PAI Board

Who We Are

The PAI Board consists of educators, small business owners, leaders in technology and the arts. We are united by a passion for performance and culture and the desire to gift the Gorge with an outstanding facility. The Board is all volunteer.

Mark Steighner

Past President/Board Member

Before retiring in 2015, Mark Steighner was the choral and instrumental music director at Hood River Valley High, a position he held since the early 1980s. During his time at HRVHS, Mr. Steighner took 10 performance tours to the UK, commissioned over 30 works from a large number of noted composers, and participated in the OSAA State music championships dozens of times with his ensembles. In 2015 he received the “Outstanding Educator of the Year” award from the Oregon Music Educators Association, recognizing his long service to music education. Mr. Steighner is also a composer, playwright and director of over 60 musical theatre productions around the Columbia River Gorge. Mark Steighner is one of the founders and artistic director/conductor of the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association, where he directs the Sinfonietta Orchestra, Voci Choir and Jazz Collective Big Band. In his spare time, Mark is a technology writer for a number of online publications and has written thousands of video game and technology reviews, features and interviews. Mark Steighner was the Past President of the Performing Arts Initiative.

“Our local performing talent and its audience deserve a rewarding and comfortable space in which to perform, and the Gorge has the opportunity to be positioned as an epicenter for the performing arts. Our audiences are excited about both local and visiting professional music, theatre, dance, film and spoken word performances and this venue will give us a means to attract outside talent and further nurture our own. For literally decades, people have been asking for this, and PAI is thrilled to make the dream a reality.”


Emily Vawter


Emily Vawter has practiced music therapy for over twenty years working with multiple populations including dementia, rehabilitation, brain injury, cancer and neonatal intensive care. She was the National Director of the Music Rx program at the Children’s Cancer Association before moving to Hood River seven years ago. In that role, she expanded their award winning in-hospital music program for seriously ill children to Mattel Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach. As a provider for Providence Health & Services, she works primarily now in hospice, general medical, and dementia. An avid performer herself, she also provides vocal coaching to aspiring singers and young music theater artists. Emily has been involved in the nonprofit world for almost her entire career. She has served on three boards and is currently on the board of the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association (CGOA) as well as the Vice President of PAI.

“I have been in love with the theater since I was a little girl and have been performing on stage since my first production of Hansel and Gretel” in 5th grade. After moving to the gorge from Portland I quickly learned that there was a thriving arts scene here and an immense amount of talent to go around. Over the years, I have performed with several organizations in several venues. Each production was full of compromises due to the limitations of the venue. I’m so thrilled to be a part of this project to bring a state of the art multi-use center to the Columbia River Gorge.

Linda Hardham

Vice President

Linda Hardham is a retired executive coach and healthcare executive. Within these roles, Linda recognized that being useful in the development of others within her sphere of influence was the most fulfilling aspect of her work. She enjoyed coaching leaders and their teams as they achieved their goals of bringing their highest contribution to the workplace. In her retired state, she has transferred these skills to volunteer roles for various not for profit boards and is privileged to contribute to the economic, artistic, and cultural development of the Gorge.

“As a retired citizen of the Columbia River Gorge I have been able to re-engage in my former love of singing and performing in a choir. Over time I have migrated to volunteering for performing arts organizations and have gladly joined the Board for the Performing Arts Initiative to lend what skill I have to bringing our dream of a fully developed Performing Arts Center to this vibrant region just east of Portland. It is thrilling to see this seed of an idea germinate and I am grateful to be involved in an effort that will result in a beautiful venue for the performing arts and an events space we so clearly need.”

John Hardham

Board Member

John Hardham has been living, working & playing in the Columbia River Gorge since the 1980s. He began performing light shows in 1967, using motion picture film as his primary medium. John toured with many bands and performed live in the major planetariums of North America and Europe as the Heavy Water Lightshow.  Beginning in 1985, John became the principal video producer for Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). He moved to the Gorge full time in 1995 and started Light Wave Communications, an independent video production company. In 2008 John teamed up with E. Michael Friend to start Laughing Deva LLC, a video production company with the goal to produce programming that will help the Gorge community thrive economically and culturally.

