Women Cultural Leaders: Jenny Bilfield, Washington Performing Arts

Our spring arts preview featured 20 women cultural leaders in Washington, D.C. We wanted to amplify their voices in our online newsletters, spotlighting each of them individually. Our Thursday March 24 newsletter features Jenny Bilfield, President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts. 


THE GEORGETOWNER: D.C. should have a “spring awakening” of sorts after two long years of Covid. What are you most looking forward to for your institution this season?

JENNY BILFIELD: I’m excited for people to share space with each other and our artists. A few events that leap to mind are: Davóne Tines and Lester Green juxtaposing Bach with settings by works drawing on the traditions of art song, spirituals, and gospel music (March 15, Sixth & I); Lil’ Buck’s Memphis Jookin: The Show; audiences will recall his accolades as one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch and his collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma (March 25, Lincoln Theatre); and Eden with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and Italian early-music ensemble il Pomo d’Oro in a program exploring the essence of humanity and the power of nature (April 24, Strathmore).

GEORGETOWNER: What led you to become a leader in your organization? Tell us a bit about your career trajectory and inspirations along the way?

JB: My goal has always been to make the world a safe place for the arts and the audiences who love them. While I trained as a composer and pianist, I was more interested in developing meaningful platforms for other artists to do their best work and in crafting partnerships, collaborations, and experiences that resonated. I sought roles where I could make a significant impact culturally and strategically. This in turn led me to lead a commercial music publisher, a major presenter in higher education and my current role at Washington Performing Arts. I am inspired by artists and love big challenges, very little frightens or deters me. At the end of the day, mission matters most and I am completely one with the mission of Washington Performing Arts: to champion the unifying power of the arts.

GEORGETOWNER: What are the biggest challenges for your organization?

JB: Not having a venue of our own is both a blessing and a challenge. On the blessing side, we can be in so many different neighborhoods and venues and match the artist, audience, program, and production needs, finding a way to say yes to artists with whom we want to work. However, on the challenge side, our branding is programmatic and reinforcing this in so many different spaces can be confusing for those who are new to us. That’s why we always have someone (usually me) introduce our performances, to remind folks that Washington Performing Arts has curated and produced the show!

GEORGETOWNER: How do you feel being among the first women to lead an arts institution?

JB: I feel an incredible sense of pride to have built a career within a field and profession that I love, which challenges and excites me every day. Simultaneously, I see an enormous opportunity to pave the way for others who want to make their mark as change agents. I frequently think about work/life balance versus work/life integration (which is my story being married to a composer and with a daughter in theater). My pleasure and joy in leading comes from my fully-immersive mindset, which is not for everyone.

GEORGETOWNER: What are you most proud of accomplishing while serving in your position? 

JB: I’m especially proud of programs that’ve been forged on partnerships and which tell uniquely American and Washington, D.C. stories, engaging a wide group of organizations and stakeholders. Our “Of Thee We Sing” celebration of Marian Anderson in 2014, with over 40 partners; our Mars Arts D.C. program, which I launched with support from Mars Inc. and Jacqueline Badger Mars to spotlight the vibrant arts-makers who make their life and work in Washington; the creation of our Junior Board, which has helped build a pipeline of experienced, engaged, mission-driven young professionals who are committed to volunteer and board service; and the expansion of our classical commissions, gospel music programs, and diplomatic and arts education partnerships.

For more information on Washington Performing Arts go to https://www.washingtonperformingarts.org/.



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