Category Archives: Levitt in America

  • Catching our breath to say hello: Summit Executive Co-Producers Vanessa Silberman and Sharon Yazowski of the Levitt Foundation with NCCP’s Andrea Orlando and Thomas Young
    Summit Executive Co-Producers Vanessa Silberman and Sharon Yazowski of the Levitt Foundation with NCCP’s Andrea Orlando and Thomas Young
Last week, nearly 200 creative placemaking strategists from a broad range of sectors gathered in downtown Los Angeles for the first-ever Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit (CPLS) in the Pacific region! Urban planners, architects, artists, government agencies, funders, nonprofit leaders (including Levitt partners and grantees!) and community organizers, amongst others, spent three days engaged in thought-provoking sessions, rich dialogue and knowledge exchange focused on how creative placemaking—strategically engaging arts and local culture to enhance and elevate communities—can help us address pressing social, economic and environmental issues. And in another first, the Levitt Foundation played a key role in Summit planning by serving as co-producers, with Executive Director Sharon Yazowski and Senior Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives Vanessa Silberman leading the effort, alongside the amazing folks at The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking (NCCP) and ArtPlace America.

The Pacific Summit was one of five Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits taking place in different regions across the country in 2019, organized by NCCP and ArtPlace America, and supported in part by the Levitt Foundation. “We’re dedicated to building the field of creative placemaking, and have been greatly impressed with the work of NCCP as a supporter of their summits since 2017,” says Yazowski. “So when NCCP reached out to Vanessa and I, asking if we would take a lead role in planning the Pacific Summit, we immediately knew this would be an invaluable opportunity to highlight the role of creative placemaking as a cross-sector strategy to address issues specific in the Pacific region while deepening the conversation among funders and practitioners.”

The Summit’s theme of “Shifting Tides” focused on the Pacific region’s booming economy, shifting demographics and climate change, and attracted attendees from up and down the West Coast as well as from Alaska and Hawaii. Through seminars, workshops, peer exchanges and field workshops, attendees explored how creative placemaking can play a role in shaping the future to ensure equitable, inclusive, sustainable communities while giving voice and ownership to the people who live there. Other themes that were discussed included Keeping Places (embrace the people and cultural assets already within a place while welcoming newcomers and mitigating displacement and cultural erasure), Amplifying Voices (fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion), Weathering Storms (creative approaches to disaster relief, sustainability, and regeneration) and Supporting Movement (issues related to immigration, class mobility, and public transit). Thanks to NCCP and funding from LA’s Department of Cultural Affairs, partial scholarships were awarded to 60 scholars, ensuring that artists and small nonprofits could be part of the conversation.

The Summit was also a wonderful opportunity for attendees to learn more about the Levitt program through both learning sessions and a free concert at Levitt LA!  During a morning plenary, the team at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles (Allegra Padilla, Director of Community Relations & Partnerships; Carla Contreras Cabrera, Community Outreach Coordinator; Matthew Himes, Director of Programming & Production; and Oliver DelGado, Director of Marketing & Communications) along with Yazowski, Levitt LA’s founding Executive Director, packed the room for an illuminating discussion on the intentional and multi-layered approach of Levitt LA to amplify voices in marginalized communities. The rewards and challenges of the Levitt Foundation’s hands-on grantmaking to deepen impact both from the funder and grantee perspective was the focus of another session led by Yazowski, Executive Director Patti Diou of Levitt Pavilion Arlington, and Executive Director Gina Chavez Hill of the Brewery Arts Center (Levitt AMP grantee) in Carson City, Nev. To top it off, Summit attendees danced the night away  at Levitt LA in the city’s historic MacArthur Park on Friday night, enjoying the energizing sounds of ska-rockers Viernes 13 and The Slackers while enjoying a picnic.

Additional highlights:

  • Hanmin Lius and Jennifer Mei of San Francisco’s Wildflowers Institute leading a thoughtful discussion on cultural mapping and the ways people self-identify as artists in unlikely places as a way to address issues around displacement
  • Annette Roth of the Washington State Arts Commission discussing the opportunities and challenges of creating cultural districts in rural communities
  • The City of San Jose’s Michael Ogilvie discussing the city’s interactive public art program, Illuminating Downtown, marrying art with tech to create a more engaging sense of place
  • Joanne Kim and Kristen Gordon sharing plans for LA’s Destination Crenshaw, an open-air museum along a transit corridor reclaiming and honoring Black LA set to open in 2020
  • In-the-Field workshops on Saturday to Leimert Park (one of LA’s most vibrant cultural districts), LA’s Japantown (fighting for its future through placekeeping), LA Poverty Department (arts group consisting of un-housed and formerly un-housed people) and Self Help Graphics (a cultural anchor in an evolving, historically Latino neighborhood)

As the field of creative placemaking continues to grow, evolve and deepen, we look forward to continuing our support of CPL Summits!  Next up? CPL is headed to Cincinnati October 10-12 to engage creative placemakers from throughout the Midwest.

