(Boston, MA) The New England Foundation for the Arts announced today that Cathy Edwards, who has led the organization as Executive Director for more than seven years, has said she will step down as of May 31, 2022. Ms. Edwards will work closely with the board and staff to support transition planning, after which she intends to pursue personal creative projects for the coming year.

“NEFA has benefitted from Cathy’s strategic vision around programs and partnerships, her collaborative approach to working with the staff and the board, and her extraordinary fundraising successes. The Strategic Plan she oversaw has led to new programs, operational sustainability, endowed funds to support us into the future, and a clear commitment to equity and justice at the core of our work,” said Board Chair John Henry. “We are grateful for Cathy’s leadership, and we will miss her talents and her vision. In the coming months, we will work with Cathy, the accomplished NEFA staff and our dedicated board members to plan a smooth transition.”

Ms. Edwards came to NEFA from the International Festival of Arts & Ideas (New Haven, CT) in January 2015. Prior to that, she served as Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (Portland, OR), and Artistic Director at Dance Theater Workshop (New York, NY).

“I am so proud of what we have achieved, and the ways in which NEFA has grown and evolved over the past seven years,” said Cathy Edwards. “For me, the timing is right to pass the torch of leadership. NEFA has the opportunity to engage in a leadership transition at a time of institutional strength. We have a remarkable staff and committed board of directors, a strong strategic vision, and resources in place to support our work. It has been a joy to work at NEFA and support the brilliant imagination of the artists and cultural organizations that are at the very core of our work. These past years during COVID have been unimaginably difficult for the performing arts sector, and NEFA has stepped up with increased grantmaking and program activity.”

It has been a joy to work at NEFA and support the brilliant imagination of the artists and cultural organizations that are at the very core of our work. 

Cathy Edwards

Larry Simpson, former NEFA Board Chair and current Advisory Council member, led the search to hire Cathy Edwards in 2014. “When Cathy joined us, we were excited to welcome to NEFA a leader with a clear commitment to artists and to promoting access to the arts, and with a vibrant track record of curatorial success and programmatic excellence. It has been exciting to see NEFA’s growth during her leadership, its heightened connection to our fellow Regional Arts Organizations and the states in our region, and its active commitments to racial justice, equity, and accessibility. Cathy leaves NEFA stronger than it was when she joined us. It has been rewarding and inspiring to work closely with her over these years.”

Under her leadership, NEFA has bolstered partnerships and increased its support to artists and cultural organizations through grantmaking and services. Her tenure is marked by achievements across many areas of NEFA’s work, including:

  • Growing the NEFA annual operating budget from $7M to $12M and establishing a board-designated endowment of $12M to support operations and programming.
  • Creating a strategic plan that centers equity, inclusion, diversity, and accessibility across NEFA’s work.
  • Responding to COVID-19’s impact in the arts by developing partnerships with New England’s state arts agencies to provide emergency artist relief funds, and with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations to provide emergency operating support to New England cultural groups.
  • Launching the New Work New England grant program, a fund that supports artists in the region to create new work, as well as the Rebecca Blunk Fund and the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art, all of which celebrate and invest in New England’s creative voices.
  • Establishing a public art department that champions spatial and social justice.
  • Expanding national grantmaking in dance and theater that is recognized for equity and that models community-led grantmaking.
  • Producing Center Stage with the U.S. Department of State, across three federal administrations.
  • Growing NEFA’s Creative Economy department and re-launching the CreativeGround digital platform to support the region’s creative economy.
  • Strengthening public partnerships with the National Endowment for the Arts, the six Regional Arts Organizations, and the six New England state arts agencies.
  • Partnering with major private funders, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Barr Foundation, and others to expand commitments to social justice, artist support, and operational stability for cultural organizations.
  • Publishing major reports, including Moving Dance Forward (2016), The Jobs in New England’s Creative Economy and Why They Matter (2017), Creative City (2019) and A Report on Center Stage (2021).
  • Supporting the evolution and recruitment of a strong Board of Directors and establishing an Advisory Committee of regional arts champions.
  • Investing in NEFA’s staff and internal systems, growing staff from 23 to 29 members, and increasing compensation and operating capacity.

NEFA’s board will conduct a national search for a new executive director, with details about the search process to follow this spring.

About NEFA

The New England Foundation for the Arts invests in artists and communities and fosters equitable access to the arts, enriching the cultural landscape in New England and the nation.  NEFA accomplishes this by granting funds to artists and cultural organizations; connecting them to each other and their audiences; and analyzing their economic contributions. NEFA serves as a regional partner for the National Endowment for the Arts, New England’s state arts agencies, and private foundations. Learn more at www.nefa.org.


Contact: Ann Wicks | 617-423-1390