ArtsConnection Welcomes Its New Executive Director

ArtsConnection Welcomes Its New Executive Director

The Board of Directors and staff of ArtsConnection are delighted to welcome our new executive director, Rachel Watts. While Rachel is new to the position, she is an experienced arts education and youth development leader. Even more exciting, she is a long-time ArtsConnection staff member, having most recently served in the position of Director of Teen Programs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives.

Board Chairperson Debra Peltz expressed her enthusiasm about the decision she and her fellow Directors made to promote Rachel, remarking:

It has been an honor and privilege to work side-by-side with Rachel as she developed our programming for teens and spearheaded our DEI initiatives. I have witnessed her remarkable leadership and mentorship and strong relationships with her colleagues, as well as with students, teachers and school administrators. She is the right person, with the right experience and passion, to lead us through the challenging times ahead and towards a vision of the future which champions the true healing power of the arts for our city’s children and young people. Rachel is such a strong advocate for the mission ArtsConnection has set for itself: Ensuring that the arts are available in abundance to every school student, guided by teaching artists who bring their professional arts expertise and passion for teaching to opening up the world of making, looking at and reflecting on art. I speak on behalf of all of us on the Board when I say how excited we are to welcome her as our new leader!

Rachel assumes this new role immediately, following the retirement on August 31 of Steven Tennen, our Executive Director for the past 34 years. This change in organizational leadership comes at a time when ArtsConnection has responded successfully to the current pandemic, transferring its award-winning arts programming to virtual delivery systems, and building on its reputation as a nationally recognized organization providing groundbreaking arts programming for public school students. As Steve began his retirement, he reflected on his many years at ArtsConnection and handing over leadership to Rachel:

My 34 years leading ArtsConnection was the honor of my life. Over that time hundreds of thousands of children and young people saw their lives changed by their work in the arts. This work is even more important in our current, difficult times. So, I am just delighted that the Board has chosen Rachel Watts as ArtsConnection’s new Executive Director. Continuity is so important in times of turbulence. Having led both our in-school and Teen Programs, Rachel knows our staff and teaching artists, the principals and teachers in our schools, the teens in our workshops. Most important, they know, and trust her. Rachel has led our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and I know that strengthening that work will be one of her strongest goals. I’ve worked with Rachel for many years. She is compassionate about the work and about those who benefit from that work. She is a strong leader who sets high expectations. She is full of ideas! She is the right person to take ArtsConnection on this next leg of the journey. I can’t wait to see the exciting places she will take it next.

Rachel brings to the position her expertise as a multidisciplinary arts educator who has focused on creating and advocating for meaningful and equitable programming for young people during her more than 20 years in the arts Education and youth development fields. She has held multiple leadership positions, including as Director of Education at Ballet Hispanico and Director of The MYC Youth Center in San Rafael California, where she created a state-of-the-art facility focused on developing teen leadership skills through the arts and technology. Rachel earned a Bachelor’s from Williams College and a Master’s in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, with a concentration in Museum Studies, from New York University. She has taught undergraduate students in the Art Education Program at City College in Harlem and serves on the board of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable where she Co-Chairs the Advocacy Committee. She is currently a doctoral student in the CUNY Graduate Center Urban Education program. Watts worked at ArtsConnection from 1998 through 2005 as a Program Manager and Research Associate, before returning in 2011 to join the senior leadership team as Director of Programs and later Director of Teen Programs, and DEI Initiatives.

As she begins her tenure, Rachel notes:

I am honored and humbled to accept the Executive Director position at ArtsConnection. This is an organization that has helped me grow and challenged me to learn in multiple ways. For this, I am eternally grateful. Even in the years when I was working elsewhere, I stayed in touch with my colleagues and sought out Steve Tennen’s advice when I was in a similar position in California. His leadership has helped the organization deepen and expand its reach and made important positive impacts on the field. As I take on this role in a time of economic uncertainty and the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, I will look to the wisdom of my colleagues, the artists on our roster, our community of educators and young people to help guide a way forward for the organization’s next 40 years.

Congratulations, Rachel!