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The City of Sioux Falls marked the beginning of a new chapter earlier this month when the newly completed Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, the 8th permanent Levitt venue, held its inaugural concert on June 14th. Over 4,000 people from across the city gathered on picnic blankets and lawn chairs to celebrate the occasion and watch GRAMMY-nominated blues artist Ruthie Foster give an awe-inspiring performance. Among them were the volunteers, staff and board members of the Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, the nonprofit organization that led the development of the venue through years of collaboration with the Levitt Foundation and the City of Sioux Falls. Levitt Foundation Board President Liz Levitt Hirsch and board members from both the Foundation and the national network of permanent Levitt venues also attended in support, along with the City’s mayor, Paul TenHaken. The celebration continued the following night, when Levitt National Tour headliner Flor de Toloache, the GRAMMY-winning all-female mariachi sensation from New York City, took to the stage in front of a packed lawn. Acclaimed children’s entertainer Phil Baker brought the opening weekend celebration to a close the next day with a special performance appealing to both the young and young at heart. Levitt at the Falls will host a total of 30 free concerts through August, expanding to 50 free concerts every summer beginning in 2020.

A dream 8 years in the making
The festive opening weekend realized an idea that came to light in 2011, when former lawmaker and lifelong Sioux Falls resident Tom Dempster received a phone call from a high school friend living in Pasadena, Calif. Tim Boe, now deceased, was a frequent concertgoer at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, and boldly told Dempster, “Sioux Falls needs a Levitt.”

Change was already afoot in Sioux falls at the time of Boe’s phone call. The city’s population was soaring, and immigrant and refugee communities were bringing newfound cultural diversity to the once-largely Caucasian Midwestern city. At the time, over 60 different languages were spoken in the Sioux Falls School District (today, that number has increased to 80). In addition to a growing need for accessible arts and events, city and community leadership were seeking ways to bring its increasingly diverse population together. Meanwhile, the entrance to one of Sioux Falls’ most significant outdoor spaces was lying dormant—Falls Park West, a sprawling green space adjacent to the city’s bustling downtown and just minutes away from the cascading waterfalls that gave the city its name.

Dempster contacted the Levitt Foundation and made the case for bringing a new permanent Levitt venue to Falls Park West. The Foundation’s leadership was impressed. “The more the Foundation learned about Sioux Falls… the community’s displayed commitment and civic pride, and its visionary leadership to create programming that would bring people together, the more we realized Sioux Falls was an ideal match for the Levitt program,” said Sharon Yazowski, Executive Director of the Levitt Foundation, reflecting on her early visits to Sioux Falls.

A concert space like no other
The plan to bring a free outdoor music venue to Sioux Falls was quickly met with an outpouring of enthusiasm and support from residents, as well as the city’s business and philanthropic communities. Dempster established the Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls nonprofit to bring advocates together and coordinate the effort. Realizing the enormity of the project, he asked Jennifer Kirby, a seasoned volunteer leader of nonprofits and capital campaigns, to be the organization’s co-chair, alongside him. Kirby later took the helm as board chair and through her leadership, the Friends of Levitt nonprofit developed a public/private partnership with the City of Sioux Falls and the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.

The packed lawn

Community members pack the lawn for opening night

Of the $4.6 million needed for the project, the City covered $2.5 million, the Foundation provided $500,000, and generous donations from businesses and the community, including a major gift from the Kirby family, covered the rest. Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs was hired to create the concert space, breathing life into the homegrown design concept. Inspired by the shape of the Big Sioux River, the fluid, organic shape of the Shell’s roof was conceived by Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls board member Catherine Dekkenga, who drew the first draft on a napkin. Sioux Falls Parks Director Don Kearney called the cooperation, “a testament to the teamwork and perseverance by all parties to make this project happen for our Sioux Falls community.” With the venue’s construction underway, Nancy Halverson was hired in the summer of 2018 to steer the Friends of Levitt Sioux Falls into the future as the organization’s first Executive Director.  

