Photos by Ken Gabrielsen
There’s a new sheriff in town over at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, and his name is Edward J. Lewis III.
Armed with a hefty CV and a heartfelt mission, the newly minted president & CEO is intent on delivering an exciting, new renaissance to the beloved Katonah cultural institution.
Caramoor’s new president & CEO, Edward J. Lewis III, arrives at the Katonah-based cultural-arts institution with a first-rate pedigree and a mandate to foster both diversity and diversification.
In May, the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts found itself a new leader in the form of Ed Lewis, right in time for the June 11 kickoff of its new season. An accomplished and impeccably educated violinist with nearly two decades of experience in music education and administration, Lewis specializes in innovation, inclusivity, and audience development. Recently, 914INC. sat down with Lewis to learn how he plans to make the historic Westchester venue hit all the high notes.
What is your professional background?
I had the honor to study at two top-10 schools of music — Northwestern University and University of Michigan — and abroad at the Hochscuhle für Musik und Theater München with the Alban Berg Quartet, and at the UMD School of Music with the Guarneri String Quartet. In addition to performing the canon of classical music, including chamber, opera, and symphonic, I was a founding member of the Amistad String Quartet, which comprised men of color who specialized in performing music by African American and women-of-color composers in particular; an original member of Soulful Symphony, comprising predominantly African American and Latinx musicians; and an alumnus of the Sphinx Organization, whose goal is to address the underrepresentation of people of color in classical music.
I followed this with more than two decades of nonprofit management and fundraising experience in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and beyond. Directly prior to Caramoor, I served as vice chancellor for Advancement at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where I implemented and led the university’s historic multi-award-winning fundraising initiative, Powering Creativity: The Campaign for UNCSA. Under my leadership, the UNCSA Foundation endowment grew from $35 million in 2015 to more than $70 million in February 2021.
Why does your skillset make you the right fit for Caramoor?
As an accomplished professional classical musician, arts educator, and administrator, I bring a lifelong passion for and deep experience in the performing arts. I’ve been told that I have the ability to help institutions find the essence of themselves and effectively develop and articulate a strong case for support followed by the securing of that support for an institution’s key initiatives.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
As institutions seek to address diversity in all its forms, Caramoor will be stepping up its commitment to diversifying its offerings and opening up access to, and fully engaging with, the communities around us.
What do you regard as the most gratifying aspect of your new job?
I am fortunate to get to work with a team of accomplished and creative arts professionals and a generous and passionate group of advocates and volunteers who collaborate to provide innovative and diverse musical performances, mentoring opportunities for young professional musicians, and educational and engagement programs for the community.
You came in following some of the worst of the pandemic, including its economic devastation. That in mind, how are Caramoor’s financials looking these days?
Caramoor mitigated some of the most negative impacts of the pandemic through a combination of expense management and endowment strength as a result of our recently completed Inspire campaign. We are, however, projecting a moderate deficit for 2021. With COVID-19 restrictions relaxing, there are opportunities to slightly increase venue capacities and take advantage of pent-up demand for facility rentals later in the year, which could help Caramoor realize a smaller deficit.
What, if any, changes made during the pandemic will become a permanent part of Caramoor going forward?
Caramoor survived and thrived by making a quick shift to digital concert presentations, and then preparing for an in-person summer in 2021. We remained flexible, knowing that state guidance would be in constant flux, and had several different scenarios planned early. The pandemic allowed us to innovate our digital offerings, which will continue in the future. It showed us that outdoor space is a valuable resource and that our grounds and gardens should be shared more broadly with our community.
What are Caramoor’s plans for their education and community-engagement programs?
We recently began a process of reimagining and redesigning our educational offerings to more fully reflect the mission and unique assets of Caramoor. This includes developing and building new community relationships with local organizations and to collaborate with them on the development of these programs, with an emphasis on equitable practices and opportunities.
We have just posted a newly created position at the director level to lead this strategic initiative and to pilot new school programs, which we anticipate will be up and running by spring 2022.