Speaker Bios

Eric Liu

Co-founder and CEO
Citizen University

Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University, which works to build a culture of powerful and responsible citizenship in the United States. He is also the founding director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program. Liu is the author of numerous acclaimed books, including most recently You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen and Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy—a New York Times New & Notable Book. He is featured in the PBS documentary American Creed and is a contributing writer at The Atlantic.

Liu served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. He was later appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. In 2020, Liu was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he serves on its Trust and is co-chair of its Our Common Purpose commission on democratic citizenship. He is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, and a member of the Yale University Council. Liu and his family live in Seattle, where he has served on the boards of the Seattle Public Library and the Washington State Board of Education, and co-founded the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. His work as a civic innovator was recognized in 2020 with an Ashoka Fellowship.

Kimberly Serrano

Center for Inclusion and Belonging 

Kimberly Serrano is the Director of the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council where she provides vision and strategic direction for a portfolio of narrative and culture change projects that work to increase social trust, bridge diverse experiences, and foster a sense of belonging. Prior to joining the Council she managed messaging research and founded the CoLAB at California Immigrant Policy Center to build inclusive narratives that dignify and humanize immigrants and refugees. Over nearly two decades Kimberly has coordinated economic, environmental, and community development research projects with partners across California and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. She is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of UCLA with degrees in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP), Latin American Studies (MA), and Art History (BA).

Sharon Yazowski

Levitt Foundation

As CEO, Sharon provides visionary leadership in fulfilling the Levitt Foundation’s mission to strengthen the social fabric of America and reinvigorate public spaces through the power of free, live music. Through her role at the Levitt Foundation—a national social impact funder working at the intersection of music, public space, and community building—she has become a recognized thought leader on arts investments in public spaces to build equitable, healthy, and thriving communities. Under Sharon’s leadership, the Levitt Foundation became a spend down Foundation in 2021 and has pledged to spend down the Foundation’s assets of $150 million over two decades.

Following 15 years in community arts programming and the performing arts, Sharon joined the Levitt Foundation in 2009—the family Foundation’s first employee—to professionalize the organization and scale Levitt programs nationally. Sharon’s passionate commitment to the arts as a vehicle for positive change in communities has guided the growth of Levitt programs across the country to include over 40 towns and cities today, including the development of long-term public/private partnerships in major U.S. cities, expanding grant programs into rural areas, sustainability strategies for Levitt grantees, and fostering the Levitt network’s ethos of shared learning and advancing collective impact, in addition to the Foundation’s creative placemaking research and investments in music ecosystems.

With her background working with grassroots nonprofits, Sharon transitioned the Levitt Foundation to a trust-based philanthropy model early on in her tenure. She has earned a reputation as a thoughtful and respected collaborator within the fields of philanthropy, creative placemaking, and community development. Responsive to the realities of nonprofits, she has guided Foundation staff to develop robust resources, toolkits, and peer connections for grantees, providing meaningful support beyond funding for their work in communities. Sharon centers equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of Levitt’s work, from internal operations to the Foundation’s funding philosophy and grantmaking to ensuring grantees receive trainings and resources to embed EDI into the many layers of bringing a music series to life.

Sharon collaborates closely with the Levitt Foundation team in the organization’s contributions to the field, including multi-year research and field-building initiatives. As the chief spokesperson for the Foundation, Sharon travels across the country to speak about the impact of Levitt programs, Levitt-commissioned research, and creative placemaking at large. Reflecting the reach of Levitt and how integrating the arts across sectors elevates the overall well-being and economic vitality of communities, Sharon shares the Levitt model with a wide range of audiences—including those in the arts, government, music industry, philanthropy, community development, urban planning, and parks—to illustrate why inclusive arts investment strategies should be prioritized. She is often an invited speaker and moderator at regional, national, and international conferences. Sharon also guest lectures at undergraduate and graduate music business and nonprofit management programs, providing inspiration to the next generation of leaders to create access and equitable opportunities within their fields.

Beyond Levitt, Sharon currently serves on the board of Center for Music Ecosystems, an international organization dedicated to globally relevant research to address societal issues and effect change through music. Sharon has been a grant panelist for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Nebraska Arts Council, where she is from. As a board member of California Presenters, Sharon played an active role leading one of the country’s largest presenting associations—she served as Vice President, mentored emerging leaders, and chaired three annual conferences. She was also executive co-producer of the 2019 National Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit | Pacific in partnership with the National Consortium of Creative Placemaking and ArtPlace America. Recognizing Sharon’s contributions to the field, she was selected by Musical America Worldwide as a Top 30 professional of 2023.

Prior to her position with the Levitt Foundation, Sharon was the founding Executive Director of Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles at MacArthur Park. Her work there and the venue’s impact in the community earned her the recognition of “Los Angeles Park Hero” by the City of Los Angeles. Sharon’s career began in metropolitan Chicago, where she produced free outdoor concert series and worked with a range of artists and arts nonprofits, followed by time in the finance sector. Sharon earned a Bachelor of Music from Northwestern University with a concentration in arts and business management.

Liz Levitt Hirsch

Board President
Levitt Foundation

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.

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 2024, the Foundation’s giving has grown to support 45 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 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.

Peter Ashwin

Levitt Safety & Security Consultant

Peter Ashwin brings over 20 years of experience in security risk management. In addition to consulting on events, Peter is an author, lecturer, speaker and expert witness on event risk management and security. He is also recognized as an industry leader and actively contributes to the private security sector and events industry through his commitment as a volunteer lecturer/instructor at the IFEA / NRPA Event Management School and the IAVM Academy of Venue Safety & Security. Hailing from Australia, Peter is now based in Montreal, Canada and Boise, Idaho. 

Anne Sturm

Levitt Artist Booking & Routing Consultant

Anne Sturm has been booking and managing venues and festivals for over 10 years. Most recently the Senior Buyer for ArtsQuest and Executive Director of Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she oversaw nearly 800 performances annually and played major planning and project management roles in festivals garnering over 1 million guests annually. Over the past 10+ years Anne has booked and promoted small to large scale concerts from emerging acts like Valerie June, Yasmine Williams, Danielle Ponder, Samantha Fish, Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Devon Gilfillan, to established artists like Ja Rule, Ashanti, Monica, Buddy Guy, La India, Chris Cornell, John Legend, Sister Nancy, Wynton Marsalis, Sevendust, Graham Nash, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett and hundreds more.

While Anne currently works remote via her business Concert & Event Resource, she continues to work within communities near and far as she books and consults various sized venues in the North and Southeast regions of the United States.