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Thor Steingraber: “I view my role as the leader of an arts organization as being a public servant”

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Brettany Shannon

In last week’s post for the Marissa Gluck interview, I introduced this season as having a more overtly political tone. I said we’ll still hear from a variety of perspectives, but noted the 2017 guests and their work offer real lessons in how Angelenos can and do use digital communications to preserve, resist, and heal. With today’s podcast, I’d like to add “transform.”

Thor Steingraber is the executive director of Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center, or “The Soraya,” thanks to Younes and Soraya Nazarian’s decision to give $17 million in support of the center’s programming. Donations such as these, as Thor notes early in our conversation, are “transformative.” They offer both financial security to the constantly-economically-vulnerable performing arts and opportunities to serve new audiences. But the Nazarian’s gift isn’t the only transformation we discuss. We talk about individual changes, technological-cultural developments, demographic shifts, and even marketing differences.

In this hour, Thor takes us through these transformations vis-a-vis his role as a performing arts executive director-cum-public servant. He believes, “Ultimately, what I do is provide some version of community” and, “The great thing about public leadership and public policy, in the end: the greater good of the greatest number of people is achieved by the same means.” So, come for the great quotes and stay to regain faith in contemporary leadership.

Thanks again for listening and, as always, let us know what you think of the conversation on Twitter (Bedrosian, me), Facebook, or email.

Listen to other episodes on the LA Hashtags Itself page or subscribe at ApplePodcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Play, or on your favorite podcasting app.


The specific productions we discussed: Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán’s mariachi opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon); Leilah Broukim’s flamenco dancing her Jewish and Persian heritage in Dejando Huellas (Traces); Daymé Arocena, Roberto Fonseca, and the Pedrito Martinez Group’s one-night-only collaboration in ¡La Nueva Cuba! The Next Generation; signature works from Angeleno dance company in DIAVOLO: 25-Year Anniversary Marathon; and, of course, David Sedaris.

This is a short list. Learn all about the rest of VPAC / The Soraya’s great programming at its VPAC and Music Knows No Borders websites, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Oh, and remember, listeners. If ever you’re in Portland, Maine, Thor says you must go to Bayside Bowl.


LA#Itself is produced by Aubrey Hicks, Jonathan Schwartz, and myself, and mixed by Corey Hedden. Stream the interview via Soundcloud on this page, or you can download it and subscribe through ApplePodcasts, Soundcloud, or Google Play.

Bedrosian Center