The History of WPA

“Everybody in, nobody out.”

— Patrick Hayes, Founder of Washington Performing Arts
Hayes. Leontyne Price, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey
Hayes and pianist Van Cliburn

Patrick Hayes and the Founding of Washington Performing Arts Society

These were words the renowned D.C. concert impresario and Washington Performing Arts Society founder Patrick Hayes lived by. An innovative man with unconventional ideas, Hayes believed the arts were for everyone in the community—a source of inspiration and a force for unification.

Born in New York City in 1909, Hayes began his career as an aspiring actor on the New York stage before turning to arts administration, organizing concert series around the country for the NBC Artists’ Bureau. In 1941, he relocated to Washington, D.C. to become the manager of the National Symphony Orchestra. World War II intervened, however, and Hayes was drafted into the Navy, serving from 1943-1946.

After his discharge, Hayes rejoined the NSO, but left in 1947 to form his own presenting organization, the Hayes Concert Bureau. The new organization was founded with the philosophy of presenting the best in the performing arts, of introducing up-and-coming artists, and of fulfilling a commitment to inclusion. In 1949, Hayes also began hosting a Sunday afternoon radio show on WGMS called People and Events in the World of Music—a program that turned Hayes into a popular radio personality and enjoyed a run of some three decades. In 1966, Hayes decided to convert his for-profit presenting organization into a nonprofit organization, the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS)—one of the first such institutions of its kind.

Hayes didn’t limit himself to what was, but looked for what things could be, envisioning Washington, D.C. as an arts capital. From presenting a piano concert series to starting a Concerts In Schools initiative, Hayes became an invaluable member of the Washington community. He gave both world-renowned artists and up-and-coming regional performers a chance to share their gifts with D.C. audiences.

In an era of segregation, Hayes was ahead of his time on social issues. He believed in being inclusive and wanted everyone to partake in the arts. As a key step in cultivating diversity within his organization, he invited Todd Duncan, an African-American opera singer and the first Porgy in Porgy and Bess, to become the first chair of the WPAS Board of Directors, and continued to seek Board members from a range of different backgrounds. He also sought out women leaders to serve on the Board, and later formed the WPAS Women’s Committee.

Over the course of his career, Hayes garnered many awards and honors for his dedication and service to the arts, from being named “Washingtonian of the Year” in 1973 by Washingtonian Magazine to becoming the founder and first president of the International Society for the Performing Arts.

In addition, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall’s green room was named in Hayes’s honor. Hayes distinguished himself as an advocate not only for his own organization, but for others as well. He raised funds and served on the boards of many institutions, including Arena Stage, Kindler Foundation, Cathedral Choral Society, and D.C. National Bank. He was also a founding board member of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.

Until his death in 1998, Patrick Hayes remained dedicated to Washington Performing Arts Society (now Washington Performing Arts). Even after his retirement, he continued to come into the office every day, mentoring and guiding new presidents of the organization and working closely with the staff to maintain a unified vision. With his pioneering spirit, Hayes made a lasting impression on the arts culture in Washington D.C. In the Washington Post’s words, Washington Performing Arts “has enriched the life of this community beyond any calculation.”

Hayes (right) and his protégé and successor, Douglas H. Wheeler
Hayes and Todd Duncan, opera singer and first Chair of the WPAS Board of Directors
Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves with Washington Performing Arts President & CEO Jenny Bilfield

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Recital & Award

Hayes Piano Series

Established in 1966 in honor of Washington Performing Arts founder Patrick Hayes and his wife, pianist and pedagogue Evelyn Swarthout Hayes, the Hayes Piano Series has featured recitals by some of the world’s finest emerging pianists, including Alfred Brendel, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, Daniil Trifonov, and so many more.

The World In Our CIty

The World In Our City celebrates the diversity of our international city, an expression of cultural diplomacy that has been integral to the Washington Performing Arts mission since our founding in 1965. In response to the international community around us, we aim to provide a window on what it means to be a citizen of the world through a unique, arts-based lens.