2019 It List

It People tend to know exactly who they are, but that doesn’t mean that you know. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 20 Granite Staters who really know where “It” is at.

Meet this year’s “It List.”

Michaela Olsen | Brian LeMay | Tyler Ray | Rebecca Hamilton | Anthony Poore | Matty Cardarople | Cecilia Ulibarri | Michael Simchik | Emmett Soldati | Iain MacLeod | Sarah Wrightsman | Theo Martey | Michael Chabon | Clyde RoperTrish Lindberg and Fidaa Ataya | Cameron Wake | Kara and Jason Hunter

Michaela Olsen

Ambitious Animator

Through her animation work, Bedford native Michaela Olsen creates vivid miniature worlds that are in equal measures whimsical and weird.

One such world comes to life in Olsen’s short animated film, “Under Covers,” which was selected to screen at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival (and recently had its Granite State debut at the 2019 New Hampshire Film Festival). Set on the night of a lunar eclipse, the stop-motion short zooms in and out of the bedrooms of a diverse cast of characters and creatures, and shows what secrets — spooky, salacious and sweet — lie beneath their sheets. “I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of people’s lives behind closed doors,” says Olsen, “because they’re never really what they present to the rest of the world.”

For Olsen, animation is not merely a hobby; she’s a partner and the creative director at Mighty Oak, a female-led, Brooklyn-based animation studio that has created animated media and ads for the likes of HBO, Airbnb, Etsy and The New York Times, and that is making waves in an industry that has traditionally skewed male. One of the studio’s recent projects had the team fabricating a miniature ’80s movie theater, complete with a tiny working soda machine, to promote Coke and the premiere of “Stranger Things 3.”

Though Olsen now lives in Brooklyn, and recently began teaching at her alma mater, RISD, she visits New Hampshire often to spend time at her family’s summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee.

— Kathleen Callahan

Brian LeMay

Past Preserver

Not too far in the future — in 2023, to be exact — Portsmouth will celebrate its 400th anniversary. The historical significance of the state’s oldest city was certified two years ago when the Downtown Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the city begins planning for the celebration, a key player in the process, the Portsmouth Historical Society, welcomes a new executive director, Brian LeMay. Arriving in September, he says he’s still in the “deer-in-the-headlights phase,” learning about what he calls “a beguiling city” and listening to people with ideas about how to move forward.

LeMay brings with him deep experience in historic preservation. He comes directly from his role as executive director and president of the Bostonian Society, which, among other projects, restored the Old State House, one of the oldest public buildings in the country. Before that, he worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, as the assistant director of its International Center.

To set Portsmouth in an international context is one of his goals. “The city has played an important part in not just a 5-mile radius around the port,” he says, “but really in a larger part of the world.” Another goal: To ease any dividing lines that might exist between history-related organizations in the city and strengthen ties between them.

One of the challenges LeMay knows is ahead: balancing new development with historic preservation, a sore spot in Portsmouth in recent years. Another challenge — raising money. Historic projects, he says, always seem to be measured in “million-dollar sums.”

But, he adds, there’s another way to measure preservation of the past: “These historic places embody who we are. They remind us of what has happened and where we came from.”

— Barbara Coles

Tyler Ray


Photo courtesy Granite Backcountry Alliance

In spite of the incursions of climate change and the prospect of clogged Interstates on snow days, New Hampshire’s official sport (skiing, duh) is alive and well, but like any living thing, it evolves over time. Skiing has increasingly expanded beyond the developed slopes and into the surrounding wilderness, producing new business models as it grows. Enter Granite Backcountry Alliance, whose stated mission is: “To advance the sport of backcountry skiing in New Hampshire and Western Maine by providing low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement and maintenance of ski glades.”

Founded and guided by lifelong skier Tyler Ray of North Conway, this nonprofit organization works with the US Forest Service, landowners and towns to find, design and create ski trails from rough forests to wide open ski trails for backcountry skiers to enjoy. They’ve even gone into old ski areas and brought life back to them, like at the old rope tow in Weeks State Park, Lancaster.

