Kathleen Pletcher, Founder & Executive Artistic Director, FIRSTWORKS

Leading Ladies 2024


“Founding FIRSTWORKS was for me, a creative act,” says Kathleen Pletcher, executive artistic director of the arts nonprofit, celebrating its 20th year. “Moving to Providence from New York City – as rivers were being uncovered and a new downtown created – my passion evolved from making art to contributing to what the arts mean to this city,” muses the serial inventor of her third start-up, which includes what is now PVDFest.

An artist herself, Kathleen looks to early training as a classical pianist and later as an experimental puppetry artist/director, as well as travels to perform and engage in cultural dialogs in Taiwan, Italy, Indonesia and Mexico, as the wellspring for founding FirstWorks. “The opportunities I had to experience incredible performers continually expands the deep meaning the arts have to a society and the need for the arts to change the narrative.”

Kathleen compares being the founder and executive artistic director of FirstWorks to being an entrepreneur. “My role as leader is to articulate a strategy, secure resources, and build enduring partnerships. I have the privilege of working with an incredibly talented staff who devote themselves to the programs we bring to the community.” As artistic director it is her programmatic vision that both inspires FirstWorks to new heights (think of vertical dancers Bandaloop dancing on the side of a Downtown skyscraper in 2012 and 2017) and looks to be relevant and meaningful to our community. “Seeing artists at work is something that feeds my soul – from music, to circus, to electronic media – there is an energy that replenishes my energy to reinvent and create,” says Kathleen, with a palpable joy.

“2024 is a year of appreciating the people who I’ve learned from,” says Kathleen. “I’m so grateful to those people who believed in my vision for this organization, those whose labor built an idea into an organization, donors who took risks, mentors who encouraged me, and artists who joined with our passion to connect art with audiences.”


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