Our Work

About ETA

Photo Credit: Eddie Martinez

Exploring the Arts (ETA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization founded in 1999 by Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto. ETA's mission is to strengthen the role of the arts in public high school education. ETA's programs connect private funders, individual artists, and cultural institutions to Partner Schools to achieve greater equality of resources and opportunity for youth of all means and backgrounds. ETA currently serves 17 Partner Schools throughout New York City’s five boroughs and in East Los Angeles.

To read a letter from our Founders, click here.




 

Bios
Tony Bennett
Co-Founder & Board Member

In a career that spans five decades, Tony Bennett has won 17 Grammys (including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), and sold millions of records. He won 7 Emmy Awards for his television special, "An American Classic," is a Kennedy Center Honoree and an NEA Jazz Master. Tony was honored by the United Nations with a Citizen of the World Award. He has collaborated with k.d. lang, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, among many other musical greats. Tony is also an accomplished painter, who has exhibited and sold work internationally. His paintings are part of the permanent collections at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington DC, the National Arts Club in Manhattan, New York, and the Butler Institute of American Art Museum in Youngstown, Ohio. Before his rise to fame, Anthony Dominick Benedetto grew up in New York City's borough of Queens during the Great Depression. He was educated at the High School of Industrial Arts and later worked as a singing waiter before his talents were discovered by the famous performer, Bob Hope. Tony's proudest achievement is that which he shares with his wife, Susan, when together they founded Exploring the Arts and ETA Partner School, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, to support arts education in New York City public schools.

Susan Benedetto
Co-Founder & Board President

Susan was honored alongside Tony with both The ASCAP Foundation's Champion Award and by Columbia University's Teachers College for her longtime leadership in the effort to make arts education a priority in American public schools. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Susan received her BA in History from Fordham University in New York City and her MA in Social Studies at Columbia University's Teachers College, where she was also certified and licensed as a NY state teacher. She began her Social Studies teaching career at Manhattan's prestigious public high school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts. Susan later returned to Fordham and in 2005 received another MA, this time in Supervision/Administration. Susan next worked as a Social Studies Teacher and then as Assistant Principal at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, the public high school in Astoria, Queens that she co-founded with her husband. She simultaneously co-founded Exploring the Arts and has remained active today as ETA's Board President. Before entering the field of education, Susan was the owner of Creative Artists Management in New York, where she advised artists in the management of their careers, along with coordinating publicity, bookings and recording projects. Prior to that, she worked as an administrative assistant with Merrill Lynch, and during her college years was awarded a competitive internship position in the White House's Presidential Advance Office.

Iris Cantor
Board Member

Iris Cantor is Chairman and President of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, which she and her husband established in 1978 to fund institutions and programs in the fields of education, medicine, and the arts. Along with her late husband, Iris owns the world's largest and most comprehensive private collection of Auguste Rodin sculpture and artwork (from which they have donated more than 450 pieces to over seventy institutions worldwide). They have additionally endowed numerous galleries, sculpture gardens, and scholarly chairs at major museums and universities, and Iris herself has led many of the Foundation's other projects which include exhibitions and collaborations with: The White House, New York's Public Art Fund, and Rockefeller Center. Iris has also demonstrated her commitment to the cinematic arts by providing major support (along with her husband) for the establishment of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Film Center at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, as well as through her work as producer on the award-winning documentary, Rodin: The Gates of Hell. In addition to her passion for the arts, Iris is also a dedicated supporter of healthcare research, which has led her to fund the UCLA Medical Center's Iris Cantor Center for Breast Imaging and also New York Weill Cornell Medical Center's Iris Cantor Women's Health Center. Iris additionally provides funding and Board member services to other causes and institutions, among them: NY Presbyterian Hospital, Lying-In Hospital, Strang Cancer Prevention Center, and Discovery Fund for Eye Research. She is also a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee, a grand patron of the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the recipient of myriad awards and honors from civic agencies, government agencies, universities, museums, and other such institutions.

Holly Cao
Board Member

Holly Cao is the Co-Founder and CEO of Lion Cao Asset Management, a private equity firm headquartered in New York City whose principals have expertise investing in a variety of industries, including financial services, media and entertainment, industrials and chemicals, real estate, and maritime. Prior to Lion Cao, Holly was a Co-Founder of The Icon Group and of Point Judith Capital. Previously, Holly was on the investment team of the private equity firm, Capital Guidance. Holly started her career at Goldman Sachs in the Asset Management Group and Smith Barney in the derivatives area of Municipal Finance. She is a Board member of the San Francisco Film Society, an Advisory Board member of the First Time Film Fest, and has served on the Board of the Stan Lee Foundation. Holly has also enjoyed a life in music as a piano player, songwriter, and former radio jingle writer. Together with her husband, Bob Hellman, she owns On Stage Entertainment, a live entertainment company whose francise show is Legends in Concert, and is an active supporter for Build Our Ballpark, an organization serving economically disadvatanged children. Holly and Bob live in Atherton, CA and are parents to two twin boys. She received her AB in Economics from University of Chicago and her MBA in Finance from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.

