Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Sharon Yazowski

December 5, 2023 | By John Fleming

Levitt Foundation 

The Levitt Foundation has a down-to-earth mission: To support free concerts in public spaces for social and economic impact. There are Levitt Pavilions in seven U.S. metro areas, including Los Angeles, Denver, and Dallas, and they carry out the foundation’s mission through summer-long programming of about 50 free concerts at each venue.

“They’re all outdoors, all open lawn settings, and we don’t fund anything that has fixed seating, because the open space is more conducive to social connectivity and community,” says CEO Sharon Yazowski, who was hired as the Los Angeles-based foundation’s first employee in 2009 to professionalize the operation. Today, it has a national staff of 16.

Established in 1966 by Mortimer Levitt and his wife Mimi, the foundation endowment (projected to be valued at $170 million after an infusion from the family estate in the next year) stems from Mortimer’s custom shirt-making business, The Custom Shop. The Levitts were avid arts patrons—he was board chair of Young Concert Artists, she was on the Bard Music Festival board—and their first pavilion opened in 1974 in Westport, CT, where it remains a fixture in the community.

The construction and operation of a Levitt Pavilion entails a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment by the foundation. “We provide seed money of $500,000, with the rest coming from community sources, either public or private or both,” says Yazowski, adding that the cost of a pavilion runs up to $9 million. “We do long-term operating grants of approximately $200,000 a year over 15 to 20 years, which leaves the local group covering about 80 percent of annual operating costs.” New pavilion venues are under development in Houston and San Jose, CA. In addition to its support of pavilions, the foundation has given three-year matching grants totaling $90,000 each to concert series in 33 small to mid-sized cities for 2023-25.

“The Levitt Pavilions collectively select one artist a year who will play each venue,” Yazowski says. This year it was La Santa Cecilia, a Pan American band that won a 2014 Latin Grammy Award. “It’s a way to celebrate how free music in public spaces can elevate our communities.”




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