New Director to Focus on Expanding Sources of Support and Outreach.
Chiwoniso “Chi” Kaitano will join MacDowell, the nation’s first artist residency program, as executive director, the 10th person to lead the organization since 1907. MacDowell’s Board of Directors unanimously appointed Kaitano at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon after an international search conducted by Management Consultants for the Arts. The former executive director of Girl Be Heard, a global NGO that advocates for social change through performing arts and storytelling in all of its forms, Kaitano succeeds Philip Himberg, who retired after serving as a transitional leader.
"I look forward to working with the board and staff to sustain and grow funding and to build upon the extraordinary vision for artist support that Edward and Marian MacDowell articulated when they welcomed the first artists-in-residence,” said Kaitano, who will begin her job in MacDowell’s New York offices on March 13. “Imagining and joyfully meeting the ever-evolving needs of contemporary artists is how MacDowell can and will continue to be a pioneering champion for the value of the arts in our society. I am thrilled and honored to be part of advancing this important mission.”
MacDowell’s board recognized in Kaitano the leadership qualities and experience needed to advance the long-standing mission of nurturing artists by removing obstacles to creativity. In her new role, Kaitano will identify and deepen sources of support, build meaningful new relationships, and intensify outreach to traditionally underrepresented artistic voices.
She spent the last four years at the helm of Girl Be Heard, expanding its organizational budget, increasing individual giving by 200 percent, and growing both the staff and board. Prior to Girl Be Heard, she served as executive director of Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, a 30-year-old Brooklyn-based arts and culture organization.
“As Madam Chairman, I take enormous pleasure in welcoming Chiwoniso Kaitano to MacDowell as our new executive director,” said author Nell Painter, who, in addition to chairing the MacDowell board is also a three-time Fellow. “Ms. Kaitano brings a deep understanding of the financial challenges facing all arts organizations today in the wake of the pandemic, and her personal warmth, enthusiasm, and know-how will serve MacDowell well in the years to come. Our search was rigorous, all our finalists compelling. But Chi’s expertise, energetic and collaborative methods of engagement, and inspiring leadership qualities proved irresistible.”
Kaitano will propel MacDowell’s creative mission, which pioneered the radical but simple idea that artists would benefit greatly from immersion in a multi-disciplinary community of exceptionally talented peers where intellectual exchange and ideal working conditions are the norm. Kaitano will work mainly from the Chelsea, New York office, while David Macy will continue to serve as MacDowell’s resident director in New Hampshire.
“After identifying the strongest candidates, board leadership deftly arranged staff participation in the interview sequence,” said Macy. “With so many positive interactions in the process leading to Chi’s accepting this post, I and the rest of the staff are already filled with enthusiasm regarding her capacity to bring out the best in MacDowell.”
Originally from Zimbabwe, Kaitano holds a law degree from the London School of Economics and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs. She began her career in human rights activism, where she helped build community programs for non-profits such as the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and SEEDCO. She serves on the boards of the International Contemporary Ensemble, The Center for Fiction, the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, and the Jazz Leaders Fellowship—a program of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music—and is founder of the literary series TheSALON. She is an avid traveler and has lived on three continents.
“This change in MacDowell’s leadership follows an intense period of inquiry and innovation throughout the pandemic and recent social justice movements,” said Board of Directors President Andrew M. Senchak. “During which time, MacDowell dropped ‘Colony’ from its name and the staff and board worked with external consultants to examine our values and our governance, to strengthen and democratize our policies, procedures, and program.”
This work also included deep and ongoing dialogues with artists from Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, parents, international artists, and artists with disabilities through the Virtual MacDowell program—a community building program launched at the beginning of the pandemic. With this clear and renewed commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access at the forefront of its values, Kaitano will play a decisive role in forging the next chapter of organizational growth.
Artists working at MacDowell continue to make important contributions to American and world culture. Over the past century, more than 8,800 Fellows working in seven disciplines have been honored with 99 Pulitzer prizes, eight National Medals for the Arts, 33 National Book Awards, 34 MacArthur Fellowships, 122 Rome Prizes, 31 Tony Awards, 868 Guggenheim Fellowships, among other accolades.