About Us

The Blue River Arts Council will work to independently encourage, accept, solicit and receive contributions, grants and donations from individuals, foundations, associations, governmental entities or public or private corporations and will administer and invest such assets and expenditures for the exclusive purposes of promoting fine and performing arts and entertainment in Southeast Nebraska.

Shaylene Smith, JD, CNP

Executive Director

Shaylene has been an attorney and philanthropist in Crete for 28 years and has worked successfully with the City on numerous projects including the passage of an LB 840 Economic Development Program and a sales tax increase that funded a new swimming pool. Shaylene was the incorporating President of the Blue River Arts Council. After serving on the Board of Directors, she was hired in a part-time capacity to continue strategic planning and fund raising for the Isis renovation project. She became a Certified Nonprofit Professional in 2020 and is currently part of the Nonprofit Executive Institute through Nonprofit Association of the Midlands.

Jennifer Robison


Jennifer is the executive director of The Financial Brand, a finance magazine. Fun Fact: She ghostwrites books in her spare time. As she is also a member of the Crete Planning Commission, Jennifer’s focus is on the economic impact of arts in rural communities and on the broader business outcomes of Blue River Arts Council programming in our community. Jennifer served for four years on the Board of Directors before starting at the helm in 2023.

Kristi Capek


Kristi is a professional graphic artist and the master of social media content and web development for the Blue River Arts Council. She is employed by the Nebraska State Education Association as Assistant Director of Visual Communication & Digital Engagement. A graduate of Doane University and past Isis Theatre employee, Kristi was previously the Chairperson of the Steering Committee before stepping onto the Board.

Dr. Kate Hesser


Dr. Kate Hesser works tirelessly to organize volunteer work events and move the Isis Movie Theatre reopening forward.  Whether she is popping popcorn or setting up a movie screen in her scrubs after delivering a baby, Kate provides Isis enthusiasm and educates the community at every turn. She has served on the Board of Directors and the Steering Committee since BRAC’s inception. Together with her husband, Dr. Jason Hesser, Kate has provided strong financial support for the Arts Council.

Russ Cowan


CPA and owner of Money Smarts’ Inc., Russ serves as the appointed Treasurer for the organization. He donates his professional services to assure that BRAC meets all of its financial obligations and his business has provided financial support for the Isis Theatre renovation. Per the organization’s bylaws, he is an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors.

Miriam Weber


Miriam has been an arts activist for years and cheered as her children sang, played an instrument or acted throughout their years at Crete High. She has served on the Isis Steering Committee since BRAC’s founding and was elected to the Board commencing this year. But more than anything, we love her positive attitude and her infectious sense of fun. From our very first event, we knew that Miriam (and husband Darren) would bring the party to life.

Marilea Thiem


Marilea has a passion for all things Crete – living here for almost 30 years and raising three children in the Crete schools. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for many years and she is especially adept at fundraising and event planning. Currently serving as the Director of the Crete Public Schools Foundation, Marilea brings different aspects of the community together and provides valuable insight for the Arts Council.

Katie Furse


A past high school biology teacher and current realtor with Keller Williams, Katie brings a sense of purpose to everything that she does. Katie is the newest member of the Board, having joined the Steering Committee in 2022 when she was seeking to be more involved in the community. She appreciates finding a group of like-minded business leaders with a passion for the arts and the DEI work that makes BRAC an integral part of Crete.

Jerry Wilcox


As part of the public-private partnership that the Arts Council has with the City of Crete, the Mayor has traditionally appointed an employee to serve on the Board of Directors. Currently the City Clerk-Treasurer, Jerry brings almost 30 years of work in municipal government to the table. He has been in Crete’s City Administration for 15 years and he helps bridge City – BRAC communication as the process of renovating the Isis Theatre gets underway.

Valerie Andelt

Steering Committee Chair

Valerie is an interior decorator, floral designer, and busy mom of three daughters. Her creativity makes everything we do top notch as she creates many of the displays at Arts Council events, including the award-winning scarecrows at the Crete’s Great Pumpkin Festival. She has been a vital member of the Steering Committee since she built the balloon arch for our first fundraiser. Her husband, Darrell, can be found problem-solving any mechanical issue that arises at any BRAC event.

Julie Fahrlander

Steering Committee

Julie is a professional artist with a BFA in Graphic Art. She has worked in the industry for over 30 years and currently works with IdeaBank Marketing in graphic design and project management. Julie lives in Crete with her husband, Eric, who is the Crete High School Band Director. Julie served as incorporating secretary with a term on the Board of Directors that expired in 2022. As the artist behind the Isis logo and the chair of our visual arts events, she has opted to stay involved and is eager to see the art deco renovation of the Theatre come to life.

Rhonda Lake

Past Board Member

Rhonda worked as an actor and Director in New York City before starting a career in academia and acting instruction in 1981. She now teaches at Doane University and  specifically works in student advisement for the theater department. She previously served the Lincoln Community Playhouse as Education Director and Managing Director. Rhonda enjoys helping with community engagement and fund raising.

Crystal Alarcon

Past Board Member

Crystal and her mother, Luz Chavez, own and operate Crystal’s Bakery in downtown Crete. She is actively involved in business efforts that support the Latino population and she has provided invaluable translation for BRAC as we provide brochures and poster in both English and Spanish.  Crystal’s children are involved in the arts and music in Crete and she hopes to see the efforts of BRAC continue to bridge cultural gaps.

Lacey Franzen

Past Board Member

Lacey has a degree in Vocal Music/Performance. Lacey served as the incorporating Vice-President and continued to serve on the Steering Committee until the end of her term.

Nancy Tellez

Past Board Member

Nancy served as BRAC’s liaison between the City of Crete and the Arts Council. She has a Master of Arts in Management from Doane University. As the Director of Crete’s Community Assistance Office, she provided BRAC with key cultural insights and translations.

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