New 42nd Street President And CEO Cora Cahan Will Step Down In June 2019
Cora Cahan, the founding President and CEO of The New 42nd Street, has announced that she will step down at the end of June 2019. For 28 years, her visionary leadership has been key to the vital transformation and reclamation of 42nd Street and the expansion of the cultural landscape of New York City. "It has been a privilege as well as a challenge to take part in the transformation of the heart of the City for the past 28 years. I learned so much finding ways to be inventive about what is possible to achieve here. There is a great deal more that The New 42nd Street can accomplish in the future, and I look forward to seeing the organization continue to thrive under new leadership," said Cahan.
In announcing Ms. Cahan's departure, The New 42nd Street's Board Chairman Fiona Rudin wrote, "The revitalization of 42nd Street was seen by many as an impossible dream in 1990, but Cora Cahan's smarts, acumen and moxie sparked a period of enormous change at the Crossroads of the World. Cora is a personal hero of mine for her strong backbone and unwavering vision that always assure victory in the face of adversity. Her impact on the City will continue to be felt by generations of New Yorkers."
Honorary Chairman Marian Heiskell, who led the organization's board from its founding until 2012, said, "In 1990 when I was asked to Chair the New 42nd Street board, I recall my husband, Andrew, saying, "You have to get someone who knows about theater, because you don't know a damn thing!" He couldn't have given me better advice, and we all feel so fortunate that Cora has been at the helm for 28 years. When we began, the board wondered how we could prove that change was possible on the blighted block. Cora came to us with one risky but brilliant idea after another -- first to create a theater for the City's kids to launch the street's revitalization, and then to construct a building filled with beautiful practical rehearsal studios dedicated to the City's performing artists -- all we had to do is say yes and watch Cora make it happen."
Under Ms. Cahan's direction since the organization was founded, The New 42nd Street has advanced its mission to alter the face and spirit of "the deuce" -- 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues -- and the street has been radically changed from a "naughty, bawdy" block of moldy theaters, porn houses, and boarded-up buildings to an area grounded by the preservation and mixed reuse of seven historic Broadway theaters - the Apollo, Empire, Lyric, Liberty, Selwyn, Times Square, and Victory. Reaching beyond the street, the change has had a ripple effect on the revitalization of the entire Times Square area and surrounding neighborhoods.
As The New 42nd Street grew from one employee (Ms. Cahan) with a budget of under $1 million to its current full-time staff of 100 and a budget of $19 million, the nonprofit organization created three beloved performing arts venues that have become NYC icons: The New Victory Theater, the New 42nd Street Studios, and The Duke on 42nd Street.
Cora Cahan, a Brooklyn-born former dancer and fierce advocate for the arts in NYC, proposed launching the revitalization of 42nd Street with the metamorphosis of the City's oldest operating theater, The Victory, into a nonprofit theater devoted to kids and families. This unprecedented notion was enthusiastically adopted by the organization's distinguished 24-member board. The vision became a reality when The New Victory Theater opened in 1995 dedicated to presenting multi-disciplinary performances of the highest quality for families and school kids at affordable prices. Under Cahan's direction, the theater's reputation for excellence has grown to include attendant award-winning education and employment programs for NYC youth.
In 1996, acutely aware of the need for rehearsal and office space for both nonprofit performing arts organizations and commercial producers, Ms. Cahan again approached the board to take a giant leap forward by designing, building, and operating the New 42nd Street Studios, a $34.7 million facility that houses rehearsal studios, office space for nonprofit cultural groups, and a 199-seat black box theater, The Duke on 42nd Street. Opening its doors in June 2000, the studio building quickly became a bustling hive of creativity that reaches well beyond its walls. Since opening, 299 Tony nominated shows have rehearsed at the New 42nd Street Studios, with 31 winning Tony Awards. During that same time, 614 nonprofit companies rehearsed or performed over 1,500 productions in the exemplary rehearsal spaces.