Ever since I started working in the Columbia River Gorge, clients looking for a space to produce events struggled to find a venue that would satisfy their needs for capacity, staging, lighting, sound and video. There is no one place that meets all those requirements along with adequate parking and ease of access. It is my hope that we can build a state-of-the-art facility that will meet the needs of our community for many years to come.

Carrie Benson

Board Member/Secretary

Carrie is a general business and nonprofit attorney who has lived in the Gorge since 2008.  She focuses her practice on outside general counsel services and commercial transactions. She previously served as senior attorney to Target Corporation.  Carrie is president of the Gorge chapter of Oregon Women Lawyers and also serves on the board for Arts in Education of the Gorge. Her active family includes two boys plus a husband, and two cocker spaniels.

I am passionate about the power of the performing arts to transform lives and cultivate community.  In my own life, my love for choral music and particularly my time singing with the Dale Warland Singers is part of the fabric of my being.  So when I learned about PAI, I jumped at the chance to get involved. Our community is bursting with artistic talent and energy, and a state-of-the-art performing arts center will be a jewel in this beautiful region.  I’m honored to play a part in realizing the PAI vision and supporting the cultural vibrancy of the Gorge community for generations to come.

Carol Thayer

Board Member

Carol Thayer opened The Enchanted Alpaca (retail, Hood River) in 2008, after moving to The Gorge in 2005. The store provides an outlet for the fiber from her alpaca ranch in Glenwood, WA. Prior to moving here, she was an RN for 10 years (Neonatal ICU/L&D), a consultant to medical malpractice trial work at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt and Hoffman Hart & Wagner in Portland for 15 years, and a claims adjuster for CNA Insurance for large-loss Med-Mal for 5 years. Carol is currently working as a Real Estate Broker, licensed in both WA & OR, with Hoag Real Estate.

The arts became a sanctuary away from work, errands and family . . . . That place that sweeps you away and asks nothing in return . . . . . From the ballet, to live theater, to concerts, to the Opera . . . . It was an opportunity to play with the creative side in a world that demands structure. Raising a talented son who has a passion for theater, Carol sees this Performing Arts Center as a stage where young (and mature) actors can grow their skills into a profession. It is an honor to help bring a facility to The Gorge that can provide this community with more of these experiences.

David Sliwa

Board Member

David Sliwa is a serial entrepreneur and executive with 30+ years of experience in business development, sales, marketing, and business management.
He earned multiple degrees in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering as
well as Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Illinois. After
graduating he received a commission as an officer in the Navy. While serving in
the Navy, Dave rose to the rank of Commander and held various positions
including: Naval Aviator and Navy Test Pilot; OIC of the European Command and
Control Center for Naval Special Weapons; Catapult Officer on the USS
Enterprise; Flag Pilot for CINCSOUTH; and Operations Officer for a Carrier
Battle Group. After leaving active duty Dave spent time writing for American
periodicals while traveling through Europe (Playboy, Cooking Light, Gourmet,
etc.). He eventually returned to the US and opened a café and quickly grew it to
a chain of 13 locations in 7 states and was ranked as one of the top baristas in
the country for many years while he spoke and taught entrepreneurship within
the specialty coffee industry.

Dave eventually became a business consultant and specialized in ‘bootstrapping’
small companies and helping them to accelerate their growth. While in this role
Dave served several small firms with businesses that ranged from the design of
Internet Kiosks for shopping malls, to the development of an Australian Space

Dave joined forces with his brother Steve to strengthen their consulting practices
and eventually decided to dedicate their efforts to the tiny firm of Insitu, Inc. in
2000. Dave worked at Insitu for more than 13 years, and was the first to take
their product into Iraq and Afghanistan and operate them with the US Military.
He held positions that included Director of Flight Operations, Training, &
Customer Support; Director of Marketing, and Director of Business Development
and was instrumental in Insitu’s move into commercial and civil operations.
Dave left Insitu in 2014 and has since been working as an independent
consultant helping a variety firms to grow and new find market niches. He is also
the CEO of a new local tech firm, TechSynergy, Inc. that helps foreign
entrepreneurial firms with disruptive technology to distribute their products within
the North American consumer market.