“The key piece to our strategy is to focus not just on the White Mountain National Forest,” says Ray. “The underlying rationale is we are digging after something deeper — such as building communities around outdoor winter recreation.”

— Joe Klementovich

Rebecca Hamilton

Community Collaborator

Rebecca Hamilton, a lifelong Gilsum resident, has spent the last year working on collaborations — both in southwestern New Hampshire and across the nation — that have far-ranging social impact. She served her first year as Collaborative-CEO of Badger Balm alongside her sister Emily, and launching the Machina Kitchen & ArtBar in Keene in April with her partners. She is also one of eight business owners from across the country appointed to the National Women’s Business Council to provide advice and policy recommendations to the US President, Congress and the US Small Business Administration. As part of her three-year term, Hamilton’s focus is on issues of importance to women entrepreneurs and business owners, and advocating for the needs of rural women entrepreneurs.

Back home in Keene, Hamilton is dedicated to art-based community activism and creating purpose beyond profit. This led to the founding of Machina Kitchen & ArtBar, an organic farm-to-table restaurant, craft cocktail bar, live music venue and art gallery.

“When I moved back to New Hampshire to run Badger with my sister, I realized I missed having a community of creators outside of work. I wanted to know people who could share ideas to build things that were beautiful,” Hamilton says. “We could have either moved somewhere where other people created a scene, or we could create our own arts scene with a small but growing crowd. New Hampshire is an amazing place to live — it just took a little imagination to see it become what we wanted it to be.

“I wanted to know artists who could band together to make ideas happen. At Machina Arts we started with events and saw more people join alongside us to transform our area to an interactive art space community. The restaurant brought this idea to a whole new level. It has helped to make this area a place I can live permanently,” she adds.

Hamilton expresses her own imagination and creativity through circus arts. She studies and takes classes in Brattleboro at the world-renowned New England Center for Circus Arts. She even had aerial silks installed at the Badger office gym where she and co-workers practice every day.

Her passion for the arts, community and promoting women in businesses are all a part of how she’s making an impact on social change.

— Jessica Saba

Anthony Poore

Purpose and Participation

Photo by Allegra Boverman

Although he’s a brand-new face leading the way for New Hampshire Humanities, Anthony Poore has lived here for about 20 years. He is, however, the first African American to lead the organization, which puts him in a unique position in a time of national division over matters of politics, race, religion — you name it. “Whether you’re conservative or progressive, people understand the importance of history, language and culture,” he said in a recent interview with the Concord Monitor. Those things all happen to be key elements in the humanities, and essential ingredients in what Poore says matters to him the most: “Living a purpose-driven life.” He sits on a number of local boards and commissions and says working or volunteering for causes that matter help him live out his personal credo. “Life’s work is about creating sustainable communities and equitable economies, where everyone can participate fully,” says Poore.

For him, “diversity” is not just a trendy buzzword of progressives, but a source of genuine, quantifiable strength. This is perhaps best illustrated by one of his priorities: diversifying the funding sources of New Hampshire Humanities. With cuts being promised for federal funding for the humanities, he’s showing local business leaders the value of knitting together the loose ends of life in New Hampshire by finding common strands of community. “I cannot think of a time when the humanities were more needed than now,” he says. “My job is to reduce all barriers, to make sure that anybody is welcome to come underneath our tent. No matter who you are, who you love, what your identity is, where you come from, how big your pocketbook is, we don’t care. There’s a seat for you.”

— Rick Broussard

Matty Cardarople

Local Character

“I was bullied quite a bit in high school for being a giant,” recalls Matty Cardarople when asked about his upbringing in Exeter. “But looking back, I think those experiences made me stronger and who I am today.” Who he is today, for those who haven’t seen him in blockbuster films like “Jurrassic World,” indy hits like “The Big Sick” or bingeable TV fare like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Stranger Things,” is an in-demand character actor with an impressive and growing roster of successes.

