Karla Estela Rivera

Plenary Speaker

Karla Estela Rivera is a writer, performer, activist, and arts advocate that has leveraged her gift of storytelling to uplift and create opportunities for, with, and in divested communities. As a product of Chicago Public Schools, Karla credits investments in both in and out-of-school arts education programs among the foundational pillars of her lifelong connection to the arts community.

For over a decade, Karla has balanced her artistic practice and serving in non-profit institutions, beginning as a teaching artist and youth worker, to making national history in systems-level leadership and policy as the co-chair of the Illinois Fine Arts Indicator work group, which notably developed the nation’s first K-12 indicator in the arts for the Illinois state ESSA plan, unanimously adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2020.

Prior to becoming the executive director of the Arts Administrators of Color Network, she had the honor of being the executive director of the historic Free Street Theater. She is currently a company member of 2nd Story in Chicago and the author/narrator of the first-ever commissioned young audiences piece for the Joffrey Ballet, Rita Finds Home (a co-production with the Miami City Ballet).

Karla continues to perform in venues and zoom rooms across the country, actively teaches storytelling and consults on arts education, social justice, and advocacy initiatives. Most recently, she served as an advisor for the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Rootwork cohort program and Groundwork Symposia, and is a co-host of the Creative Generation’s Why Change? podcast.

She is a native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and holds a BA from Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Film & Video, with graduate studies at New York University.