Who We Are

The Refuge is a non-profit organization providing sanctuary for the pursuit of creative expression through music and art. Founded in response to the lack of resources available to artists today, it is the mission of The Refuge to offer patronage and opportunity to creators in a supportive and collaborative environment.

Cory Chisel

Founder, Musician

“Art is more than entertainment. It is about the individual expression of truth. I am dedicating my life to helping artists preserve their passion for the truthful expression of their authentic selves.”

Raised in small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Cory connected with the power of song and the spellbinding possibilities of live performance at an early age – through the music he heard in church. His father was a Baptist preacher, his mother played the organ and Cory and his sister sang. While the gospels’ rich vernacular of loss and redemption informed his innate poetic sense and lyrical range, living in an area where the path to adulthood was to work at the local paper mill, Cory struggled to maintain the purity of his artistic intentions as his life took a different turn.

At the age of 25, Cory signed with a major record label. While he fully embraced the opportunity it offered him, over time he began to experience firsthand how his artistic nature was being stifled and his music viewed as a commodity that was sold for a specific price. As a result, Cory stopped seeing people and instead saw demographics and target markets. He stopped playing from his heart and with his soul; instead, he found himself creating music that was prepackaged and predictable.

Despite this, Cory went on to become a critically acclaimed recording artist who was deemed one of 2009’s Best New Artists by Rolling Stone for his RCA release Death Won’t Send a Letter. In 2012 he released Old Believers, and in 2015 Cory was nominated for his first GRAMMY award (Best American Roots Song) for his role as co-songwriter alongside Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell for the song The Traveling Kind. In between these releases, Cory played festivals around the world including Glastonbury, Bonnaroo and Newport Folk Festival; appeared on Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with David Letterman and Conan and opened for artists such as Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams and more.

These successes, however, did not come without a price. During this time, Cory experienced many ups and downs – moments of rejection followed by moments of acceptance by industry greats. In 2012, Cory was at his breaking point. His personal life had deteriorated, his marriage was falling apart and he felt increasingly disconnected from his true self. The support of other artists ignited a desire in him to capture his story in a song called Tennessee for his yet-to-be conceived child. The process of writing and releasing this song was the defining moment in time where he rediscovered the true role of art and music in his life.

  • In 2016, Cory and his longtime collaborator Adriel Denae founded Refuge Foundation for the Arts to support and enable emerging artists to explore their true artistic path.

Adriel Denae

CO-FOUNDER, MUSICIAN

“Music has always been the thread that ties everything together for me. I want to be part of a community where people can use their artistic talents to influence a new, more sustainable, approach to how art is created and traded.”

Music has always been a safe haven and form of therapy for Adriel, even as a young child. Growing up in a commune in Uptown Chicago, Adriel matured in an environment with a group-oriented focus on improving the larger community and collective experience. When she left the close-knit group, Adriel needed to figure out her own individuality and drive. An exploration into studying mathematics and doing volunteer work in Africa and South America ultimately led her to pursue a career path in music.

A singer, writer and musician, Adriel has toured several continents and performed on David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien, as well as opened for Norah Jones on two multinational tours. The community of musicians she met through years of life on the road provided grounding inside of the freedom that she sought.

Yet Adriel continually searched for a balance between the transitory freedom of a life in music and her deeper sense of calling to make a larger impact on her environment and community. Transitioning into motherhood with the birth of her fist child in 2014 made this tension all the more accute. When Adriel and longtime collaborator Cory Chisel first visited the land where The Refuge is now – simply to see and use the space – Adriel felt like she could breathe for the first time in a long while. She experienced a respite from anxiety and realized a dream that may have always existed beneath the surface: to create a tangible place of safety for people exploring creative expression as a means to make the world a better place.

Adriel and Cory co-founded Refuge Foundation for the Arts in 2016 to build a sanctuary for the arts where creative individuals seeking safe harbor and community engagement can access resources integral to their work.

Adriel is launching her first solo record, produced by Norah Jones, in 2017 and co-founded Clary Collection – an organic skin care line developed for families and made by mothers and friends with partner, Jen Auerbach in 2016. She hopes to develop more efforts in collaborative cottage industry to help supplement the income of creative individuals while providing their communities with healthy, thoughtful alternatives to mass-produced goods.

Ryan Romenesko

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

“I want to make a difference in the lives of musicians I work with. At Refuge, we’re able to help develop artists in a way that makes a difference in their lives and in the lives of the communities they live in.”

Inspired by local artists – including Refuge founder Cory Chisel – and teachers who shared music that truly made a difference to him, Ryan decided in grade school to pursue a life around music. He attended the Oshkosh campus of the University of Wisconsin as a classical trumpet player, studying music business and recording technology and seeking an opportunity to break through.

In February 2010, Ryan embarked on his music industry career in Los Angeles with boutique public relations and management firm Jensen Communications, Inc. The company hired him for his clear passion for the industry, which led to six years with the firm and a director of public relations position working closely with leading musicians.

Ryan worked on press campaigns and international tours for industry greats including Carlos Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Tommy Emmanuel and more. As he supported these influential musicians, he began to also understand the many challenges most artists face when trying to build a career.

Ryan kept in touch with Cory and heard about his work with Refuge Foundation for the Arts. The organization appealed to Ryan and he saw an opportunity to use his understanding of the music business, community and major label systems to help support and develop artists in their true craft of making music.

Growing up in a Wisconsin town that seemed to offer only two paths – work for the paper mill or leave – Ryan forged his own path and returned to Wisconsin in September 2016 as executive director of Refuge Foundation for the Arts.