His return to New Hampshire in September, to make a star appearance at Granite State Comicon gave him a chance to reflect: “As a kid, sometimes you don’t have the support you need. Getting to meet kids and knowing I inspired them to be themselves without apologizing is the best.” He remembers when someone gave him a similar gift in high school. “Mr. Ferguson encouraged me to break out of my shell. He’d give me five minutes to perform in front of the class. My go-to bit was pretending to lose a poem I had written, then realizing it was in my shoe all along. I would uncrinkle the poem and read it to the class.” From such humble beginnings have grown more than a few stars, and Cardarople is still on the rise. “I’ve got a few top-secret projects in the works. Keep an eye out on your TVs, smart devices and/or your watches,” he says.

— Rick Broussard

Cecilia Ulibarri

Public Artist

Photo by Jared Charney

“We wanted to bring a different type of art to Nashua,” says Cecilia Ulibarri, president and co-founder of Positive Street Art (PSA). “Street art has really been a placemaker for other communities, creating a destination for the arts.”

Eight years ago, Ulibarri and a group of like-minded artists began to make that happen. After enlisting the support of the city and community organizations for their work, PSA began to create street art murals, painted on walls, both outdoors and indoors.

Funded by commissions from individuals, businesses or by fundraising, they began with a design on a downtown wall that depicted an organization that stood for positivity and artistic expression. Today, a few dozen of their murals grace the walls of the city; they’re designated on an online map for tours.

PSA also works to encourage young people to express their artistic talents in a positive way rather than with graffiti. “We show them the benefits of having space to create something where they don’t get in trouble, art that is accepted versus unwanted,” Ulibarri says. Aside from work on the group’s projects, young people can create their own images on two “free walls” in the city and at open studios at the PSA facilities. There are also street dance workshops — hip hop, breakdancing and krump among them.

PSA recently offered a workshop on street art at the Women’s Correctional Facility in Concord, then helped the inmates create two murals in their recreation area. Ulibarri says the group hopes to expand that never-been-done-before initiative to other facilities.

All of Ulibarri’s work with PSA and other community organizations earned her this year’s Civic Leader of the Year award from Stay Work Play New Hampshire.

— Barbara Coles

Michael Simchik

Devoted Developer

Michael Simchik is more than a real estate developer. He’s working to change the face of the New Hampshire’s cities for the better. “I only like to do unique properties,” says Simchik. “I’m not interested in the run-of-the-mill properties. Those are worthwhile from a real estate development perspective, but they don’t energize me.”

Simchik is the developer behind the Capital Commons building on Main Street in Concord, which houses the Red River Theatres, O Steaks & Seafood, The Hotel Concord, his first hotel project, and a soon-to-come coworking space.

Based in Rye, Simchik is also behind the 100 Market Street development in Portsmouth, which houses the 100 Club, an exclusive private club that is set for expansion in 2020, as well as PS It Matters, a business Simchik co-founded to help support nonprofit organizations through the sale of reusable tote bags. To date, over 2.3 million bags have been sold, generating more than $1.7 million for charities across the country.

Simchik is also involved in the redevelopment of a historic building on Market Street in Portsmouth and has been a vocal critic of the city’s plans to redevelop the McIntyre Building, a federally owned property that is being turned over to the city and identified as an opportunity for private development.

“Projects should not create huge shadows and canyons out of streets,” says Simchik. “They should be about creating spaces that bring people together.”

— Rick Broussard

Emmett Soldati

Totally Out There

Emmett Soldati runs Teatotaller in downtown Somersworth — a sober space for all ages that’s open late. Teatotaller is a vibrant, magnetic place where everyone is welcome. Gatherings like People With Babies, All-You-Can-Eat Vegan Waffle Party and Drag Queen Story Hour offer connection points for many different people.

Soldati believes a way to fight brain drain in small towns is to offer reliable, quality community interactions and a place to develop as skilled, engaged and considerate humans. “We need to give people all the cultural programming they need to be able to live here on the cheap, meet other people and have things to do,” he says.

