Portrait by Devi Pride Photography.
Cat Willis is the founder and executive director of the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center in Santa Cruz. She is originally from Rochester, New York, where she began her dance education with Garth Fagan Dance, with whom she studied extensively for six years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in dance from SUNY Brockport. Cat has served on the Arts Council of Santa Cruz Grants Advisory Committee, the Arts Council of Santa Cruz grants panel, and County Park Friends Advisory Committee. She received the 2014 Gail Rich Award for her excellence in arts leadership in Santa Cruz County.
Cat's dedication to racial justice and equity spans a lifetime of education, community organizing, and activism through the platform of arts and culture. Her cross cultural studies and work in the dance arts have led her to West Africa and to Jamaica, where she lectures at the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston. She was the 418 Project’s 2009 Artist in Residence and the Theatre Bay Area’s CA$H grant recipient in dance for her evening-length dance production “Diaspora, Food for Thought: Roots, Ritual, Re-imagined,” an exploration of ancestral wisdom, racial trauma, and a re-imagined Black Diaspora in the American experience. My life is my work and I have always strived to lead with integrity and courage; and to truly show up for my community. I believe in the power of the creative that each of us possess and that creating a just society begins through human connection, creativity, and culture- the arts and our connection to the earth are the tools for the world we must rebuild.
She is a founding member of the Santa Cruz County Black Coalition for Justice and Racial Equity and founding director of the Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative, alongside community partners United Way of Santa Cruz County, NAACP Santa Cruz Chapter, Blended Bridge, County Park Friends,and the Santa Cruz County Black Coalition for Justice and Racial Equity. She currently sits on the Santa Cruz County Commission on Anti-Racism, Economic & Social Justice (CARES).