Ford Theatres’ Heather Rigby On Building Community Through the Arts

By Elena Epstein

heather rigby

Ford Theatres Managing Director Heather Rigby, pictured here with her partner, Chris Gandhi, and their daughter, Ella Gandhi, says she wants families visiting the Ford to share meaningful cultural experiences. PHOTO COURTESY HEATHER RIGBY

Heather Rigby is an L.A. native, born and raised in Studio City, who left the Valley to become a pre-med major at Harvard University. While adjusting to college life in Cambridge, she discovered that her true passion is the arts.

For the past 11 years, Rigby has worked at the Ford Theatres, an historic 1200-seat outdoor amphitheater in Hollywood. Her job is to create dynamic programming that represents the rich diversity and culture of Los Angeles.

Before becoming managing director of the Ford, Rigby served as the general manager of productions for the Ford and Los Angeles County Arts Commission. She managed the Commission’s Free Concerts in Public Sites program of 80 music events across Los Angeles County and produced the “L.A. County Holiday Celebration,” a three-hour live television event that celebrates the diverse traditions of communities across the region through music and dance.

Eight months ago, she became a mom and daughter Ella Ghandi has deepened Rigby’s dedication to building community for families through the arts at the Ford, which just completed a $72.2 million renovation including a new stage, lighting and picnic area.

You found your path to the arts through dance. Tell us about that.

I went to North Hollywood High, and at the time there was this wonderful revival of swing music. Me and nine other students would take a swing dance class every week. I loved it! When I left home for college, I took a ballroom dance class at Harvard just for fun and then I joined the ballroom dance team. The students I met through dance became my community, and I realized how powerful this social dancing experience was in helping me adjust to a new environment and meeting new people. Music and dance connected me to my inner voice and helped me navigate my journey into adulthood. That’s when my interest started to shift from pre-med to art, and I ended up majoring in art history and then went on to get my masters in cultural studies from Claremont Graduate University. I met my partner at a swing dance class. Music and dance have played an important part in my life.

How does your cultural background influence your work at the Ford?

I’m a mix of Mexican, Filipino and Scotch-Irish, and my partner is a mix of Indian and Filipino. I love living in Los Angeles. There are so many mixed families like us here. Los Angeles is a place where we can explore all aspects of our culture. The programming at the Ford is a celebration of this beautiful diversity. In addition to working with nationally and internationally renowned artists, we collaborate very closely with local artists and producers to create an authentic experience for everyone who comes to the Ford.

Has becoming a mom changed your perspective?

I think a lot more about identity since becoming a mom. Growing up, I had friends from all different backgrounds, but no one was just like me and cultural identity wasn’t something we really talked about. I want my daughter and her generation to have more opportunities to talk and learn about the lives, experiences and cultures of others. My commitment at the Ford is even clearer now. I want the Ford to be a place where families can come together, share cultural experiences and make meaning out of those experiences. For our Big World Fun family programs on Saturday mornings, we always include some type of hands-on participatory activity before the show. We want to provide opportunities for conversations to happen and expose kids to the rich diversity of our city in an engaging and fun way.

For a schedule of performances at the Ford Theatres, visit: www.fordtheatres.org

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