John Desiderio
Board Member

John Desiderio is a Wall Street veteran with over 25 years of experience working in the investment industry. He has held senior management positions in such firms as Cantor Fitzgerald and Drexel Burnham Lambert and is currently Managing Director at L F Rothschild. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, John now divides his time between homes in Florida and New York and is an avid boater, automobile enthusiast, enjoys fishing and playing tennis. Possessing a strong love of the arts, John is honored to sit on ETA's Board of Directors in support of its worthy cause.

George S. Kaufman
Board Member

George Kaufman is Chairman of Kaufman Astoria Studios, home to many major motion pictures and television shows (such as Sesame Street, Law & Order, Angels in America, and The Stepford Wives, among others). With its home in Astoria, George is a strong supporter of all projects that contribute to the development and improvement of the borough of Queens. Along with his wife, Mariana, George commits his time and financial support to a number of philanthropic endeavors. He is currently serving on the Board of Trustees of the Whitney Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Real Estate Board of New York. He is also Chairman of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District. Additionally, George serves as Chairman of Kaufman Organization which has been active for three generations in the ownership, management and development of commercial and residential properties, including office buildings, apartment buildings and shopping centers located primarily in the New York City area.

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer
Board Secretary

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer currently works as Executive Director at the Queens Council on the Arts, where she oversees all programmatic activities, including: arts in education initiatives, information services, arts services, and grants programs (including the Queens Community Arts Fund, the Individual Artist Initiative, and the Arts in the Schools Grant Program). She is also the author and illustrator of Rabbit Mooncakes, a multicultural picture book for children published by Little, Brown & Company. Her second book, Peanut & the Chinese Dragon, is currently in development. A graduate of Oberlin College, she also attended the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and received a Masters of Music in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music. Hoong Yee is a firm believer in the power of the arts to mobilize and transform community.

Joe Laurita
Board Member

Currently living in Santa Monica, California with his wife of 32 years, Adele, Joe Laurita is an apparel industry veteran and entrepreneur originally from Queens, New York. Joe has owned and operated several major clothing brands over the last 35 years, such as Joe Boxer and Hathaway Shirt Company. He currently is owner and Chief Executive Officer of Margaritaville Apparel Group, which holds the master apparel license for Jimmy Buffett’s iconic “Margaritaville” brand. The Margaritaville apparel collection is distributed to better clothing stores and major department stores worldwide. The company has offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Hong Kong. Joe's love of music and the arts is very much a part of his everyday life. He was Executive Producer on Michael Imperioli’s first film, “The Hungry Ghosts” in 2008. He also personally designed and was a subcontractor on a state of the art music recording studio in Santa Monica, California that he currently owns with his son, Joey. He works very hard and is proud to be a mentor to many young adults in his own community. He devotes significant time and energy to several other nonprofits in which he serves as an active board member. He is a longtime supporter of The MusiCares Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Hal G. Rosenbluth
Board Member

President of Kaufman Astoria Studios (KAS), Hal Rosenbluth has led the executive team to diversify KAS’ businesses while revitalizing the neighborhood of Astoria, which is now home to Kaufman Astoria Stadium 14 (a United Artists 14-screen multiplex) as well as various national retail and restaurant chains and the ETA-supported Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. Hal began his career at KAS in 1980. Under his direction K/A/S Lighting was born and has grown to one of the largest inventories in New York, servicing clients on stage and on location. KAS’ diversification continued with the opening of KAS Music & Sound which brought to the studio one of the industry’s finest audio facilities for recording and post-production. Most recently Hal oversaw the expansion of KAS with the construction of Stage K, the new $22 million, 40,000-square-foot film and television production studio opened in March 2010. Hal’s work with government and industry professionals has been integral to establishing NYC as a sustainable marketplace for film and television production. The KAS complex is home to such popular TV programs as “Nurse Jackie” and “Sesame Street.” It also hosted the NY portion of the record-breaking “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon and such recent film productions as The Taking of Pelham 123 and Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. A graduate of the University of Florida, Hal was an advertising and marketing executive prior to joining KAS. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Long Island City Business Development Corporation and the Queens Council on the Arts. Hal and his wife, Madalyn, reside in Bronxville Heights, New York.