From left to right:  Sharon Yazowski, Nancy Halverson, and Liz Levitt Hirsch gear up for the opening ceremony

From left to right:  Sharon Yazowski, Nancy Halverson, and Liz Levitt Hirsch gear up for the opening ceremony

Growing anticipation
The construction crew put the finishing touches on the new venue in early June, and as opening weekend approached, Sioux Falls was buzzing with excitement. “I hope it can bring everyone together. I want everyone to feel welcome. I want everyone to feel like they have a chance to experience live, outdoor music,” Kirby told reporters at the Argus Leader after being awarded a Challenge Coin by the City for her role in the project. On the day of the opening, Liz Levitt Hirsch joined Halverson and headlining artist Ruthie Foster on KELOland News to discuss the inaugural concert. Levitt Hirsch expressed her gratitude for the community that made the transformation of Falls Park West possible, saying, “What I’m really proud of are the wonderful people of Sioux Falls.” Later, when asked her opinion on Foster’s GRAMMY-nominated blues music, Hirsch responded, “Ruthie’s going to drive an arrow though your heart!” Halverson added, “There’s no better match [for the inaugural concert] for our mission of building community through music.”

Ruthie Foster performs at the inaugural concert

Ruthie Foster performs at the inaugural concert

The day of the concert brought clear skies and a Midwestern sun that remained present well into the evening. Mayor TenHaken, Levitt Hirsch, Halverson and Yazowski all spoke before the enthusiastic crowd, giving well-deserved acknowledgement to the many people who had made the momentous occasion possible, including Dempster and Kirby. Kirby later remarked that she had “never seen such excitement in the community” or “joy on people’s faces.” Bringing Levitt to Sioux Falls, Kirby concluded, “has already made it a better place to live, work and play.” After an opening performance by Groove Inc, a local drum corps, Foster took to the stage and Levitt at the Falls’ inaugural concert was underway.

Twilight had descended upon Falls Park West by the time the music was over, but conversations between friends and neighbors lingered on. Opening weekend brought thousands of people together in Falls Park West, and Levitt Sioux Falls is quickly becoming a beloved cultural destination. Halverson later put into words what many were feeling: “Our community has fallen in love with Levitt, and we look forward to much more fantastic music and community building for years to come.”

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It’s that time of year again! Last month marked the beginning of free Levitt concerts nationwide, with a show-stopping performance by country crooner Deryl Dodd at Levitt Pavilion Arlington. This summer and fall, more than 550 free concerts will take place in 26 towns and cities across America, both at permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP sites.  We love seeing friends, families and neighbors of all ages and backgrounds come together on Levitt lawns to enjoy free music under the stars (many showing off their #musicmoves on our feed!). With concerts in full swing, read on to check out all the great places free Levitt concerts are taking place in 2019!

Permanent Levitt Venues

Each permanent outdoor Levitt music venue presents 50 free concerts every year and is managed, programmed and supported by a Friends of Levitt nonprofit partner, with Levitt Los Angeles run by the Foundation. This year marks the opening of the stunning Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, which launches its inaugural free summer concert series June 14! Click on a venue to see artist lineups and more!

Levitt Pavilion Arlington: May 17 – July 21; August 30 – October 20
Levitt Pavilion Dayton: May 30 – September 21
Levitt Pavilion Denver: May 24 – September 15
Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles: June 1 – September 1
Levitt Shell Memphis: May 30 – July 21; September 6 – October 14
Levitt Shell Sioux Falls: June 14 – August 10
Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks: May 24 – September 7
Levitt Pavilion Westport: June 25 – August 23

Levitt AMP Music Series

Every year the Levitt AMP Music Series takes place in small to mid-sized towns and cities, each presenting at least 10 free concerts throughout the summer or fall. Click on a venue to see artist lineups and more!

Berea, KY: July 19 – October 4
Carson City, NV: June 22 – August 24
Chattanooga, TN: August 23 – October 25
Earlham, IA: June 2 – August 11
Galva, IL: June 2 – August 4
Green Bay, WI: June 18 – August 27
Middlesboro, KY: July 18 – September 19
Ocala, FL: May 31 – August 8
Santa Fe, NM: June 8 – August 27
Sheboygan, WI: June 20 – August 22
Soldotna, AK: June 5 – August 21
Springfield, IL: May 30 – August 1
St. Johnsbury, VT: July 14 – September 22
Stevens Point, WI: June 6 – August 8
Trenton, NJ: June 27 – September 5
Utica, NY: June 24 – August 26
Whitesburg, KY: May 30 – August 8
Woonsocket, RI: June 14 – August 23

So if you haven’t already, pack your picnics and lawn blankets and get ready to enjoy a season of free, live music with friends, family and neighbors. And be sure to share your #musicmoves!


This week the Spotlight Series continues with the genre-busting violin/vocalist duo, Sons of Mystro—who launch the 2019 Levitt AMP Ocala Music Series tonight with their lively mix of classical, reggae, hip-hop and more! To gear up for tonight’s show, we’re bringing you 10 fun facts about this eclectic power duo! Continue reading

Holiday decorations have been put away, New Year’s resolutions have been made and we’re already dreaming of warm spring days—bringing us one step closer to the 2019 Levitt concert season!

