Yale announces inaugural executive director of the Schwarzman Center

Garth Ross headshot
Garth Ross (Courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

Garth Ross, a renowned producer and director who currently serves as the vice president of community engagement at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., has been appointed the inaugural executive director of the Schwarzman Center at Yale University. Ross will join Yale in April, after the completion of the current season at the Kennedy Center.

Yale alumnus and former Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A. made a $150 million path-breaking gift to Yale in 2015 to create a world-class campus center by renovating the historic Commons and Memorial Hall. When it opens in 2020, the Schwarzman Center will be transformational for Yale in providing a center dedicated to cultural programming and student life at the center of the university. The center will include the historic Commons dining hall, a bistro and a pub on the renovated basement level, multiple world-class performing arts spaces and rehearsal studios throughout the building, and meeting spaces for student groups in the new Grove Street addition. It will also operate on extended hours, making it a lively hub of student life for undergraduates, as well as graduate and professional students, and faculty. Under Ross’s leadership, the Schwarzman Center will also work to engage the larger New Haven community in its robust programming.

Garth will be a crucial partner in creating opportunities for collaboration, mutual learning, and connection among students in this vibrant intellectual and social hub,” said Yale University President Peter Salovey. “The Schwarzman Center’s location, comprehensive and innovative programming, and technological capabilities will make it the crossroads of the campus and place Yale at the crossroads of the world. I look forward to working with Garth to expand dramatically the number of virtual and in-person visitors, performances, and exhibitions on campus.”

An overview of the redesigned Sch​warzman Center.
An overview of the redesigned Sch​warzman Center; Robert A.M. Stern Architects is now leading the project. (Image Credit: Yale University)

Garth Ross brings to Yale over 20 years of experience developing programming and executing strategies for increasing participation in the arts. At the Kennedy Center, Ross has produced over 7,000 performances featuring artists from all 50 states and around the world. He is responsible for the “Millennium Stage,” a daily, free performance series, as well as many other notable projects and festivals, including “American Voices with Renee Fleming,” “Let Freedom Ring! Featuring Bobby McFerrin,” “One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide,” and “Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music and Media.” Throughout his career, Ross has produced the work of a range of artists — from Grammy Award-winning performers, to slam poets, to world-renowned dance troupes.

With a focus on creating unique programming and collaborations between organizations, artists, communities, and disciplines, Ross and his team at the Kennedy Center have worked to bring world-class performing arts programming and festivals to a wide range of audiences. The “What’s going on … NOW” festival brought together Grammy-winner John Legend and the National Symphony Orchestra to perform and lead programming to help foster the critical connection between music, cultural history, social action, and self-expression among young people and their communities. Ross will build upon this track record of groundbreaking programming in his new role at the Schwarzman Center.

With its state-of-the-art performance, exhibition, meeting, and dining spaces, the Schwarzman Center will be a vibrant hub for campus life,” said Schwarzman. “Garth will help make the space come alive with thought-provoking and entertaining performances. At the Kennedy Center, where I previously served as chairman, he was known for implementing engaging cultural programming and community building through the arts. Garth will play a critical role in making the Schwarzman Center a vital crossroads on campus for Yale students to engage with each other and the wider world.”    

Ross received his B.A. in English literature and music from Connecticut College, and is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work within a community with such a deep commitment to cultural equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Ross. “The work I lead at the Kennedy Center focuses on increasing stakeholder influence over what we present and how we present it, so that the center truly reflects our communities. I firmly believe that through collaboration, the Schwarzman Center experience can reflect the cultural richness of the Yale community. And that will be truly extraordinary.”

Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said, “Garth is a futurist at heart. His groundbreaking work at the Kennedy Center across two decades is evidence that he has always been ahead of his time. Garth’s trademark is curating artistic and community engagement experiences that are both immersive and responsive — never passive, and always multidimensional. Unafraid to take risks, he persistently encouraged the institution and his colleagues to think big. As a result, he has fundamentally changed the way the center thinks about and creates programs for our audiences. His impact is truly immeasurable and now a proud and lasting part of who we are as an organization.”

I am grateful to those who served on the search committee or interviewed the candidates for this important new position,” said Salovey. These include search committee co-chairs Pericles Lewis, vice president for global strategy, deputy provost for international affairs, and professor of comparative literature, and Bruce Alexander, vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development; James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama; Robert Blocker, dean of the Yale School of Music; Marvin Chun, dean of Yale College; Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Kimberly Goff-Crews, secretary and vice president for student life; and Greg Sterling, dean of the Yale Divinity School.

Garth Ross has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to engage diverse communities in transformative cultural experiences,” said Lewis. “He will make the Schwarzman Center a lively place for performance, education, and extracurricular life.”

I appreciate Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Schwarzman Charitable Foundation; Michael Kaiser, former president of the Kennedy Center; and other members of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee for their participation in the search,” said Salovey.  “And, of course, I am grateful to Stephen Schwarzman for his generous donation and the vision he shares with me of an enriching center for campus life.”

Yale students who participated in the search include: Susan Chen ’20 and Paul Gross ’20 from Yale College, and Elizabeth Mo, Savannah Thais, Catherine Xie, Rachel Farrell, Amanda Lerner, Elizabeth Salm, and Wendy Xiao from Yale’s graduate and professional schools.

I am enthusiastic about the potential of the Schwarzman Center as a campus hub dedicated to cultural programming and student life at the heart of the university,” said Salovey. “The engagement of the student community is essential to the vitality of the center, and I appreciate all the students who have given their time and perspectives. I am delighted that we have found such a talented founding executive director.”

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326