Dave has attended training seminars on the proper management of non-profit
boards and has served for many years on the board of Columbia Gorge Art in
Education and is currently on the board of the Oregon Aviation Industry coalition


Nic Levesque

Board Member 

Nic is Project Manager at Bremik Construction in Portland. Since the start of his career 10+ years ago, Nic has helped to manage a range of building projects across multiple markets, assisted clients to meet multi-faceted standards, and deepened an understand the building process. As a professional in the construction industry, Nic is increasingly mindful of how a community space can serve the individuals that it embraces. In this regard, it is Nic’s personal aspiration to support the growth of a space such as the Performing Arts Facility of the Gorge.

Nic intends to play a role that “helps in the utilization of every dollar raised so that together we can provide the very best facility possible.”

Ken Apland

Board Member

Ken Apland has made a career of designing and making fine jewelry for the clients of Apland Jewelers and Apland Design for over 34 years. He is an Antwerp-direct diamond importer, is involved in colored gem mining and cutting in East Africa. and is deeply committed to the care and education of those gem-mining communities through the foundation Gem Legacy .  He’s been a member of the Mid-Columbia Sinfonietta for 34 years, and in a prior life was a member of a professional big band that often served as a backup band for touring acts like Bob Hope, Aretha Franklin, Red Skelton, Andy Williams, and Jim Nabors.  Ken is a member of the Rotary club where he is chairman of the scholarship committee, and when he’s not working, he likes to splash in mud puddles with his three young grandsons.


Tracy Ericson

Board Member

Tracy Ericson is a Senior Vice President for Wells Fargo’s Community Lending and
Investment (CLI) group where she manages and originates a portfolio of New Markets Tax Credits Investments.
NMTC is a program authorized by the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act to encourage investment and job growth ineconomically distressed neighborhoods. She has been with Wells Fargo since 2000.
Since that time, she has held positions in a range of departments including Capital Markets and Commercial Banking.
Tracy is passionate about building community. She is on the Board of Directors of Black
Rock Arts Foundation (“BRAF”), the subsidiary of Burning Man Project, tasked with
bringing the Burning Man method of creating and coexisting with art to the world. During her tenure with BRAF she became a big believer in the vision that community-driven, inclusive, and interactive art is vital to a thriving culture, and is also a means to empower individuals. Tracy actively participated in guiding the organization to
join forces with Burning Man’s art department under a newly created 501c3 organization named Burning
Man Project.
In my opinion, the best projects for the community are the ones the community
raises as a need. With that in mind, I am thrilled to be part of the Performing Arts
Initiative primarily because it is directly responding to a need in the Gorge.
A facility such as the one proposed is much more than just a venue, it is a place to
gather as a community which in my opinion is essential for a healthy, vibrant
community. To quote Madonna, “Music makes the people come together.

Alison Hodges


Alison earned a Master of Science in Industrial Management  from Georgia Tech University. She had a career in corporate banking before retiring and moving to the Columbia River Gorge. Her financial background and passionate interest in the arts give Alison broad experience in finance that she is putting into service with the PAI. 

 Alison also has an extensive background in nonprofit organizations, having served on the Board of Directors for the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and organizing annual fundraisers for United Way in southern Florida. Locally, she has worked as a volunteer for WINGS and Meals on Wheels. She is an  enthusiastic supporter of many Gorge area fundraising events especially when it comes to the arts.


“I would love to direct my energy to help bring a truly outstanding performing arts facility to the Columbia River Gorge.”


Glen Riley

Glen retired from a thirty-two year in the semiconductor industry and moved to the Gorge in 2019. His career experience spanned several senior leadership roles leading product development, marketing, and sales organizations with companies including Qorvo, TriQuint, Agere, Lucent Technologies, and Texas Instruments. Glen and his wife Judy have also experienced living outside of the United States with assignments in Singapore and Japan. He graduated as valedictorian with a bachelor of science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maine and completed The General Manager Program at Harvard Business School. Currently Glen serves on the boards of emerging growth semiconductor companies helping them achieve their strategic objectives.


I’ve been a fan of performing arts ever since my high school days performing in choirs and musicals. As a recently retired executive, I truly enjoy participating in corporate and non-profit boards to help those organizations grow and realize their goals. The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful place to live and a world class destination that deserves a performing arts center for its residents and visitors to enjoy high quality musical and theatrical performances.”