Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO

Jenny Bilfield Headshot

Jenny Bilfield is the President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts. Based in Washington, D.C. and founded in 1965, the organization has long been one of the nation’s preeminent multi-disciplinary arts presenters and was the first organization of its kind to receive the coveted National Medal of Arts, conferred by President Obama at the White House.

Since joining in 2013, Bilfield has positioned Washington Performing Arts as an important incubator of imaginative mainstage, community, and education programs and a commissioner of new works and productions—a hallmark of her career. The organization’s growing portfolio of more than 35 commissions includes: Sila: Breath of the World by John Luther Adams (co-commissioned with Lincoln Center); Six Partitas for Hilary Hahn by Antón García Abril; a new production of Olivier Messiaen’s From the Canyons to the Stars with direction and photography by Deborah O’Grady; a reimagined production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, by Jessie Montgomery and Janina Norpoth (produced by Volcano Theater and co-commissioned with Stanford Lively Arts); Sounds of Hazel for Dance Theatre of Harlem; and Dreamers by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz (co-commissioned by Cal Performances at University of California, Berkeley and University Musical Society).

A tireless champion of emerging artists and new work, Bilfiled has spearheaded high-impact community arts programs in Washington such as Mars Arts D.C.; large-scale performances inlcluding Of Thee We Sing, the 75th anniversary celebration of Marian Anderson’s historic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the Hazel Scott Centenary; and convened a multi-partner collaboration for the revival of Step Afrika’s The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, bringing together other local institutions like The Phillips Collection and the 11th Street Bridge Park. Additionally, Bilfield launched the citywide SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing orchestras from all over the country to Washington, D.C., for an immersive week of free and low-cost performances and residencies around the city.

Bilfield’s deft skill and instinct for cultivating partnerships and consensus building can be seen across fields, from higher education to arts presenting and commercial music publishing. Her vision is helping transform the Washington Performing Arts business model from presenter to producer of unique-to-Washington, artist-driven experiences across a range of programming, including a landmark digital series Home Delivery Plus during the pandemic. During her tenure, the organization has launched a Junior Board, modeled after its full Board of Directors, aimed at cultivating a younger generation of philanthropists and arts leaders; and in every facet of governance, programming, and operations is underscoring and amplifying its historic commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion expressed in founder Patrick Hayes’s ethos of “Everybody In, Nobody Out.”

At Stanford University, she was instrumental in broadening the university’s cultural presence throughout Silicon Valley and evolving the organization into a dynamic arts producer. More than 25 commissions and innumerable collaborations with faculty, students, and regional partners distinguished Bilfield’s tenure as Artistic and Executive Director of Stanford Lively Arts and Artistic Director of its successor, Stanford Live. Prior to joining Stanford, Bilfield built a reputation for specialized work in the strategic management, promotion, and presentation of contemporary music and cutting-edge artists at Boosey & Hawkes, where she served on the international management team that led the company’s public-to-private transition. As President of the North American division of international music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, Bilfield advanced transformative acquisitions and creative initiatives that grew revenue and profile for the composers and company. As Executive Director of the National Orchestral Association and founder of the New Music Orchestral Project, she launched 48 new American orchestral works through readings and premieres at Carnegie Hall and the Manhattan School of Music. She has also guided the creation of breakthrough projects and festivals. She was a member of the core planning team for Stanford’s 842-seat Bing Concert Hall, which opened in 2013. At Boosey & Hawkes, she took the lead on high-visibility, composer-focused initiatives, notably The Stravinsky ProjectSteve Reich @ 70, and the international Copland 2000 celebration.

Her commitment to the field has extended to board positions at the American Music Center and League of American Orchestras. At ASCAP, she was elected to the Board of Review and served on the Symphonic & Concert committee. She is currently a member of the Board of Chamber Music America and on the Creative Spirit Award Committee for the University of Pennsylvania. In Washington, D.C., she is a Trustee of the Federal City Council, and is a member of the Education Committee of the Economic Club of Washington. Bilfield is a member of the 2020 class of Leadership Greater Washington and is an alumna of the 2016/17 National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program. She is also proud to be an Honorary Commander Emeritus of the United States Air Force Band at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

Her many contributions to the arts are acknowledged with a number of awards and recognitions, including ASCAP’s Adventuresome Programming Award and the Helen M. Thompson Award for orchestra leadership from the League of American Orchestras. She has been praised as one of nation’s 30 Key Influencers in the Arts: Movers and Shakers by Musical America. Her programming at Stanford Live was included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s list of the top 10 Notable Classical Music Developments of the Decade. Since arriving at Washington Performing Arts in 2013, Bilfield has three times been recognized by Washingtonian magazine as one of the Most Powerful Women in Washington.

