MILWAUKEE — The president and CEO of the United Performing Arts Fund for nearly a decade is stepping down later this year.
Deanna Tillisch has led the organization to staggering fundraising totals, and a cast a wider net in a continuing effort to reach more people through the arts. Her inspiration to that end is deeply personal.
UPAF fundraising supports many local productions helping theater, the symphony, dance academies and the like put on bigger and better shows, but its impact on young people is perhaps even more profound. UPAF funding will reach 100,000 students this year. Among them, Milwaukee Public Schools grade schoolers bused to Milwaukee Ballet each week.
“Ballet is a holistic thing. All the things we value in human beings, problem solving, independent thinking, being able to have goal setting mindset are what's taught in ballet every day. So we really are approaching this mentally, emotionally and physically so they have well rounded training very early age on how to be a successful adult," said Tiffany Kadani.
The program, Kadani said, would not be sustainable without UPAF.
It’s stories like this that will be the hallmark of Tillisch’s tenure at the helm of the arts engine.
“Everyone should have an opportunity to experience these community assets,” Tillisch said. She’s focused the organization on expanding the reach of the arts, and will do so in her final fundraising campaign as President & CEO.
“This campaign will have a focus of accessibility. Of diversity. Inclusion. Engagement. Equality of the arts. That's always been part of our message, but we really want to put that center stage.”
In this mission, Tillisch is driven not only by a feeling that “a stage for all,” as they’ll call this campaign, is the right direction for the community. She’s also the mother of a special needs child.
Deanna and her husband Eric have three daughters, including Kasey, who was born with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. It’s the arts, music in particular, that light up her world.
“She is truly one of the happiest people you could ever meet,” Tillisch said of her daughter. “What brings her the greatest joy is the sound of music. She loves to hear music, to see music in action.”
In her final fundraising campaign, Tillisch hopes to bring in an additional $250,000 for Kasey’s Fund. The money will be specifically earmarked for programs that increase access to arts programming.
“The arts are a connector. They bring people from different walks of life together to share a common experience,” Tillisch said.
UPAF will officially launch its annual campaign next month.