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NEW: ArtsFairfax hires New York arts education leader as president and CEO

ArtsFairfax Board Chair Scott Cryer (left) with newly hired president and CEO Stuart Holt (photo courtesy PaperKite Photography LLC)

A longtime arts educator and administrator who has helped keep opera alive in cities as different as New York City and Nashville will soon bring that expertise to Fairfax County.

ArtsFairfax has hired Stuart Holt as its new president and CEO to replace Linda Sullivan, who retired on Feb. 29 after a 14-year tenure that saw the organization evolve from a council most known for producing the International Children’s Festival into a key advocate and source of funding for the county’s artistic community.

Holt’s experience with expanding access to the arts — most recently as director of learning and engagement for the Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York City — will help ArtsFairfax build on the transformation that Sullivan started, ArtsFairfax Board Chair Scott Cryer said in today’s announcement.

“Fairfax County interest in the arts has grown exponentially over the last 10 years due in large part to Linda Sullivan’s leadership,” Cryer said. “Now, we look to Stuart Holt to increase access to the arts for all residents throughout the region. The ArtsFairfax Board believes that Stuart’s vision and spirit of collaboration will inspire our talented staff and multiple stakeholders to find new ways of working together to strengthen the arts in Fairfax.”

Envisioning ArtsFairfax as a “catalyst for area artists to amplify and celebrate their work,” Holt told FFXnow in an exclusive interview that he’s “extremely excited about the opportunity” to work in a community the size of Fairfax County, which he noted has more residents than the state of Montana.

“The opportunity to think about access, exposure, a commitment to the arts on that scale is thrilling,” Holt said. “It’s daunting, but it is a huge opportunity, one which I think is a beautiful combination of all of the work that I have done up to this point in my career.”

A graduate of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and Florida State University, where he got a master’s degree in opera production, Holt began his administrative career in 2004 as the director of youth opera programs for the Sarasota Opera. He then served as Nashville Opera’s education and outreach director before joining the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 2012.

According to ArtsFairfax, Holt’s work with the Met Opera Guild included a redesign of its Opera Learning Institute, participation in an Arts Workforce Fellowship that assists emerging artists from historically underrepresented communities, the creation of a Community Voices Choir for the arts center Culture Lab, and oversight of a research project on how “opera-based and arts-integrated learning” connects to student achievement.

Holt’s efforts have brought arts education programming to 30,000 students in Nashville and 120,000 students in New York, ArtsFairfax said in a press release.

Throughout his career Mr. Holt has brokered unique community partnerships, including collaborations with Lincoln Center to provide music education for children and young adults on the Autism spectrum and to serve adults affected by dementia; a partnership with the Vanderbilt Observatory to create the outdoor dining and live music “Opera on the Mountain” event, which remains an integral part of Nashville Opera’s perennial community engagement offerings; and a partnership with the Police Athletic League to develop an afterschool choral program in Sarasota, Florida.

As Director of Learning and Engagement at the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Mr. Holt dramatically increased the Guild’s reach, growing their K-12 school programs across all five boroughs of New York City and to six counties in New Jersey; launching the Metropolitan Opera Guild Podcast, which garnered over 2.2 million listens across 200 episodes; and creating the Guild’s Continuing Opera Education-Online Learning Platform, which reached adult learners from 41 states and 29 countries.

Holt says his past work has given him an appreciation for the importance of listening to constituents and building personal connections.

Fittingly, his top priority as ArtsFairfax’s new president and CEO is to conduct a listening tour with arts organizations, public officials and other partners “to hear what is working well and what are their thoughts for improvements.”

He also wants to expand the funding that the agency is able to give to arts and cultural groups, which were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide. Per its latest annual report, which was released Thursday (March 21), ArtsFairfax awarded $735,839 in grants to 63 nonprofit arts organizations last year, an amount boosted by a $250,000 boost from Fairfax County.

“We know as we continue to move forward that that need is probably going to increase,” Holt said. “So, we need to think about how are we increasing the pot that’s available so that arts organizations know that they can come to us when they have a project that they really want to do, and they know that we are going to think carefully about trying to help them amplify that work out to their community.”

In addition to providing funding, ArtsFairfax helps promote local organizations and events, and connects artists with jobs, facilities, professional development workshops and other resources. Recent initiatives have included the introduction of a Fairfax Poet Laureate and a map to locate public art.

Holt shares the ArtsFairfax team’s goal, outlined in its strategic plan, of increasing the accessibility and availability of those services.

“I really want to be thinking about how we are engaging the most possible community members with our work,” he said. “This…is listening to those arts partners, those civic organizations, those stakeholders who are thinking about, ‘How are we making the arts accessible to everybody, and what are the tools that ArtsFairfax can provide to help with that work?'”

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