Heather Hitchens, American Theatre Wing

TITLE: Executive Director


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IP TAKE: There are few people who hold more power on Broadway than Hitchens. But word on the street is that even though she wields it, her ego never comes into play. . . There are enough of those in her business to go around.

PROFILE: As Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing, Heather A. Hitchens oversees one of the most famous arts awards shows, the Tonys, named after Antoinette Perry, an actor, director and co-founder of the organization. Year round though, Hitchens is responsible for the American Theatre Wing's grant-making, professional development, educational, and media programs. These areas include the National Theatre Company grants, Jonathan Larson grants, "Working In The Theatre," (a series of televised discussions with theatre leaders), and SpringboardNYC, a summer intensive course for college students transitioning into careers in the performing arts.

Hitchens joined the organization in 2011, after nearly 20 years experience in the performing arts as an administrator and program developer. “It is a tremendous opportunity to continue my life’s work in advancing exceptional artists and their craft, and to return to the place that my career began and a place that I love—the theatre," she said upon her hire.

She's certainly proven herself over the years. Her first gig out of grad school (a master's in art administration from Drexel University) was as executive director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, where she learned the ropes in arts administration and oversaw a budget of nearly $2 million. Not a bad starter gig. She then spent the next 11 years as President of Meet The Composer, a former project of the New York State Council on the Arts before the program merged with the American Music Center to form New Music USA in 2011.

She left Meet The Composer in 2007 and moved on to work directly for the New York State Council on the Arts, appointed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer. There she really bulked up her administration experience, managing the distribution of over $123 million in grants to 2,000 New York state-based arts organizations in multiple disciplines. At this largest state arts agency in the U.S., Hitchens developed relationships not only with arts organizations, but also with other sectors of city and state affairs, including tourism, economic development, and the parks department. With their help, as well as major funding from both private and public sources, she helped launch the New York State Cultural Data Project to collect comprehensive and reliable data about the impact of the arts.

Four years later she transitioned to her current role at the American Theatre Wing. “I’m attracted to organizations that have an interesting mission, a fantastic history and room to grow,” she says. “I really like to build things and the American Theatre Wing had a lot of potential.”

Indeed, the organization has serious hooks in the theatre community and beyond. Its two grant-making programs offer resources to both established and emerging artists in theatre. The National Theatre Company Grants Program provides $10,000 grants to theatres with five to 15 years of production experience. Past recipients include the Actors' Shakespeare Project, ArtsWest and The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena, California. On the other end of the spectrum is the Jonathan Larson Grants Program, which supports new artists, supporting composers, lyricists and book writers at the beginning of their careers--its namesake is the acclaimed young artist who wrote the lauded "Rent," made possible by supplemental grant money.  

Hitchens has a bit of performance history herself, albeit as a musician.  She has a bachelor's in music from DePauw University, where she studied percussion, but also the music business. She considered drumming professionally until she became interested in arts administration. Given her background, it's clear that creativity and the arts are something she holds close. Of her work, Hitchens says "We all have a responsibility for the health of the art form. That means making sure that we nurture the next generation of artists both on the stage and behind the scenes.”


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