Teatotaller hosts the After School Special: Teen Drag Queen Show — the largest teen drag show in America — where queenagers can express their gender identity on stage surrounded by cheering crowds. Every first and third Friday people flock to Teatotaller for the show. “I’ve witnessed personal transformations,” Soldati says of the teen queens. He adds, “I wouldn’t say Teatotaller caused the transformations, but this is always a space they feel comfortable in. One person said to me — ‘this is the first space I’ve ever felt comfortable putting makeup on.’”

Somersworth is now known as New Hampshire’s Rainbow City, sometimes touted as the most LGBTQ-friendly city in the state. It’s become a super-hip, progressive, open-minded, inclusive community, thanks in large part to Teatotaller welcoming people into the space to gather and connect.

This year, Soldati crowdfunded $61,400 to add a second Teatotaller space on a popular stretch of Warren Street in Concord. Expect to enjoy this bright, lively and vibrant community as they come snapping and twirling into downtown Concord in 2020.

— Jessica Saba

Iain MacLeod

Bird Man

It was in his native Scotland that Iain MacLeod found what would be his lifelong passion. “I got hooked on birds when I was 7 or 8 years old,” MacLeod says. But he would soon focus mostly on just one bird — the osprey, a large raptor. When he first saw one at a nature preserve, he was “blown away by the amazing spectacle of this huge bird flying into its nest. From that day forth, that was my passion.”

Fast forward to today. He’s been living in New Hampshire for more than 30 years, having worked first at NH Audubon as the statewide education outreach director and now at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center as executive director. Raptors, especially the osprey, have remained his focus.

Among the many initiatives MacLeod has helped champion is the restoration of the state’s osprey population; the osprey was removed by NH’s Threatened and Endangered Wildlife List in 2008. Another is the Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, where thousands of migrating raptors are observed and counted each fall; its data shows healthy numbers, especially for bald eagles, even as the songbird population declines.

Yet another innovative project — Project Osprey Track, where tiny transmitters were attached to osprey to track and better understand their long journeys as they migrate to and from the Amazon each year. And catching MacLeod’s attention now is new technology that allows even tinier transmitters to be placed on smaller birds, even butterflies, to study their habits. With small bird populations in decline, MacLeod says, “It’s clear we need to know more.”

Through all of his work, he’s gained a reputation as a respected ornithologist and bird researcher. Among his many laurels for that work is an award, just presented in September, NH Audubon’s prestigious Goodhue-Elkins Award.

— Barbara Coles

Sarah Wrightsman

Home Builder

Sarah Wrightsman could be described as someone with a growth mindset. As a community garden project coordinator for at-risk youth in Somersworth, Wrightsman discovered the positive impact she could have in her own community.

“Teaching children the patience, love and care that gardening requires meant a lot to me, but I wanted to do so much more for them. It was when their after-school program closed due to lack of funding that I was inspired to pursue a career in policy,” says Wrightsman.

Wrightsman is a lifelong resident of New Hampshire’s Seacoast Region. As the executive director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, Wrightsman works to advance housing affordability by serving as an educator, advocate and catalyst for sound policy and best practices.

“Housing affordability is my issue and there are certainly folks who oppose the policies and projects I advocate for,” says Wrightsman. “I am probably not going to convince the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ folks to support an affordable housing development, but there is strength in numbers and there is power in the personal stories of people who are affected by the state’s housing crisis.”

Wrightsman credits the Master in Public Policy (MPP) program at UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy with helping to shape her career goals and skills as well as reaffirming her commitment to New Hampshire, and state and local politics.

“Now that I work in housing, the importance of the techniques I learned throughout my MPP program has become clear. Housing requires changing public perception by using the right messages, targeting the right decision-makers and using the right tactics,” says Wrightsman. “I fully and wholeheartedly believe in the power of engaging the community around all issues and working together toward the future.”

— Margaret Joyce

Theo Martey

Rhythm and Roots

For over 15 years, Theo Martey has kept the Granite State moving, drumming and dancing. As director and leader of the Akwaaba Ensemble in Manchester, he has used a combination of international dance, drumming, choreography and stage experiences from Ghana to England, and his West African roots to bring energetic and engaging performances to New Hampshire. Each show brings West African drumming, music and dance to life with rhythmic styles and patterns specific to tribal groups of West Africa.

