David J. Roberts

David J. Roberts (he/him) was recently named President of Building for the Arts and officially began his tenure on December 13, 2022. With over 20 years’ experience in the performing arts, David comes to BFA with an extensive background as a producer, manager, and executive leader, with a track record of leading organizations through moments of transformation with roles at institutions including 651 ARTS, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Pearl Theatre Company, and Siti Company. Most recently, he consulted for Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival serving as Interim Managing Director and BFA’s Theatre Row as Interim Director of Theatre Operations.

David is on faculty at The New School’s College of Performing Arts, where he teaches graduate students a course on Arts Management and Nonprofit Governance. He is also a lecturer in theater management on faculty at David Geffen School of Drama at Yale (DGSD), where he teaches a course on Identity-Specific Theaters and co-teaches the Management Seminar. He serves on the editorial advisory board of DGSD’s Theater Management Knowledge Base and is a co-founder of the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition, a grassroots organizing effort to help the Off-Broadway community dismantle systems of exclusion and oppression. He is a 2021 Rockwood Leadership Fellow.

Nicole Gardner
Director of Advancement

Nicole Gardner (she/her) has over 20 years of experience growing institutions with an emphasis on building community, enhancing education, and inspiring individuals through the arts. Prior to joining Building for the Arts, Nicole served in various development specialist, development leadership, and non-profit executive roles at New York cultural institutions such as The Paley Center for Media, Bedford Playhouse/Clive Davis Arts Center, The American Theatre Wing, Park Avenue Armory, and the Center for Arts Education. Throughout her career, she has helped many organizations through moments of change and growth. 

 Nicole was lucky enough to have access to music lessons early in life and wants every child to have access to that formative experience. Having started her career as a theatre artist and teaching artist, Nicole brings to her work an understanding of the performing arts ecosystem and the needs of emerging artists, combined with a passion for equity, education, and arts for all. Nicole received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama from the University of Virginia and a Master of Arts degree in Theatre in Colleges and Communities from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

Ken Shillingford
Director of Finance

Ken Shillingford has spent his entire career in service, spanning the public and nonprofit sectors. He was one of the first recruiters for Teach For America; implemented one of the earliest foster care programs for HIV+ children and their caregivers at Miracle Makers; operationalized education programs for home care workers at New York’s largest healthcare union; and most recently was Finance Vice President/Director at groundbreaking organizations Expeditionary Learning and Echoing Green.

Ken’s public service began in the Office of Management & B​udget analyzing foster care service and emergency medical response, and included fiscal and operational leadership in economic development and city planning during years of ambitious goals and severe belt-tightening. Ken received his BA in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and his MPA at Columbia University.

Ken was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he currently lives with his wife and two children. A photographer for many years, Ken has held exhibitions across Brooklyn and rotates new and exploratory work on his website ShillingfordPhotography.com and his book “i am” – his book of early works.

Lisala Beatty
Director, Music and the Brain

For over 19 years, Lisala Beatty has supported music educators and  students with thousands of music lesson observations/demonstrations, professional development sessions, recordings, and curriculum development through Music and the Brain

For the last five years, Lisala’s leadership of MATB has contributed to a nationwide expansion of school partnerships and curriculum resources for grades K-8 and beyond. Lisala and the MATB team’s innovative response to the pandemic led to the launching of Music and the Brain All Access, an award-winning, dynamic hybrid learning online platform for synchronous and asynchronous music instruction (learn.musicandthebrain.org).

Also a professional vocalist and composer for over 30 years, Lisala has appeared on over thirty-five recordings, several commercial jingles, and performances across the U.S., Europe, Russia, Canada, and Japan. As a product of public elementary education devoid of music instruction, Music and the Brain’s mission to provide a high-quality curriculum and piano instruction to all students is crucial to Lisala. 

Before working with Music and the Brain, Lisala was an advertising sales executive at Vivendi Universal Net USA, the Walt Disney Internet Group, and Ziff-Davis. Ms. Beatty holds a B.S. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Cierra Cass
Director of Theatre Programs and Partnerships, Theatre Row

Cierra Cass (she/her) is an arts administrator and producer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to joining the Theatre Row team, Cierra worked as the General Manager at HERE Arts Center in New York City and as the General Manager and Interim Managing Director at Magic Theatre in San Francisco. She has also held administrative positions at the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre and the Almeida Theatre in London. Throughout her career, Cierra has been dedicated to facilitating and supporting artists in the development and production of their new works. Her producing experience began with a focus on new play development and has now expanded to include opera, puppetry, dance, music theatre, and devised, multi-disciplinary works. In addition to her work,  Cierra is also a nonprofit business consultant who lends her expertise to up and coming theatre makers looking to start their own arts nonprofits. Cierra received her B.A. in Theatre Arts and Communications from Santa Clara University and her M.A. in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy from Goldsmiths University of London.

David Bar Katz
Artistic Director, American Playwriting Foundation

David Bar Katz is the founder and Artistic Director of The American Playwriting Foundation and The Relentless Award, given in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Katz’s prolific writing career spans film, theater, and television. Among his accomplishments is the multiple Tony Award nominated show Freak which he co-wrote and directed on Broadway. The show also earned Katz an Emmy nomination for the HBO presentation of the play (directed by Spike Lee). Katz’s play The History of Invulnerability won the 2010 American Theater Critics Association/Steinberg Citation for Best New Play, the CEA “Best Premiere of the Year” and the Acclaim Award for “Outstanding Play”.

Previous film work includes rewrites on the New Line feature films SPAWN and TO WONG FU, THANKS FOR EVERYING, JULIE NEWMAR and THE TURING TEST, which Katz developed with Will Wright, the creator of SimCity and Spore. Most recent writing projects include: SUICIDE SQUAD II for Warner Brothers and DC, UNTITLED FBI WEDDING PROJECT at Universal as a vehicle for Jason Bateman to direct and star, and REAL, produced by and starring Will Smith. His script THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT, written for Fox Searchlight made Hollywood’s ‘Black List’ of best unproduced screenplays.

In television, Katz was the co-creator and a head writer for the Emmy-nominated FOX TV series HOUSE OF BUGGIN’, the first all-Latino comedy show in network history. Katz has developed shows at HBO, Showtime, FX, Sundance Channel, and Disney. Katz’s current premium cable projects include WITCHES, at MRC, produced by Drew Barrymore, OH, THE POWER, at Legendary, produced by Sam Rockwell and BLACK KISS with director Zack Snyder.

Katz is a graduate of Williams College where he was a varsity oarsman and a member of the only undefeated heavyweight boat in Williams College history. He lives in Manhattan with his four sons, not far from the site of his great-grandfather’s Yiddish theater.