Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch (Liz) is best known for her ability to connect and inspire people to achieve a shared vision to better our communities, and for directing her life-long passion for the performing arts into a source for positive social change.
As a philanthropist over the past four decades, Liz has supported a range of cultural, arts and social justice nonprofits, including as a board member of her family’s foundation, of which Liz has served as Board President for nearly a decade. In this role, Liz has played a key part in the development of the venture philanthropy model at the core of the Levitt Foundation’s giving philosophy, with the Foundation awarding more than $25 million in grants for free concerts across the country.
As the daughter of Mortimer and Mimi growing up in Manhattan society during the 1960s and 70s, Liz was exposed to the arts and the engaged philanthropy of her parents.
Throughout her youth, she developed a deep love of music, which inspired Liz to study music history as a student at Scripps College in Southern California. Following her graduation in 1974, Liz settled in Los Angeles, where she held various positions in the music industry—in administration at Elektra/Asylum Records and Bearsville Records, and in Artist Relations at ABC Records, where she worked with musical artists including Chaka Khan, Stephen Bishop and Tom Petty. Always a natural at connecting with people, Liz later worked in sales for the Minolta Corporation, where she won multiple awards in recognition of her achievements.
In 1981, Liz met and fell in love with the internationally-renowned hospitality designer Howard Hirsch, whom she married. She then began supporting a variety of causes including arts and cultural nonprofits, and later served on the boards of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Joffrey Ballet. On behalf of each of these organizations, Liz chaired benefit events and helped guide strategic direction to ensure their long-term viability. As the benefit chair for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, for example, Liz elevated the annual benefit to become a signature gala in Los Angeles. The event’s success went on to draw dignitaries from Italy, France and Spain when their respective cultures were celebrated.
Through Howard’s work, Liz and Howard traveled extensively throughout Asia, Australia and Europe during the 1980s and ‘90s. Liz’s travels to China made a deep impression on her–it was there, as a passenger in a car driving to the hotel from the airport, that she witnessed extreme disparities unlike anything she had seen, a crush of humanity on the streets deprived of basic necessities like food and shelter. Not long after, the year 1992, later dubbed the Year of the Woman for the number of females elected to the Senate, also made a big impact on Liz and launched her into a more engaged form of philanthropy, inspiring her to become involved with political campaigns including Barbara Boxer and social justice organizations including My Friend’s Place.
In 2001, at the invitation of her then 94-year-old father, Liz became active with the family foundation, with the goal of realizing Mortimer’s vision to develop a national network of Levitt venues presenting free concerts, modeled after the original Levitt Pavilion in Westport, Conn., which the Levitt family had supported since its inception. To get the program off the ground, Liz became a donor activist on the frontlines, traveling to cities across the country to introduce the Levitt mission to community leaders and identify potential sites and sharing the mission by networking at conferences, community events and fundraisers. Above all, Liz nurtured the community buy-in that is essential for Levitt programs to have impact and be sustainable.
In 2002, Liz led the first venture philanthropy effort of the Foundation to develop a Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, Calif., building upon her existing philanthropic relationships in Southern California to generate local support while embracing a grassroots approach. The venue successfully launched in 2003 with the support of Pasadena’s Mayor Bill Bogaard and the community. “I talked with people anywhere and everywhere about the program,” she recalled. “I participated in board meetings and ingrained myself in Pasadena activities. After its opening, I stood on street corners handing out concert flyers and regularly attended Levitt shows, meeting artists backstage to tell them about our mission, connecting with audiences of all ages and backgrounds on the lawn and thanking volunteers. It was wonderful to see the mission being realized.”
For Liz, those early years of tirelessly working to get the Levitt program off the ground were an incredible opportunity to witness the social impact of the program. “Throughout my life I’ve loved music and recognized that free, live music in public spaces brings people together, creating joy and enriching our well-being,” she said.
In addition to the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, Liz’s engagement with communities helped bring the Levitt program to life in Los Angeles (2007), Arlington, Texas (2008), Memphis (2008), Bethlehem, Pa. (2011), and Sioux Falls (2019). She was a founding board member of the Levitt music venues in Los Angeles and Pasadena and was instrumental in developing each pavilion, helping to establish the community-driven public/private partnerships at the heart of the Levitt model. In 2008, recognizing the potential for expanded impact of the Levitt program across the country, Liz professionalized her family foundation by hiring its first executive director, thereby setting the stage for significant program growth and advancing the mission of building community through music through new initiatives. Until 2015, the Levitt Foundation offices were located in Liz’s home until the Foundation outgrew the space and then moved to a new location in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park.
Today, the Levitt Foundation realizes its mission through two main programs: permanent outdoor Levitt music venues and the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards, as well as contributing to the field through research. In 2021, the Foundation’s giving has grown to support 28 towns and cities across America through 500+ free Levitt concerts serving more than 750,000 people every year.
Beyond the work of the Levitt Foundation, Liz has a long and distinguished history of involvement with charitable organizations, serving on numerous nonprofit boards and supporting organizations that foster social justice and access to the arts. Liz currently serves on the boards of Center Dance Arts (founding board member) and My Friend’s Place (formerly Hollywood Arts). Liz has also supported early-stage grants to her alma mater Scripps College’s Levitt on the Lawn, to create free on-campus concert series for the entire community to enjoy; an artist recording studio at Cal State Northridge KCSN radio station to present live, on-air music performances; Make Music Pasadena, at one time the West Coast’s largest single-day free music festival, as well as early support for performing arts organizations like The Broad Stage, Center Dance Arts, The Soraya Performing Arts Center and Hollywood Arts.
In 2018, Liz was the recipient of the Founders Award from the Liberty Hill Foundation, a recognition given to individuals whose philanthropy embodies the spirit of “change, not charity” and whose exceptional generosity is helping to realize equality and justice for all. Some of Liz’s other recognitions include: an Honorary Citizen Award from the City of Memphis; recipient of the Ruby McKnight Williams Award from the NAACP (Pasadena chapter); Gold Crown Award from the Pasadena Arts Council; Finalist for the Vanguard Award presented by Western Arts Alliance; and Finalist for Philanthropist of the Year by Association of Fundraising Professionals, Los Angeles. Liz has also been honored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, The Gabriella Foundation and The Joyce Theater in New York.
In addition to Liz’s role at the Levitt Foundation and her many philanthropic activities, Liz is a devoted stepmom and step-grandmother and loves spending time with her family and hosting celebrations.