In his 43 years in the arts, arts education and management, while also serving on boards, steering committees, endowment campaign committees, union committees, and having started and run two non-profits, as well as being a Grammy-nominated performer, Niel has indeed seen, if not “it all”, then certainly a lot of the opportunities and challenges that exist in the fields of education, arts management, and in the area of his greatest interest, the quest for fostering creativity in the in both the public and private sectors.

Niel is the President of DePonte Creativity Partners. In 2020 he stepped down from his position as the Executive Artistic Director and founder of the education non-profit Cognizart, by MetroArts Inc (29 years), in order to further his many interests and aspirations; from concert production, working with young artists, writing curricula that integrate the arts and core-curriculum subjects, to reforming arts education methods, consulting with non-profits, and leading seminars on the creative process with schools and corporations.

Niel brings his breadth of knowledge across the arts, education and management sectors to his work at DCP. Whether consulting with school districts on integrating the arts into the schools, creating arts education videos for school children, writing articles on arts education and creativity, conducting ballet, producing young artist concerts, mentoring students, or performing as a concerto soloist with major orchestras, Niel has gained a national reputation as one of his generation’s most versatile and eclectic musical artists and educators. 

Dr. Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at Harvard University has written, “As a person who has worked for decades in the area of arts education, I can attest that there are few individuals with Niel’s combination of talents, and literally only a handful who are devoting their lives to the education of young individuals. Oregon is lucky to have such an individual in residence.”

Niel was born in New York City and received his training at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he earned a Master of Music degree and the Performer’s Certificate. He holds a certificate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Professional Development Seminar, The Project Zero Classroom, and a degree in music education from the State University of New York. He was the founder and conductor of the West Coast Chamber Orchestra in 1980, which later became the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra, and the founder of MetroArts Inc (now Cognizart) in 1993, a non-profit dedicated to teaching for creativity in the classroom that continues to this day. He has raised some four million dollars over his career to pay performing artists and produced some of the most memorable concerts of the last four decades, including conducting the grand opening performances of the Portland’5 Center for the Arts’ Newmark Theater.