Bilfield began playing the piano at age three and later received training with principal teachers including Walter Ponce and Harris Goldsmith, as well as Sylvan Levin (Associate Conductor to Leopold Stokowski at the Philadelphia Orchestra). She began composing at age ten, and pursued studies with Edward Bilous, Jay Reise, and Samuel Adler. Bilfield attended Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Division and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Music at age 20. She and her husband, composer/music professor Joel Phillip Friedman, have a daughter, Hallie, who is an actress based in New York City. They live in Washington, D.C., with their two parrots.

Rudy Burwell, Chairman, Board of Directors

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Rudy Burwell first moved to Washington, D.C., in 2002, while serving as a communications professional for the U.S. Army, and later moved to Arlington, Virginia, with his wife and children. Among the highlights of his impressive military career, Burwell ascended to the role of Chief of Media Operations for the Multi-National Corps during the intensely observed military “surge” in Iraq in 2007. Burwell also managed the world’s largest continuing media-embed program, which placed 1,200 journalists annually –including high-visibility reporters such as Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, and Geraldo Rivera – into combat units. During Burwell’s time on the Army Staff in the Pentagon, he was the senior public affairs representative for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, the office responsible for all equipment fielding, procurement, and new technology. In 2005-06, Rudy was granted a National Security Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. After 27 years of service, he retired from Director of Communications for the Army Reserve in 2011, and moved into communications leadership roles at several private corporations.

In 2013, he co-founded Encompass Supply, Inc., an electrical construction supplies company and he continues to serve as President. Encompass Supply has supplied electrical materials to many federal and state projects including the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Revitalization, Virginia Commonwealth University Adult Outpatient Pavilion, and Virginia Commonwealth University Children’s Hospital Project, among others.

Burwell is an avid arts lover, as both an audience member and as a musician. During his 27 years of active duty in the United States Army, Burwell–who enjoys playing the trumpet–would search for opportunities to play with local musicians and community bands in St. Louis, Missouri; San Francisco, California; and in Washington, D.C. Burwell is deeply invested in the local community through arts, family, and professional development endeavors. His volunteer experience also includes serving on the Virginia Board for Contractors and the Arlington County Industrial Development Authority.

Douglas Wheeler, President Emeritus

Douglas H. Wheeler has worked in the field of arts administration since 1964, and directed the extensive programs of Washington Performing Arts (formerly Washington Performing Arts Society) as President from 1982 to 2002. Upon his retirement on September 1, 2002, he became President Emeritus. In 2022, Wheeler was honored with the organization’s Ambassador of the Arts Award, recognizing his extraordinary achievement, service, and advocacy in the performing arts.

During his tenure as President, Mr. Wheeler presented many of the world’s leading performing artists in their Washington recital debuts, including Luciano Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, Cecilia Bartoli, Denyce Graves, James Galway, Evgeny Kissin, Midori, and Lang Lang. In addition, he is credited for increased commitment to locally based artists, the formation of the organization’s gospel choirs, a broadened focus to introduce Washington audiences to experimental art forms, greater involvement of children and families in Washington Performing Arts’ programs, the expansion of the Society’s arts education programs, and the growth of the organization’s budget and membership. He took a leading role in developing collaborative approaches to enhance arts education in D.C. schools and in the formation of a Cultural Development Corporation for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Wheeler is a Past President of the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Foundation and past board member of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington. He was a 2023 recipient of ISPA’s prestigious Angel Award, which honors significant and lasting contributions to the performing arts. He has served on and chaired panels for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

An active participant in regional public affairs, Mr. Wheeler is a Past Chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and was the 1996 Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Chambers. He was a Co-Chair of the District’s Downtown Arts Committee and has served on the Board of Directors of Leadership Washington, the Friday Morning Music Club, and the Community and Friends Board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, he is a trustee emeritus of the Federal City Council, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Dallas M. Coors Foundation for the Performing Arts. From 2003 to 2007, Mr. Wheeler served on the board of directors of Southeastern University. He is currently on the Board of Directors of Partners in Performance, created by violinist Midori to promote the appreciation of chamber music in small communities. In 2004, he was invited by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be Chair of the Friends of Music at the Supreme Court.

In April 1996, Mr. Wheeler was invested with the insignia of the Commander’s Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. He was named a 1994 Washingtonian of the Year in recognition of his efforts in helping to “make the city a better place to live.” In 1985, he was awarded the rank of Chevalier in France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Mr. Wheeler received a Master of Arts degree in economics from the American University, and prior to joining Washington Performing Arts, held positions with the Hayes Concert Bureau, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the artist management firm of Judson, O’Neill, Beal & Steinway, and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Past Presidents

Neale Perl, President Emeritus
Patrick Hayes, Founder

† deceased