Not only is he a producer, performer, songwriter and recording artist, but he’s also a teacher. And an excellent one too — he received the prestigious Governor’s Arts Award for Arts Education this October.

His artist residencies give local students the opportunity to experience hands-on West African drumming and a variety of dance styles from Ghana, which has contributed to international diversity and cultural understanding throughout the state. “The residencies are fantastic because they allow me to visit multiple schools for a weeklong workshop, where on the last day the kids are able to perform the rhythm, patterns, songs and dances they learned for their parents, peers and local community,” says Martey. “It’s an honor to be able to share this art with others.”

Whether he is onstage performing or leading a workshop, Martey says that making people feel welcome, which happens to be the Twi language’s meaning of “akwaaba,” is the goal of everything that he does. “Being a leader and director has its challenges, but being able to create engaging, excellent performances and put smiles on audience and student’s faces makes it all worth it.”

— Emily Heidt

Michael Chabon

Revealing Writer

Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Some great writers probe for secret knowledge and buried history. Others do fine revealing mysteries hidden in plain view. Michael Chabon dwells gleefully in that latter realm, applying his holographic imagination to the things he loved or endured growing up in a Jewish family and absorbed by comic books and genre fiction. All those elements appear in his books, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and the Hugo Award-winning “Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” Meanwhile, it might surprise some Granite State fans that Chabon himself has been hidden in semi-plain view for the nine years as chairman of the board of Peterborough’s prestigious MacDowell Colony.

Much of what happens in the rustic seclusion of MacDowell only appears when the artists release their projects to the world, but Chairman Chabon has presided over the colony’s annual public Medal Days, introducing some of the most important and interesting artists in the country as they received their honors (Sonny Rollins, David Lynch and Toni Morrison, to name but a few). Attendees know that his introductions provide some of the most entertaining and enlightening moments of Medal Day, even standing in the light of the greats being recognized.

He’s retiring as chairman this year but will remain involved. After all, he’s enjoyed numerous productive fellowships at MacDowell as a writer cloistered in one of the colony’s cabins and surrounded by ghosts of previous colonists such as Thornton Wilder, James Baldwin and Willa Cather. During his time on the board, Chabon became a champion of diversity and inclusion in the artist residency program. True to his pop-culture affections, he’s the show runner for “Star Trek: Picard,” expected to premiere on CBS in January.

— Rick Broussard

Clyde Roper

The Ocean’s Advocate

Clyde Roper posing with the eyeball of a giant squid

Clyde Roper grew up in Rye, New Hampshire, where he discovered a love of the sea early on. He and his brother lobstered along the New Hampshire coast, and Roper was fascinated by the unique creatures that came up in their traps. In college, he briefly majored in philosophy, but his deep love of the ocean quickly had him switch to a marine biology major.

After getting his doctorate, Roper joined the staff at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, working as a zoologist in the department of invertebrate zoology. While there, he conducted extensive research on cephalopods and explored deep-sea biology. He became a pioneer in the field of bioluminescence (the production of cool light by living organisms) and also discovered and described new species, a number of new genera. and one new family of cephalopods.

Roper has traveled the world in the course of his research on cephalopods and giant squid, and worked tirelessly to educate others about the importance of our oceans. He has been featured in two television documentaries about the giant squid, one for the Discovery Channel and one for National Geographic. When the first live giant squid was caught on film off the coast of Japan, it was Roper who was immediately contacted by fellow zoologists, as well as media, for his expertise. His status even caught the eye of fiction writers and Hollywood. In Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel “Beast,” a tale about a marauding giant squid, the character of Herbert Talley, doctor of malacology (study of mollusks), was based on Roper. The story was later made into a film.

Today, Roper makes his home in Virginia with his wife and partner, Ingrid, but still regularly returns to New Hampshire. In September, he was recognized by Gov. Chris Sununu and Sen. Maggie Hassan as New Hampshire’s Ocean Advocate.

