By Debra Cash
After a time of mourning, new beginnings.
This week, The New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) announced that Cathy Edwards, who has been director of programming for the remarkable International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut will become NEFA’s new Executive Director. She will succeed Rebecca Blunk, who passed away last summer; succeed and not replace, as Rebecca is irreplaceable, but succeed strikes me as the right word.
“Cathy is no stranger!” enthused Jane Preston, NEFA’s Director of Programs who has been serving, with Chief Operating Officer Laura Paul, as NEFA’s interim director. “After the past year of sadness over Rebecca Blunk’s illness and passing, we are grateful that such a strong leader who is passionate about NEFA’s work will be joining NEFA as we look to the future.”
NEFA acts as a re-granter, project administrator, infrastructure builder, and advocate for the arts locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Its portfolio of projects is exceptionally diverse, encompassing art forms ranging from the National Theater and National Dance Projects, to public art, international cultural exchanges, and the creation of systems that connect artists and quantify their impact on surrounding communities. In the formal press release announcing her hire, Edwards noted that she had served NEFA as a grantee of both national and regional programs, a presenter in New England, and as a program advisor.
There is a broad feeling among people who know her that Edwards is the right woman at the right time: they speak of how she knows what it takes to help individual artists and arts organizations develop, how the foundation world works, and how to meet the challenges of reaching and sustaining audiences for new and sometimes challenging art forms.
In 2011, dancer and arts manager Aaron Mattocks conducted a wide-ranging interview in which Edwards described herself as “a curator of live performance in multiple disciplines,” noting that in her role as a programmer, “the thing to avoid is the feeling that you are buying and selling a product.”
I caught up with David White, director of The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard, who was Edwards’ partner at Dance Theatre Workshop in New York for eight years. “She’s thoughtful and smart, with both expertise and empathy, and really understands the field as it is now,” he said. “She know the entire country, and brings enormous credibility.” At a propitious time in the Boston cultural community, with Julie Burros in the mayor’s cabinet, and new arts initiatives popping up across the region, having an energetic and experienced arts advocate help steer NEFA into the future is great news. Welcome, Cathy.
c 2014 Debra Cash