This year, more than 550 free Levitt concerts will take place in 26 towns and cities nationwide, serving more than 750,000 people. And planning is already underway! Across the country, Friends of Levitt nonprofit partners and Levitt AMP grantees are hard at work to make 2019 the most impactful season yet—energizing public spaces in metropolitan centers like Los Angeles, where Angelenos will gather in MacArthur Park to enjoy free outdoor concerts in one of the city’s densest, most diverse neighborhoods; to rural communities like St. Johnsbury, Vt., where residents and visitors alike will come together to experience the joy of free, live music atop the scenic Dog Mountain, in a formerly industrial area. Continue reading

$25K matching grants will bring free outdoor concerts to 18 small- to mid-sized towns and cities across America

Today, the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation awarded $450,000 in matching grants to 18 nonprofits serving small- to mid-sized towns and cities across America to produce free outdoor concerts as part of the fifth annual Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards. Reflecting the Levitt Foundation’s commitment to creative placemaking projects generating community support, the Levitt Foundation once again opened the Levitt AMP selection process to the public to choose the top 25 finalists. Continue reading

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Did you know that October 24th is United Nations Day? Today, we join the global community in celebrating the promotion of peace and progress, while commemorating the formation of the UN Charter, 73 years ago today. This international peacekeeping organization provides a platform where representatives from 193 countries can come together and exchange ideas that promote and protect basic human rights across the globe.

Fueled by that same idea that cultural exchange promotes both peace and progress, Levitt concerts provide places where people of all backgrounds can come together to enjoy shared musical experiences, while strengthening their communities. Each Levitt lawn nationwide represents a community-wide effort to bring it to life and tells a story of free, live music transcending social, cultural, economic and political barriers. Earlier this year, Levitt Board President, Liz Levitt Hirsch spoke with Liberty Hill’s Crystal Shaw about free Levitt concerts serving as places where we can celebrate our shared humanity. Continue reading

Second Lineup Announcement InstallmentEarlier this season, we shared the first five Levitt AMP Music Series lineups to invigorate small to mid-sized towns and cities through the 2018 Levitt AMP Music Series—today we’re pleased to shine the spotlight on five more incredible Levitt AMP lineups that are thrilling Levitteers this season!

With free Levitt AMP concerts already underway in 13 towns and cities from coast to coast, this year’s Levitt AMP Music Series is in full swing and we’ve loved seeing the ways #musicmoves concertgoers and communities nationwide! Today we’re taking a closer look at the exciting talent lighting up the Levitt AMP stages in Sheboygan, Wis., Carson City, Nev., Utica, N.Y., Trenton, N.J., and Woonsocket, R.I.! Featuring a wide array of musical styles and genres, ranging from explosive rock ‘n’ roll, to velvety R&B and danceable mariachi (among many others!), these lineups are bringing lively and eclectic concerts that audiences of all ages, backgrounds and musical tastes are bound to enjoy. Scroll down to learn more about the rising stars and award-winning talent filling these five communities with the joyous sounds of free, live music! Continue reading

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This summer, 150+ free Levitt concerts will bring joy and world-class musical talent to communities in small to mid-sized towns and cities across the country, all as part of the 2018 Levitt AMP Music Series!

With free Levitt AMP concerts already underway in Santa Fe, N.M., Galva, Ill., Stevens Point Wis., and Whitesburg, Ky., and Ocala, Fla.,’s series right around the corner, we’re thrilled to share the wide-range of award-winning artists and rising stars who’ll bring vibrant outdoor performances to Levitteers across the nation this summer. Scroll down to check out the incredible talent coming to these five Levitt AMP locations, and stay tuned for more exciting 2018 Levitt AMP lineups! Continue reading

Pictured above (left to right): Construction of future Levitt Pavilion Dayton (photo by Andy Snow); Groundbreaking ceremony for Falls Park West and Levitt Shell Sioux Falls on April 23, 2018.

Pictured above (left to right): Levitt Pavilion Dayton’s stage in the making (photo by Andy Snow); Groundbreaking ceremony for Falls Park West and Levitt Shell Sioux Falls on April 23, 2018 (photo by Thomas Dempster)

2018 has been a milestone year for not one, but two, future permanent Levitt venues! In less than three months, Levitt Pavilion Dayton in Ohio will launch its inaugural season of free concerts at its new, state-of-the-art outdoor music venue in downtown’s Dave Have Plaza, reinvigorating this central public space and attracting Daytonians of all walks of life. And last month, Levitt Shell Sioux Falls broke ground on its own state-of-the-art outdoor music venue in the city’s underused Falls Park West, bringing it a giant leap forward toward its projected 2019 opening in South Dakota’s largest and most diverse city.

Continue reading