— Crystal Ward Kent

Trish Lindberg and Fidaa Ataya

From Plymouth to Palestine

From left: Fidaa Ataya and Trish Lindberg Photo by John Hession

“Everything I love to do is collaborative,” says Trish Lindberg, an integrated arts professor at Plymouth State University.

“When many people work together for the common good, it is magic.” For her, the common good is to make the arts, especially theatre arts, accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

For years, she has led collaborative efforts to make that happen. After graduating from UNH with degrees in youth drama and music education, she toured professionally with a puppet and children’s theatre company. But she was soon drawn back to the academic life.

At Colby-Sawyer College, she established the Kearsarge Arts Theatre Company (KAT), a long-running summer arts program for children. One of KAT’s original productions, “Mail to the Chief,” was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

After advanced degrees at Emerson and NYU, she arrived at Plymouth State University, where along with her teaching duties, she co-founded the Educational Theatre Collaborative (ETC), an annual community musical theatre arts program. In addition to ETC, Lindberg also co-founded the Emmy-Award-winning TIGER (Theatre Integrating Guidance, Education and Responsibility), a professional theatre company that has performed for half a million children. All told, she has directed more than 100 productions, including international performances in Ireland, South Africa, Lithuania, China and New Zealand.

With too many awards to mention, Lindberg is now plowing new theatrical ground. This past spring, she was granted a sabbatical by Plymouth State to spend time working with Fidaa Ataya, a Palestinian storyteller, puppeteer and actress, to create a production for a new entity, the Palestinian-American Children’s Theatre (PACT). Twenty-eight Palestinian children from eight different schools were the performers.

“Everywhere you go, children are so excited by the arts,” Lindberg says.“ One of my dreams is to someday do this kind of work all over the world.”

— Barbara Coles

Cameron Wake

Fair Weather’s Friend

Mother Earth is under the weather, so who you gonna call? The climate doctor.

That’s the Twitter handle of Dr. Cameron Wake (@TheClimateDr), the renowned professor of climate and sustainability at UNH and the head of its research program investigating regional climate change. He interjects the cold, hard facts into the heated debate on the subject and has given fair warning: If the four distinct seasons New Hampshire residents and tourists know and treasure are going to be around for future generations, it’s critical to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

“We have to get our act together. The globe has to get its act together. Otherwise, we will have very different seasons than we have today. There is no Planet B,” says Wake.

What sets him apart from many scientists is his way of effectively communicating research results so they’re transparent and understandable to the public and to decision-makers — both those at the kitchen table or the United Nations round table. He maintains the political discussion shouldn’t be a competition between taking care of the environment and providing jobs, as he considers that a false dichotomy.

Wake’s advice is stay woke.

— Lynne Snierson

Kara and Jason Hunter

Big Wheelers

Photo by Joe Klementovich

The great outdoors happens to be great for your health, both mental and physical, so anything that makes it more available to the masses is a great thing. Jason and Kara Hunter are owners at Hub North, a renovated Girl Scout camp that is the center of mountain biking and camping in Gorham. The couple have created a fantastic space for camping in yurts (big canvas tents), as well as a lodge that can accommodate large groups or small parties with shared kitchen space, living rooms and bathrooms. “It’s a mashup of a ‘glampground and a lodge,’” says Jason, “kind of a spin on Airbnb, but we’re not an Airbnb.” The couple have built miles of mountain biking trails in and around Gorham and Moose Brook State Park and, proving their bona fides, they are the founders of the Coös Cycling Club.

But much like “beauty,” the “greatness” of outdoor recreation is often in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder. One of the big drivers of tourism and commercial activity in the North Country is, in fact, driving — offroad driving, to be specific. And, to some, the sight and sound of ATVs roaring in and around Gorham has become a nuisance. The Hunters are taking it all in stride. In an interview with Casey McDermott for New Hampshire Public Radio, Kara said, “It’s hard to just be against something when you know the people who are coming here to do it are coming to be here the same way everyone else is coming to be here … They’re still just people coming to enjoy the White Mountains, you know.”

— Rick Broussard

Categories: It List