Elizabeth “Liz” Levitt Hirsch ’74: Community Though Music
By the time she enrolled at Scripps, Liz Levitt Hirsch already understood the concept of service. A decade earlier, her father’s successful clothing business allowed her parents to establish the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, which supported arts, culture, and education. “I grew up in a family of privilege, where accomplishment and leadership were hallmarks,” she says. “I needed a place to define myself, and Scripps was a great environment in which to do that.”
In 1974, the Levitt Foundation was the lead donor to open a music venue for free outdoor concerts in Westport, Connecticut, converting a former landfill site into an attractive outdoor stage and gathering space for local families. The new Levitt Pavilion, as it was called, signaled a fresh focus for the foundation. After graduating, establishing her own philanthropic and professional CV, and marrying Howard Hirsch, Levitt began to lead the growth of the Foundation’s focus to establish more free music venues into additional cities. In 2009, Levitt founded the national nonprofit Levitt Pavilions.
“Levitt Pavilions is a national nonprofit organization that exists to strengthen the social fabric of America,” she explains. “We revitalize neglected public spaces and transform them into welcoming, family-friendly destinations, using the power of free live music.”
The success of Levitt Pavilions illustrates the organization’s commitment to social impact. Currently, six venues operate across the country, each managed and programmed by a local nonprofit, that presents 50 or more free concerts a year, plus, for the first time, this year, an additional10 cities will present the new Levitt Amp seriesfollowing a national grant competition last fall. New Levitt stages will open in Denver in 2016 and Houston in 2017. With over a half-million attendees annually and 16 cities partaking in the Levitt program, Levitt Pavilions presents the largest free outdoor concert series in the country.
“As a child of the Civil Rights Movement, I’m proud of the fact that, in 2008, a Levitt Pavilion opened in Memphis,” Levitt says. “And when it did, nobody said, ‘We’re going to integrate.’ It simply happened—black and white, together, listening to music. That may not seem like a big deal here in Los Angeles, but in Memphis, it is.”
The organization’s national headquarters is run by an all-female team that includes several Scripps alums, and Levitt regularly recruits interns and mentors students from the College. “I always say, ‘If you want a job done right, give it to a woman who went to Scripps.”
In September 2005, Levitt inaugurated Levitt on the Lawn, a series of free annual concerts, held on Scripps’ Bowling Green, which feature female artists and women-led musical groups. For its organizer, Levitt on the Lawn represents a small payment on a larger debt. “As I’ve taken a leadership role in guidingthe national Levitt program to where it is today, Scripps has unwittingly been a supportive structure,” Levitt says. “Yes, I’ve given back to Scripps, but in the end, Scripps gives much more back to me.”
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