Our creative leaders

Floral installation against blue sky

Meet the inspiring creative leaders who are transforming the Gold Coast’s arts and culture landscape.

Criena Gehrke

Chief Executive Officer of HOTA, Home of the Arts

Criena Gehrke has a rich background in strategy and arts management and has a particular passion in building strong and connected communities through arts and culture. She has worked as the Executive Director of Arts Access Victoria, one of Australia’s leading cultural development organisations, a peer assessor for Creative Victoria and The Australia Council for the Arts and is a member of the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research Advisory Group. Criena is also a past recipient of the prestigious Harvard Business Club Victoria Non-Profit Fellowship. She was Executive Coordinator of City of Gold Coast’s Arts and Culture Unit where she was instrumental in the development of the City of Gold Coast’s Culture Strategy 2023. The Cultural Strategy had at its heart a central cultural precinct for the city’s thriving cultural and artistic activity. She’s now bringing this vision to life as CEO of HOTA.



(Photo credit: Simone Gorman-Clark)


Samantha Morris

Blank GC, Gold Coast Music Awards

Samantha is the co-founder of Blank GC, the Gold Coast’s own street press, and the hugely popular Gold Coast Music Awards. Sam is an experienced writer and facilitator who has spent most of her career working in the regional land management sector before focusing on the arts. In 2007 she launched her own company, Wombat Creative, and has been providing services direct to NGOs, chambers of commerce, peak bodies, local councils and government agencies ever since. She also works as a freelance writer covering tourism and arts content locally and for regional tourism bodies elsewhere. Blank GC has provided a valuable focus and media platform for Gold Coast creatives, particularly musicians, though she has now stepped back from her responsibilities with Blank GC to focus on other creative endeavours. The Gold Coast Music Awards have offered a prestigious showcase for local talent making an impact nationally and internationally.




Emma Milikins

Founder, Miami Marketta

From artist to photographer, jewellery designer to creator of studio spaces and creative hubs, Emma Milikins’ unlikely path is best summed up by her personal mantra, “create to live, live to create.” Emma won a Victorian Book Week Artist Award at the age of 12, sparking her interest in a career in the arts. She studied fine art and photography at university before moving to the Gold Coast at 24 and took up jewellery design. She has sold her work at music festivals and retail stores and has been featured at Australian Fashion Week. Emma also discovered a passion for creating small boutique, studio spaces and outlets for other creatives. This culminated in the creation of Miami Marketta in a neglected industrial estate – a creative hub, live music venue and bar with a busy calendar of regular events, that has invigorated the Gold Coast arts scene and provided a template for the revitalisation and re-purposing of under-utilised industrial spaces.



Rosie Dennis

CEO & Artistic Director, Placemakers Gold Coast

After building a successful arts career in Sydney over the past 20 years, the last seven as director and CEO of Urban Theatre Projects, Rosie is loving re-discovering the Gold Coast as CEO and artistic director of Bleach* the Gold Coast Festival and Placemakers Gold Coast. Rosie has curated and delivered large-scale cultural experiences from rooftops on carparks, suburban streets, and across neighbourhoods including the award winning BANKSTOWN:LIVE and MINTO:LIVE and the theatrical triptych, Home Country. For Urban Theatre Projects, she directed two documentary shorts, Bre & Back and One Day For Peace, which have screened widely on ABC and SBS. She is a well-respected arts leader who is best known for developing and delivering projects in collaboration with diverse social and cultural communities. Her work has contributed to a national conversation about contemporary place-based practice and the role artists play in building community and liveable cities.

Photo Credit: Claudio Kirac



Kate Harman and Gavin Webber

The Farm

The Farm arrived on the Gold Coast like a howling storm front, upsetting the status quo, rearranging the furniture, and leaving the atmosphere energised and refreshed in their wake. Based on the Gold Coast, with roots in Berlin, The Farm create contemporary performances that transcend expectations of what dance can be, and how and where it should be viewed. Their bold and innovative programming has become a highlight of the annual Bleach* the Gold Coast Festival. The company won a Helpmann Award for Best Physical Theatre Production for TIDE in 2018 (staged on a sand spit in Currumbin Estuary over 48 hours), a Sidney Myer Individual Performing Arts Award for Gavin Webber in 2017, and a 2019 Drover’s Award for tour of the year for Cockfight. Work ranges from traditional theatre and dance pieces to outdoor installations, film and immersive theatrical experiences. The Farm was appointed HOTA’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence, the beginning of a three-year partnership with HOTA which sets out to create a launchpad for local, Gold Coast creativity. The Farm was appointed home company of HOTA, the beginning of a three-year partnership which sets out to create a fresh storm front of creativity that will once again wreak havoc on the coast.




Graham Ashton

Graham Ashton

Graham Ashton is the “go-to” guy for aspiring, Gold Coast contemporary musicians seeking guidance and mentorship as they navigate the music industry. Asho, as he is universally known, has sung in punk bands, launched independent record label Emily, and founded Footstomp Music in 2010, as a music services company specializing in artist, project and event management, label services and artist development. He is contemporary music programmer for HOTA and was the Executive Programmer for the BIGSOUND music festival in Brisbane from 2010 to 2014. Asho has worked with the Mumford & Sons, Amy Shark, Robbie Williams, Powderfinger, The Living End, Paul Kelly and the Go-Betweens, and has spoken at events such as SXSW, CMJ, Canadian Music Week and the New Zealand Global Music Summit. When he’s not attending gigs, he can be found surfing the Gold Coast’s less busy beaches.




Marissa Bowden and Sarah Schoeller

The Village Markets

In 2008, Marissa Bowden and Sarah Schoeller found themselves made redundant from their corporate marketing jobs and decided to take a bold leap of faith to launch their own community events that celebrates local talent. Entirely self-funded and with a truckload of passion, they founded the Village Markets, with just eight stalls. The Village Markets has since grown to become one of Australia’s leading small, creative business incubators, supporting over 2,000 small businesses, with many going on to achieve international success. Marissa and Sarah’s vision and event execution have seen them recognised as cultural leaders and they have accumulated many awards such as Cosmo Women of the Year finalists, Griffith University’s prestigious Outstanding Entrepreneurial Alumnus Award and Destination Gold Coast’s Storytellers of the Year in 2018.




Rebecca Ross

The Walls Art Space

The Walls Art Space is a hidden gem tucked away in an industrial estate in Miami, founded in 2013 as a not-for-profit creative hub that showcases contemporary art and cultural events. Director Rebecca Ross is a powerhouse of creative energy, pursuing her own art, curating exhibitions and promoting other artists, and pursuing an academic career, with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Masters of Fine Arts from QUT. The Walls showcases local artists, celebrating local themes of beach and surf alongside the urban landscape and the human condition, with a busy program of exhibitions, talks and workshops. Rebecca has undertaken commissions for Festival 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Health Precinct and has participated in international artist in residence programs in Malta, Italy and New Zealand.

Rebecca has received funding from Arts Queensland and the Regional Arts Development Fund Gold Coast, and numerous awards including an International Women’s Day Leadership Award in 2020.