Garth Ross, vice president for community engagement at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will serve as the inaugural executive director of the Schwarzman Center, Yale announced on Wednesday evening.
Ross is a producer and director at the Kennedy Center, a hub of performing arts entertainment and education in Washington, D.C. After finishing his current season at the center, Ross will join Yale in April. As executive director, he will coordinate programming and oversee the center’s creative vision, according to the center’s donor Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69.
“What I’m really excited about … [is] this dual ability to, on the one hand, work with students and constituents across the Yale community to support all sorts of activities on a daily basis from meetings of clubs to studio-type experiences to rehearsals or performances, to also work with people collaboratively to produce large-scale interdisciplinary immersive events for nontheatrical space,” Ross told the News. “That’s what the Schwarzman Commons will be an incredible canvas for.”
Through advisory committees, Ross said he plans to channel the interests of the Yale community into what center presents but added that his vision for the programming is still nascent. At the Kennedy Center, he said that he drew upon the culture in Washington and current events in society to produce hip hop culture and skateboarding culture events.
In May 2015, Schwarzman donated $150 million — the second largest gift in the University’s history — to fund the creation of a cultural hub and center of student life at Commons, subsequently named the Schwarzman Center. The space, which is set to open in 2020, will house a dining hall, bistro, pub, performance spaces and meeting spaces for student groups.
“He’s clearly very creative, very visionary and very practical,” Schwarzman said. “He can recruit talent, he can structure performances and he got along with everybody at the center, including the public.”
Before joining the Kennedy Center, Ross performed as a part of the Vineyard Sound, an award-winning vocal group based in Martha’s Vineyard. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he performed with the Metronomes, the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys and as a solo singer-songwriter. He has opened for Dar Williams, Mary Gauthier and the Kennedys — all well-known folk artists.
At the Kennedy Center, Ross also served as the director of the “Performing Arts for Everyone” initiative to expand access to performing arts for Washington residents and visitors. He now oversees the “Millenium Stage,” a daily and free performance series at the center. As the Schwarzman Center’s executive director, he will promote access to the center’s programming for the broader New Haven community.
“He gets what it’s going to take to have the Schwarzman Center become a home for everyone at Yale and also to involve edgy and interesting programming that helps develop its special appeal,” University President Peter Salovey told the News.
Salovey, who grew up listening to folk music, is a bass player in the group “Professors of Bluegrass.” He recalled with excitement that Ross had told him that he produced an event with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger — two of the best-known singer-songwriters in the history of American folk music.
In 2012, Ross brought together John Legend and the National Symphony Orchestra as part of an event to investigate what has changed since the release of Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On.” The campaign, called “What’s Going On … Now,” encouraged young people to express their creative voices through art. Ross was also responsible for bringing a temporary skateboarding park to the Kennedy Center. In its opening weeks, the park attracted up to 1,000 visitors per day.
“He’s not afraid to fail,” said Salovey. “He’s not afraid to try something and see it be wildly popular and not afraid to see that it’s not. I think someone who is fearless in that way will keep students coming back.”
Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis chaired the committee that led a monthslong search to identify an executive director for the Schwarzman Center. In addition to the developing the center’s strategic vision, the online job listing for the position emphasized that the director will serve as a liaison to the center’s donor, Schwarzman himself.
Schwarzman is the CEO of Blackstone, the nation’s largest private equity firm.
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