The man behind the scenes

Photo courtesy of the Schimmel Center at Pace University
Martin Kagan is responsible for bringing high-caliber programming to the Schimmel Center for the Arts


You might not know the name Martin Kagan, but you’re probably familiar with the performing artists he brings to the stage.

“I’ve always felt a kindred spirit to what I see onstage,” says Kagan, the Assistant Vice President of Cultural Affairs at the Schimmel Center for the Arts. “Not being an artist, where I get true satisfaction is knowing that when I sit in the audience — and I see every performance — I’ve been responsible to make that happen.”

This year, Kagan has a lot to take pride in. He’s the driving force behind bringing internationally acclaimed artists to the Schimmel Center, an intimate performing arts venue at Pace University. Upcoming highlights this spring include a performance by Kayhan Kalhor and Erdal Erzincan, Persian and Turkish improvisationalists with devoted fans across the globe, and a new musical about confronting gun violence in America performed by the acclaimed Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra.

Manhattan’s cultural offerings are an embarrassment of riches any given night of the week, and Kagan’s vision has helped position the Schimmel Center and Pace University, where Kagan teaches a class in arts and entertainment management, as a growing cultural force in Lower Manhattan. But ultimately, says Kagan, his job is not about him.

“Our goal is to make the artists look the best possible they can. It’s all about the artist,” he says.

From dance, cabaret and music to lectures and comedy, Kagan approaches the process of creating the perfect performing arts season with precision and insight. He begins planning over a year out, and sees artists live or on YouTube before making any decisions.

“I try to find attractions that are unique each season, ones that have artistic integrity,” says Kagan. “You feel very close to the artists [at the Schimmel] and it’s one of the things that both the audience and the artists love about the space. It’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s intimate.”

When asked to pick his favorite performance, Kagan pulls no punches: “Everything we do I think is spectacular,” he says. “I try not to have favorites. They’re like children, they’re all my favorites.”

The most important part of the job? Building trust with the audience.

“I’ve had many years working in different venues, but that has been key. Not only that I provide an environment for the artist, but that I also provide an audience to feel comfortable, and to want to come back and have the confidence to see things they may not be interested in because I’m presenting,” he says.

Kagan finds excitement in the diversity of experiences his position offers, and it’s a path he encourages others to follow.

Says Kagan, “It’s a full life. No day is ever the same.”