Kathleen Pletcher believes that connecting art with audiences can change lives. With a straightforward and ambitious mission, she founded FirstWorks in 2004. Serving as the organization’s Executive Artistic Director, Kathleen leads the creative team that brings world-class performance artists to Rhode Island, transforms arts education in local classrooms and engages the community through pioneering programs and festivals.
As a visionary, Kathleen has had a keen ability to see opportunity in art throughout her 25-year career. “Much of my professional work, and my philosophy, stems from seeing how the arts are linked to the larger life of a community,” she says.
Though Kathleen started her creative career as a classical pianist, she was inspired by the possibility she found in performance art. “I was in the middle of my conservatory training when I became caught up by developmental theatre,” she says. “I was moved by the way it could speak to our present world.” Another pivotal time was the year she spent in Japan researching folkloric puppet theater. “I traveled to remote places in the mountains and small islands to witness incredible performances and rituals,” she recalls. Enthralled by the power of the medium, Kathleen went on to create two experimental puppet theaters (in Ohio and NYC) that combined actors, visual artists and musicians. “As I look back at my career I see there is an entrepreneurial spirit in my DNA,” she says with a laugh.”
That spirit led her to Providence and a decade-long role as First Night’s Artistic Director. The one-day arts festival that showcased a tremendous range of artists and performance spaces throughout the city would become the springboard for her next creative journey.
“FirstWorks is a reincarnation of First Night,” she says, adding that Providence has the only First Night in the country to evolve into a year-round arts organization. “I’m so fortunate that Rhode Islanders embrace the new, the unique and the offbeat.”
With a focus of bringing new works and experiences to Providence, FirstWorks has connected countless audiences with amazing artists from around the world in the past 11 years. From acclaimed dance troupes and experimental performance artists to intimate musical performances and large-scale outdoor festivals, FirstWorks continues to propel Providence into the spotlight.
In a career full of personal and professional highlights, Kathleen points out that a six-month project with Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project was another turning point. “It was a true ‘first work’ when we had the honor of presenting the world premiere of Layla and Majnun,” she says. The collaboration became the inspiration for the education arm of FirstWorks, which reached 4,000 students in 2015 alone. “FirstWorks artists are connecting with these kids on a meaningful level. The children have direct, in-depth experiences and dialogues with world-class artists right in their schools. The experience empowers students to find their own creative voices.”
Kathleen, who is married and has two adult children, is excited about what’s still to come for FirstWorks. She credits the passionate staff and board, creative partners and the engaged community. “It’s a thrill to be at a point in my work where it is possible to shape and share incredible art experiences in Providence,” she says.