"The timing of my decision is no coincidence," says Cahan. "When we forged this organization from a combination of good intentions and strong will, buttressed by the beautiful if decrepit theaters that were there to be reborn, I had no notion of the level of success we would ultimately achieve. With all seven historic theaters now set up for long-term use, this feels like the exact right time for me to pass the baton and watch the organization that has been my professional home for these many years as it grows into its next phase."
Cahan, during her tenure, has accomplished the following:
- Created and led a completely new nonprofit organization charged with reclaiming 42nd Street from a desolate and barren landscape by reclaiming and restoring the block's historic theaters for commercial and nonprofit use.
- Led the invention of a unique and nonprofit model in which income from The New 42nd Street's tenants helps to support the activities of the performing arts and education activities of the organization.
- Re-established 42nd Street as a desirable destination for all New Yorkers and visitors with a distinct identity that has a spontaneous, positive vitality on the street strengthening New York City's place as the country's premier entertainment city and reinforcing the area's role as the "Crossroads of the World."
- Facilitated the creation of 4,500 legitimate theater seats on 42nd Street where there were previously none by securing the leases of all the theaters under the jurisdiction of The New 42nd Street including the Apollo and Lyric Theaters (aka The Lyric, home to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and the Selwyn (aka The American Airlines Theatre, operated by Roundabout Theatre Company). Leased the Liberty and Empire theaters to Forest City where Madame Tussaud's and the AMC Theaters are located.
- Launched the revitalization of 42nd Street with the establishment of The New Victory Theater, the City's first and only year-round theater devoted to kids and families in the City's oldest operating theater.
- Built and developed the New 42nd Street Studios, the City's foremost state-of-the-art nonprofit rehearsal studio theater/office complex and The Duke on 42nd Street.
After a distinguished career as a dancer, Cora Cahan metamorphosed into a visionary arts administrator. A graduate of NYC public schools and Brooklyn College, where she received a B.A. in American Literature, Ms. Cahan co-founded and served as Executive Director of the Feld Ballet. From 1974 to 1990, Ms. Cahan developed the Lawrence A. Wien Center and Joyce Theater, and created the city's first and only tuition-free, professional ballet school, now called Ballet Tech, NYC Public School for Dance.
Ms. Cahan serves on the Boards of The Park Avenue Armory; The Times Square Alliance and The Center for Architecture Foundation (NY AIA); is a member of Bessie Awards Steering Committee; and on the CalArts Board of Governors. She has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts and is Founder and Trustee Emeritus of both The Joyce Theater and Ballet Tech. She has been the recipient of a number of awards for public service, including the New York State Governor's Arts Award.
She is married to Bernard Gersten, Founding Executive Producer of LCT, with whom she raised two daughters, Jenny and Jilian.
The New 42nd Street builds on the foundation of seven historic theaters to make extraordinary performing arts and cultural engagement part of everyone's life. The New 42nd Street fulfills this purpose by ensuring the ongoing vibrancy of 42nd Street's historic theaters; supporting performing artists in the creation of their work at the New 42nd Street Studios and The Duke on 42nd Street; creating arts access and education at The New Victory Theater, New York's premier theater for kids and families and the largest provider of international, multidisciplinary live performances to New York City schools, serving 40,000 kids annually; and through the New 42nd Street Youth Corps, its model youth development programs, which pair life skills workshops and mentorship with paid employment in the arts for NYC youth. Through these programs, The New 42nd Street has engaged and inspired nearly half a million students and provided jobs for 1,500 young people. Inspired by the city it serves, The New 42nd Street is committed to the transformational power of the arts.
The New 42nd Street's contributions to the cultural landscape of the City were honored by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities when former First Lady Michelle Obama presented the New 42nd Street Youth Corps with the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, by Americans for the Arts when The New Victory Theater received a national Arts Education Award, and by New York City critics when The New Victory Theater received a Drama Desk Award for "providing enchanting, sophisticated children's theater that appeals to the child in all of us, and for nurturing a love of theater in young people."
Photo Credit: Linda Lenzi