown-Niang is an actress and teaching artist working in arts in education since the late 1990’s. The best skills she brings to her job are her connection to the children, creating a safe space to take a creative risk, and her acting chops. Talented, loyal and dynamic, Lori has worked as a teaching artist for The Creative Arts Team, The New Jersey Dental School, The STARRR Cohort, Plays for Living, LEAP, MCCTheater, and The Roundabout Theater Company until she found her forever home at The DreamYard Project. DreamYard works with NYC public schools in the Bronx, and being born and bred in the boogie down makes it a perfect fit. As an actor Lori has performed in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park adaptations with Public Works. When she isn’t working or rehearsing, she’s happiest spending time with her son. Some causes she cares about are voter suppression, BLM, and racial equity. Lori wants people to remember her as a dedicated mother, dynamic teaching artist, expressive actress, social activist and a loyal friend.

Hector Morales, musician

“Teaching Artistry allows me to bring into children’s lives all the beautiful things my art form brings into my own life: physical and psychological/spiritual wellbeing and an embracing sense of identity rooted in my culture.”

Hector Morales has combined national and international performance for the past 20 years with his work as a teaching artist in the tri-state area. Morales, has taught countless music residencies, primarily in Afro-Peruvian, Latin, and Urban Percussion, through leading arts organizations in the tri-state area. In 2015, he received the “Artist Of The Year’ award from Young Audiences NJEP, and in 2023 he became a recipient of a Heritage Fellowship Award by the NJ State Council on the Arts. Morales currently leads “The Afro-Peruvian Ensemble,” an all-star group and performs with other influential ensembles of the Afro-Peruvian Jazz scene in NYC, including Yuri Juarez Afroperuano Group. Some of the stages he has performed on include Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Smithsonian Folk Festival (US),The National Museum of Peru (Peru), the Society of Musicians and Composers of Chile (Chile), Festival du Monde Arabe de Montreal (Canada), and Jerusalem Music Festival (Israel-Palestine).

Deborah Strack Cregan, arts liaison at P.S. 69

“I believe the arts create an opportunity for all students to discover their strengths and creativity, lift their self-confidence, while leveling the playing field among all students; empowering them to excel academically and accelerate their language acquisition.”

Throughout her 29-year tenure as Arts Liaison and Schoolwide Teacher Specialist at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens, Debbie Strack Cregan has touched the lives of many, both inside and outside the classroom. As UFT Chapter Leader at P.S. 69, she advocates and works to ensure the well-being of both educators and students. Under her guidance, the arts have flourished at the school, becoming a means for students to overcome challenges while gaining the self-confidence to reach their full potential in an inclusive setting where every student can thrive. Outside her career, Debbie treasures every opportunity to get away to her home in the Catskills with her family. She credits her rewarding career to the support and encouragement of her sons, Rory and Connor, along with the unwavering love of her late husband, Brendan. She is eagerly awaiting the upcoming marriages of Rory and Connor with their fiancees, Cat and Meghan, this fall. A little­ known fact about Debbie is that she is a former Division 1 college athlete, who once played in a championship softball game at the iconic Yankee Stadium. Deeply grateful, Debbie cherishes her school’s collaboration with City Lore and their dedicated teaching artists, a partnership that elevates the educational experience for many. She values the close relationships and rewarding connections she’s developed with many of City Lore’s teaching artists over the past fifteen years. Her commitment to education and the arts stands as a beacon in New York City’s educational scene.

Amanda Dargan, City Lore Education Program Founder

Amanda Dargan is the Director of Special Projects in Education at City Lore and served for 27 years as Education Director. Her research interests include children’s play, word play, world poetry duels, informal learning, family folklore, and folk arts in education. She currently serves on the boards of the American Folklore Society and the Association for Cultural Equity. Her publications include City Play, a book about children’s informal play in New York City, articles in the books A Celebration of American Family Folklore, Encyclopedia of New York City, New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Through the Schoolhouse Door, and Play from Birth to Twelve and Beyond, and in the journals, Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Learning through the Arts, Journal of Folklore and Education, Teachers and Writers Magazine, and Educational Leadership. She was co-editor for many years of CARTS, a magazine devoted to folk arts in education, and The Culture Catalog, that offered cultural arts resources for educators. She holds an MA in Folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland and a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2019, she was awarded the Benjamin A. Botkin award by the American Folklore Society for significant lifetime achievement in public sector folklore.