Toni Tabora-Roberts found herself at the Sundance Film Festival. She and her colleagues were frustrated. They wanted to see the work of Asian-American and Asian filmmakers celebrated in a way that was accessible and welcoming. But everywhere she looked, there were only exclusive, inaccessible events.
“There’s such a social scene to it. There’s always like, ‘oh, what party are you going to?’ And it’s all these big companies or studios, and finding out what celebrities are you going to see.” Toni said.
With the support of the Center for Asian-American Media where she worked, Toni and her friends from other Asian American media organizations helped create a community-focused event called the Asian Pacific American Film Experience at Park City.
“We held it at the local Chinese buffet, like not fancy at all. It was great because it was large enough for us to include anyone who wanted to attend. We just wanted people to come and hear about our artists and support them.”
The event continues to take place today, more than fifteen years later. But Toni herself has moved on. After decades working for arts, culture, media, and community-building non-profits, Toni was at a crossroads when the board of an organization she was working for decided to close up shop.
“My passion has really been to tell the story of artists and arts organizations and to build communities around that. Those early days were really traditional development, fundraising, donor events and that kind of thing. But later on in my career I really evolved into community engagement, and organizational and leadership development.”
Toni started a consulting business, Esper House, with the goal of serving non-profits, government, and small arts businesses. In addition to drawing on her deep professional experience with organizations she has also been able to draw on her experience in theatre and improv. Although she’s shied away from performing on stage herself, she has had fun creating curriculums using improv and body-based exercises to strengthen communities and build trust, whether it’s a staff team or a gathering of artists.
Toni now brings her experience and insights to Washington County where she’s currently a faculty member of the Arts and Culture Leadership Incubator for Tualatin Valley Creates. She’s excited to be a part of the Incubator’s unique combination of leadership development, business, and art. And, of course, how it can support a stronger, more sustainable community where power is shared in a way that truly reflects the diversity of the region.
“There is a wealth of opportunity and there is beautiful arts and culture happening,” she said. She sees an opportunity for long-standing institutions and new artists alike to shape Washington County into its own arts and culture destination.
Learn more about Toni and her work on the Esper House website. Additional information about the Arts and Culture Leadership Incubator can be found on our website.
About the Author: Ashley Baker
After spending several years developing communication strategies and conducting research for sustainability non-profits in Washington, D.C. and Portland, OR, Ashley has turned her attention to multimedia storytelling and community engagement. She holds a B.Sc. in chemistry from Sweet Briar College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Oregon in Portland.