Randi Benesch’s enthusiasm is contagious.
The JCC’s new managing director of arts and culture has big plans for strengthening and expanding the institution’s presence as a leading venue for the area. With a resume that includes experience as a performer, arts administrator, program director and development professional, combined with a love for the Jewish community and strong relationships with regional arts organizations, Benesch seems ideally suited for her new role.
Benesch, 35, grew up in Owings Mills, attended Franklin High School and frequented the JCC, where she participated in many of its arts programs.
Benesch attended Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied theater. The university was affiliated with the Edison Theater, and Benesch worked there gaining experience in the management aspects of the performing arts. It was her stint at the Edison Theater that convinced her to become an arts administrator.
From there, Benesch interned for the St. Louis Symphony and the Lincoln Center Summer Festival. Her first job was in the artistic programming department of the Kennedy Center in Washington. Later, Bene-sch became program manager for the Columbia Festival for the Arts in Howard County.
At the Columbia Festival, Benesch researched artists and negotiated contracts. She gained community engagement experience, working with local groups to offer residencies, master classes, panel discussions and workshops with the artists.
Deciding she needed fundraising experience, Benesch joined Centerstage in Baltimore, where she oversaw development events and individual giving campaigns. After seven years, Benesch was ready for a new challenge and set out to start her own consulting business. But her plans changed when she learned of the JCC’s new mission to expand and revitalize its arts and culture programming. “This job would unite two of my passions,” she said.
“The JCC has always been committed to arts and culture, and we’ve had great people working on it in the past,” said Phil Miller of the JCC. “But about two-and-a-half years ago, we started to wonder if there was more we could be doing in this area. We had a year-long strategic planning process, and we held town hall meetings and focus groups all over Baltimore.”
It revealed that there was room for growth in the JCC’s arts programming and also that there needed to be one person to head up the whole endeavor, said Miller.
“We had wonderful Nancy Goldberg, and we thought she would be that person, but then she decided to retire. When we found out, we kind of gulped; so we started a nationwide search, and right here in Baltimore we found Randi,” he said.
“Randi had fantastic experience for the position. We were looking for someone with a love and passion for the arts who knew how to manage a department and to engage donors. She’s also a wonderful human being with great people skills and warmth. She’s been here since July, and we’re very excited about what she’s already done and what will be happening in the next several years.”
Prior to Benesch’s arrival, arts and culture programs were part of the Gordon Center and included the Jewish Film Festival, CineFest, Hazamir (a Jewish teen choir), the Jewish Theater Workshop, arts classes for members of all ages and, of course, performances at the Gordon Center. Additionally, the JCC housed art galleries at both of its sites, performances at its black box theater, Milldale’s arts camp and the Maccabi ArtsFest. Benesch said she plans to nurture and grow these existing programs. The Gordon Center, she said, will continue to be the “backbone” of the JCC’s arts and culture programs.
“My vision for the Gordon Center is to present local, national and international productions. It’s a wonderful venue for dance, music, theater and comedy, and I also want to give the community opportunities to use the space. We want to build a network of local Jewish artists, who will start to consider the JCC as one of their artistic homes,” she said.
A key element of Benesch’s plan is creating partnerships with other community organizations — Jewish and secular.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” she said. “People in the Jewish community are some of the biggest supporters of the arts in Baltimore. It only makes sense that we should continue to strengthen Jewish life here.”
Partnering with other arts organizations is a “win-win” proposition, she said.
This year, during the High Holidays, the JCC partnered with Music Director Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and chazan Emanuel Perlman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation to present concerts and related programming about Leonard Bernstein and his composition “Kaddish.”
Likewise, the JCC will be partnering with Centerstage on Jan. 28, when the company presents “Five Decades of Plays” at the Gordon Center. What some may not realize is that Centerstage was born out of the JCC 50 years ago.
Benesch said she is in talks about collaboration between the JCC and the Creative Alliance, and events already are planned with Maryland Public Television and The Stoop, a Baltimore storytelling series.
Although she and her family — husband Adam (a friend from childhood) and children Jacob, 7, and Mollie, 4 — live in Ellicott City, their families live in Owings Mills, only a couple of miles from the JCC.
“They’ve been know to pop into my office,” said Benesch with a smile. “It really feels like coming home. This is my neighborhood.”