Ted Sarandos
Board Treasurer

Ted Sarandos has led content acquisition for Netflix since 2000 and oversees the Beverly Hills office. With more than 20 years' experience in home entertainment, Ted is recognized in the industry as an innovator in film acquisition and distribution. During Ted's tenure, the Netflix library increased from 2,000 to 100,000 titles on DVD and more than 12,000 movies and TV episodes available to watch instantly on the personal computer and the TV. Ted has also spearheaded the company's original content initiative, Red Envelope Entertainment (REE), creating a national platform for films and entertainment programming through unique partnerships with filmmakers, networks and studios, including IFC, HBO, ThinkFilm, NewLine, Showtime, Magnolia Films and Sundance Channel. REE titles include the 2008 Oscar-nominated "No End in Sight," the New York Times' best film of 2007 "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" and the Clint Eastwood-produced documentary about Tony Bennett, "The Music Never Ends." Ted began his home video career managing a metropolitan retail chain from 1983 to 1988. He then moved to video distributor ETD, where he served as Western regional director of sales and operations. Until March 2000, Ted was vice president of product and merchandising for Video City, where he negotiated the industry's first DVD revenue sharing agreement and reduced the cost of content from all studios. Ted is a former chapter president and board member for the Video Software Dealers Association. He also serves on the Film Advisory Board for Tribeca Film Festival, the retail advisory board for the Digital Entertainment Group, FIND Advisory Board and MediaRights.org, as well as a serving as a trustee for International Documentary Association. Ted has been included in Variety's "Global 50," a list of the 50 most influential people in independent film distribution, as well as The Hollywood Reporter's "Indie Power 50."

Cheri Walsh
Executive Director

Cheri began her studies and career as a freelance dancer, working throughout the United States and Europe. She has since built a strong record of over ten years in non-profit leadership positions. She served as Managing Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and prior to that was the Director of Development at North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Faith Childs-Davis
Director of ETA Los Angeles Office

The Chicago native sees herself as a nurturer of creative talent. In addition to raising two artistically talented sons of her own (Kahlil Joseph, a filmmaker, and Noah Davis, a painter), the former public school teacher was an early pioneer of arts integration in Seattle Public Schools during her 15-year tenure, beginning in 1984. After retiring from the classroom, Faith relocated to NYC, where as a sittings editor she directed and collaborated with creative talent in the production of photo shoots for Essence Magazine. In 2005, she relocated to Los Angeles and joined The Music Center as a producer of the nonprofit's annual Bravo Awards, which recognizes exemplary arts educators in LA County. In addition to her current role at ETA, Faith continues to be involved in personal creative endeavors as well as arts education consulting. She holds a Doctorate in Education from U.C.L.A.

Karin Venegas
Director of Development & Communications

Karin's artistic life began as a young child acting in New York City's off-off Broadway theatre scene before majoring in Drama at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. She holds a BA from Mount Holyoke College. Prior to ETA, Karin held teaching positions at the Bronx Institute of G.E.A.R. U.P. and freelanced with Hudson Heights Partners, writing grant proposals and case studies for their nonprofit clientele. She continues her pursuit of creative projects and most recently directed a documentary film titled "Unafraid: Voices from the Crime Victims Treatment Center."

Hannah Berson
Director of Programs & Assessment

Hannah has worked continuously in arts education for nearly ten years. Most recently, she managed after-school teen apprenticeship programs in the performing, visual, literary and culinary arts at Gallery 37 in Chicago, which later became After School Matters. She has also worked with the education programs at New York City Opera and New York's Children's Museum of the Arts, as well as in music and visual arts classrooms in New York and Chicago public schools. Hannah holds a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in Arts Administration from Columbia University.

Ken White
Programs Associate

Ken has worked with youth in the arts for over 12 years, most recently as a teaching artist in NYC and Hartford, CT public schools - designing and implementing workshops and residencies through such agencies as LEAP, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, and Artists Collective. He has also spent much of his career as a touring musician and educator, participating in several US Department of State sponsored tours in countries throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America as the musical director and drummer of a live hip hop band. Ken holds his Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and his Masters from the Gallatin School at New York University, focusing on the relationship between music and dance.

Jen Soloway
Finance Associate

Jen has held finance and general management positions for a variety of nonprofit arts organizations, including Classic Stage Company, Manhattan New Music Project, Making Books Sing, the Jose Limon Dance Foundation, and Houses on the Moon Theater Company. Jen also co-founded the Railroad Playhouse in June 2010, a nonprofit performance space in Newburgh, NY that focuses on new play development and arts education programs. Jen holds a BFA in Theatre Technology from DePaul University in Chicago and an MFA in Arts Management from Brooklyn College.