As the new executive director of the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, Jonathan Schwartz says he comes in with twin goals: diversifying the offerings at the 123-year-old performance venue and instituting more educational programs “that reach out to the community.”
“The Lyric needs to become the people’s house, a popular place where people can come together,” said Schwartz, 49, whose appointment was announced earlier this week; he will assume his new position Jan. 8. “We’re all one community, we’re all one people, we’re all one Maryland. We need to reach out to people in the whole region.”
A self-described “lifelong person-who-loves-theater — although more as a viewer than a participant,” Schwartz said one his first focuses will be on establishing more educational outreach at the Lyric, with the goal of getting kids excited “and making them lifelong patrons of the arts.” He promised more specifics “in the coming weeks and months.”
Schwartz lives in Reisterstown with his wife, Jennie Faber, an OB-GYN. A native of the Bronx (who promises he has foresworn allegiance to the Yankees), he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. He served as legislative director for former Del. Jon S. Cardin of Baltimore County, and is currently chief of staff for Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond.
Lyric board Chair Cleaveland Miller praised Schwartz’s vision for a more inclusive Lyric.
“We were looking for someone who had a vision of the Baltimore community, of the whole metropolitan area,” Miller said. “We wanted someone who knew the players, who was energetic, who was enthusiastic about the arts.”
Both Schwartz and Miller stressed the importance of bringing shows to the Lyric that appeal to all segments of the community. In addition to its majority African-American population, “Baltimore has a large Hispanic population, a large Indian population. I’m very excited about trying to reach out more to those segments of our culture,” Miller said.
Noting the Lyric seats about 2,500, Schwartz said he would be looking for ways to make the venue “accessible and friendly” to groups that might not be able to fill it to capacity. Miller noted, however, that the theater operates at only about “a quarter of its potential,” which means attracting bigger crowds to the marquee events is also a goal.
Opened in 1894, the Lyric served as the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, until it moved to the nearby Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in 1982, and the Baltimore Opera Company, from 1950 to 2009. It continues as a venue for concerts, plays and other performances.
Miller has served as interim executive director since the departure of Vickie Hubbard this summer. Schwartz will be the Lyric’s sixth executive director.
“There is something for everyone here,” said Schwartz. “We need to make sure that we are out there, sharing this great story with our community.”