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Endowments appoints Jasmin DeForrest to lead Creativity portfolio

PITTSBURGH, Pa., Jan. 25, 2024 – Jasmin DeForrest has been named Managing Director of The Heinz Endowments’ Creativity Strategic Area. She previously served as Senior Director for Arts and Culture at the Detroit-based Gilbert Family Foundation, where she had worked for eight-and-a-half years.

Ms. DeForrest assumes her Endowments position full-time next month, bringing with her more than 20 years of experience in philanthropic grantmaking, nonprofit leadership, sponsorship management, entrepreneurship and event production. At the Gilbert Family Foundation, the Detroit native led a strategy that increased access to arts and culture programming, with a particular focus on equity, diversity and innovation. She also served as community sponsorships director for the Rocket Community Fund, the sister organization to the Gilbert Family Foundation, and special events director at The Parade Company, which presents and promotes America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit.

Endowments President Chris DeCardy said Ms. DeForrest’s skills and experience are an excellent fit for leading the role the Endowments seeks to play in addressing opportunities and challenges before the region’s visual and performing arts community today.

Pittsburgh benefits from a high concentration of arts and culture organizations, and the arts are widely recognized as an important part of the city’s appeal for locals and visitors, he noted. The arts infrastructure across the region is a dynamic mix of historic museums and theaters combined with new and innovative spaces for performance, exhibition and community engagement, Mr. DeCardy said.

In 2023, more than 90 visual and performing arts organizations in the region received grants totaling $16.5 million from the Endowments, and this area of philanthropic focus will remain a pillar of the foundation’s commitment to the region as it has been for decades, he added.

Complementing Ms. DeForrest’s work experience in the arts and culture field are affiliations such as serving on the Boards of Trustees of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and being a member of the Arts Midwest Board of Directors and the Advisory Board for the Detroit Jazz Festival.  Her dedication to working in and with local communities was recognized by the Michigan Chronicle with “40 Under 40” and “Woman of Excellence” designations. Her training includes earning a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing management from Wayne State University and participating in Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program.

Ms. DeForrest’s background has prepared her for the challenges that are prevalent among arts organizations locally as well elsewhere in the country, Mr. DeCardy said. Subscriptions have dropped off and walk-up attendance has increased, which has made planning for a season or series more unpredictable, and marketing more costly. Aging infrastructure, outmoded systems and obsolete designs are handicapping organizations who own or operate venues. Economic challenges such as delayed accounting for inflation, comparatively low salaries, contract re-negotiations, retirements, and more vacancies than workers have stressed arts organizations’ capacity to manage programs and administration, and curtailed innovation and experimentation.

“The Heinz Endowments is deeply committed to the arts as part of a thriving community. That’s why we looked for insightful leadership to navigate the issues the region is facing,” Mr. DeCardy said. “We believe that Jasmin will bring that insight and along with the enthusiasm and experience required for us to best play our part in supporting the transformation for an even stronger arts community in the future.”

Reflecting on her new role, Ms. DeForrest highlighted her commitment to world-class art, innovative uses of technology and access for all to both. She described her entrepreneurial approach to supporting and expanding the arts community and her dedication to advancing equity, which she said is rooted in her belief that diverse representation is vital to breaking systemic barriers and closing racial, socioeconomic and gender gaps.

“The opportunities in Pittsburgh’s arts and culture sector that I am looking forward to working on first will start with learning and listening,” she said. “As an entrepreneur at heart, I view artists and creators as entrepreneurs contributing to the economy. Strengthening support structures for artists to increase pathways for sustained economic mobility will be a priority.

“On the other end of this spectrum is the entry point to economic mobility, which includes providing pathways for young students to experience creative career pathways through workforce development programs. I am excited about moving to Pittsburgh and learning more about this great region.”

Among the innovative programs Ms. DeForrest created in Detroit is the Digital Access for the Arts Program, which was established in collaboration with the nonprofit arts coalition CultureSource to provide arts and cultural organizations with the tools needed to safely serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and which continues to offer arts groups educational resources, technical assistance, and access to research and data. She developed Detroit Out Loud, the Gilbert Family Foundation’s first free community festival, and the Small Business Murals Project, which gifted 40 murals to small businesses across Detroit while hiring more than 30 local artists to participate in the program.

Ms. DeForrest was instrumental in creating the Thriving Neighborhoods Fund, which provides funding to Detroit neighborhood organizations that assists them in maximizing their efforts to improve the quality of life in their communities. She also established the Gilbert Family Foundation’s first endowed scholarship fund for high school students with Detroit’s College of Creative Studies, investing $1 million to break down barriers for students in financial need. 

CultureSource Executive Director Omari Rush credited Ms. DeForrest with sparking “transformational progress” in Detroit’s arts sector through her efforts to establish the Digital Access for the Arts Program, which he said enabled arts organizations to adapt to new technology and provided unique, sustained and even experimental investments in the groups’ infrastructure and capacity.

“The products of this work have generated new knowledge for our field nationally and new levels of resiliency for artists and arts organizations in Detroit,” he said. “All of the work by Jasmin was done with the courage to have big, bold visions – especially during the early days of COVID-19 – and with the compassion and respect to be in authentic partnership with community members and our organization.

“The only reason why Detroit is letting a rockstar like Jasmin get away is because the legacy she leaves behind will serve our cultural sector as a stable foundation of strength and artistic vibrancy for years to come. I expect great things from Jasmin in this new role at The Heinz Endowments because she nurtured such great things here in the Detroit arts community.”

Ms. DeForrest acknowledged that the pandemic taught many arts organizations some hard lessons about the importance of having a strong technology infrastructure.

“Many groups are still struggling with tech integrations and are learning how to use technology to improve and fuel innovative content,” she said. “Technology is, of course, multi-dimensional, so in addition to using it as an operational and accessibility tool, there’s immense potential in using it to create dynamic and thoughtfully disruptive content. I am also very interested in exploring collaborative opportunities in Pittsburgh to invest in creative public spaces and placemaking with internal and external partners.

“Detroit and Pittsburgh have a lot in common. They are rust belt, working-class cities with residents who are proud of where they come from. We also share a history rooted in the displacement of thriving Black communities, disinvestment in neighborhoods and the education system, along with the effects of redlining. Those decisions have impacted generations of families, and the impact is still felt today. This shared lived experience connects us.

“On a lighter note, a fun fact is that I worked for the Super Bowl XL Host Committee when the Steelers won in Detroit. Although I am a huge Lions fan, I cannot wait to attend a Steelers game.”

Ms. DeForrest will be joined in Pittsburgh by her energetic black-and-white mini-Sheepadoodle, Carter.



For further information, contact:
Carmen Lee