Elizabeth “Liz” Levitt Hirsch, a champion of the arts, community, and social justice, passed away from ovarian cancer on Sunday, May 26, 2024 at her home in Los Angeles, surrounded by loved ones. She was 72. Known for her gift to connect and inspire people to achieve a shared vision, Liz channeled her life-long passion for the performing arts into a source for positive social change in towns and cities across America.

Liz delivering a warm welcome to open the 2024 Levitt National Convening.

As a philanthropist over the past four decades, Liz supported a range of cultural, arts and social justice nonprofits, including as a board member of her family’s foundation, the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation. A national creative placemaking funder at the intersection of music, public space, and community building, Liz served as Board President of the Levitt Foundation for a decade. In this role, Liz played a key role in the development of the venture philanthropy model at the core of the Levitt Foundation’s giving philosophy to strengthen the social fabric of communities through free outdoor concerts. She also championed the Foundation’s decision to spend down its assets of $150 million by 2041, publicly announced in 2023, supporting more towns and cities across the country to accelerate the movement for free concerts in public spaces as essential to equitable, healthy, and thriving communities.

Liz adventuring with her mother, Mimi Levitt.

As the daughter of Mortimer and Mimi Levitt growing up in Manhattan society during the 1960s and ‘70s, Liz was exposed to the arts and the engaged philanthropy of her parents. Her father, Mortimer, was founder of the men’s clothing company, The Custom Shop, a philanthropist, and outspoken advocate for the arts. Her mother, Mimi, was an iconic patron of the arts and historic preservation. Throughout her youth, Liz developed a deep love of music, which inspired her 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.

Liz attending a gala with her mother, Mimi Levitt, and husband, Howard Hirsch.

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, one of Liz’s celebrated events, she 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. 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.

Liz striking a pose with her father, Mortimer Levitt.

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 then 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.”

Liz loved experiencing the joy of free Levitt concerts across the country.

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, when the Foundation outgrew the space and then moved to a new location in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park. In 2024, the Foundation’s giving has grown to support free music in 50+ towns and cities across America through 650+ free Levitt concerts serving more than 800,000 people every year.

Beyond the work of the Levitt Foundation, Liz had 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. Until her passing, Liz served on the boards of Center Dance Arts (founding board member) and My Friend’s Place (formerly Hollywood Arts). Liz 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.

Liz sharing a moment with fellow honoree Congressman John Lewis at Liberty Hill Foundation’s 2018 Upton Sinclair Awards Dinner.

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 was also honored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, The Gabriella Foundation, Everybody Dance LA, and The Joyce Theater in New York.

Liz sharing the impact of the Levitt program with local reporters.

In addition to Liz’s role at the Levitt Foundation and her many philanthropic activities, Liz was a devoted stepmom and step-grandmother and loved spending time with her family and hosting celebrations.

There will be a private funeral followed by a memorial service that will take place at a later date. For information regarding the memorial, please email memorial@levitt.org. In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Liz may be made to the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation at levitt.org/donate or to your local Levitt concert series at levitt.org/support-local.