Staff & Board


Amy Cohen Executive Director

Amy holds a B.S. in arts management from Ithaca College, an MA in “circus as a tool for social change, education, and creative expression” from NYU, and was a Fulbright Scholar to the UK researching contemporary circus culture in London. She is a circus instigator and educator who believes that circus can change the world.

Claire Dehm Safety Program Manager / Social Circus Program Coordinator

Claire is a circus educator and advocate who attended her first AYCO event at the 2010 Educators Conference. She holds a B.S. in Marketing Communications and a minor in Recreation from Ithaca College where she was involved with the circus club, ICircus. Claire loves circus because there is a place for everyone.

Tara Jacob Operations Manager

Tara first fell in love with the fun, creativity, and community she found in the circus as a teenager at The Circus Space in London, and went on to found the Circus Folk Unite! collective at Hampshire College. She then completed the 2012-2013 Professional Track program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts. Now she is an instructor at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, MA!

Lisa Godin ACE Magazine Editor

Lisa first discovered the circus world when she joined the Great Y Circus as a youth. As an adult, she has continued to perform and train alongside her own kids for over 20 years. For the past decade, she has also been the President of the Community Circus Arts Corporation, a public non-profit created to support the continuing legacy of the Great Y Circus. Lisa is excited to use her degree in Professional Writing to help support circus educators and to celebrate the circus arts as a mechanism for social change and youth development.

Lucy Little ACE Magazine Designer

Lucy is a graphic designer, musician, and youth social circus educator. Lucy fell in love with circus when she traveled across the U.S.A. with The Criss Cross Circus (a project by Tara Jacob and other members of Hampshire College’s Circus Folk Unite!). While in college at the University of Chicago, Lucy revived and ran the Le Vorris & Vox Circus troupe, growing it into one of the most successful student-run college circus programs in the country. From 2009-2016, Lucy taught general circus arts and acrobatics at CircEsteem, and she has also taught circus at the Palestinian Circus School in Ramallah and in after-school youth programs run by the University of Chicago’s Theater & Performance Students department. Lucy participated in Cirque du Monde’s “Basic Social Circus Training” program in 2012, and is the creator and co-editor of the American Circus Educator’s “Games for Circus Educators & Innovators” book. Lucy is from New York City and currently lives in Chicago.


Updated Oct 13, 2017

Jesse AlFord President

Jesse began his circus life with The Great Y Circus in Redlands, CA, when he was only six years old. Many years later, he now lives in Louisville, KY, where he is Head Coach for My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus, and also works as a Freelance Lighting Designer.

Carlo Pelligrini Trusteeship Committee Chair

Carlo’s circus career spans 40 years as ringmaster, clown, producer, director and choreographer. In 2002 he co-founded Amazing Grace CIRCUS! as a social/community circus for teens. Today, “Mr. Amazing” and his Teen Troupe teach over 3,000 children a year how to Soar to Success through Circus Arts. He is Creative Director for Westchester Circus Arts Center in Tarrytown, NY, and a keynote speaker for corporate meetings with his innovative program The Juggling MATRIX.

Jen Agans Ph. D.

Jen Agans, Ph.D., is a research scientist at Cornell University, where she works to build synergy between youth development research and practice. She grew up in youth circus, training with Jackie and Rick Davis beginning in middle school, touring with Circus Smirkus in 2004, and coaching at the Silver Lining Circus Camp from 2005 to 2009 before serving as camp director from 2010 to 2014. Jen has been a member of AYCO since 2001, only missed one AYCO festival (2007), and has been bringing her research and evaluation perspective to AYCO/ACE conferences since 2010.

Board Member in Memoriam: Rick Davis

A founding member of AYCO, Rick’s 30 year career took him to Ringling Brothers Circus, Broadway, DisneyWorld, The White House, and on tours of 15 countries. He was the author of 3 books, and conducted circus school residencies for Circus Smirkus. He was also the founder of, the largest directory of school assembly performers.

Founder’s Statement: Kevin O’Keefe

“AYCO started out as a small dream in my heart. I knew what I did as the director of Circus Minimus and CircusYoga worked in my communities but longed for connections to others and to see the national landscape of circus. An initial query branched out to those I knew, we became a small community of teachers and artists for a few years. The first festival in 1999 was designed by my wife Erin Maile O’Keefe. We floated it on our credit card at Sailor Circus in Sarasota FL. Our organization placed itself firmly on the cultural map with our 2nd festival at Circus Juventas in Minnesota. Since then we have grown by leaps and bounds by finding strength in diversity and community. Even our dreams are not our own in the circus. We must share everything.”