Judy Lisi is the president and CEO of one of Tampa Bay’s premier performing arts venues – The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. In fact, it’s the third largest theater on the East Coast, following the Lincoln Center in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“I have had the privilege of leading the Straz Center for the last 22 years, and much of its success comes from the roughly 700 volunteers from this community who help lend a hand day in and day out.” Continues Lisi, “The people of Tampa Bay are hungry for the arts and for culture, and it has allowed the Straz Center to grow and flourish. For instance, the Straz is the only place in the United States that has a combined teaching conservatory with five theaters. If that isn’t an indication of what a world-class place this region is, then I don’t what to tell you.”
Lisi, who is originally from Fairfield County in Connecticut, grew up playing the piano and the flute; however, she never had any intention of living a life in the theater. On the contrary, Lisi joined a convent after high school and almost became a nun.
“I decided to teach after I left the convent, and I discovered just how empowering arts and music were for the children I taught,” says Lisi. “Wanting to know more, I went back to school and studied theater and the arts. I even began finding myself obtaining more and more parts in productions, and before I knew it, I became the art director of a local theater in Bridgeport.”
Following her time in Bridgeport, Lisi served as the president and CEO of New Haven’s Shubert Performing Arts Center until she eventually made her way to Tampa Bay and the Straz Center. A place she describes as creative, exciting and vibrant.
“Tampa Bay is a cultural mecca; however, few people outside of the area realize it. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the world. Explains Lisi, “Not only do we have the Straz Center in Tampa Bay, we have the Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Dali Museum, the Ringling Museum, the Chihuly Collection and so much more. There’s always something you’ll discover in the region that you might not have known existed. Honestly, having lived here more than 20 years, I can still say I am pleasantly surprised to find new cultural exhibits and arts venues on a frequent basis.”
An educator at heart, Lisi, who has studied at Sacred Heart University, St. Louis University, the University of Minnesota, Julliard and the Metropolitan Opera, is passionate about arts education and has made it her mission throughout her life.
“The arts helps to transcend you to a different place – beyond your circumstances – no matter what your age, color, creed, religion, etc. It allows you to use your imagination and for a moment be free of your worries and cares. It’s universal, and it brings people together. I am blessed that I have the opportunity to help uplift children and adults through their experience in the arts. What better way to touch a life?”