Christopher A. Gruits

Executive & Artistic Director

Christopher A. Gruits Christopher A. Gruits is the Executive & Artistic Director of Penn Live Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. Since the beginning of his tenure in 2016, he has returned Penn Live Arts to its roots as Philadelphia’s premier curator of innovative and groundbreaking programs, presenter of sought-after debut artists, and champion of multifaceted collaborations. A signature of his leadership is the cultivation of partnerships across the community, reflecting Penn Live Arts' commitment to serving the University of Pennsylvania, the West Philadelphia neighborhood in which Penn Live Arts resides, and the Greater Philadelphia region.

As an initial priority, Gruits focused on deepening artistic collaboration across the University positioning Penn Live Arts at the center of cross-disciplinary projects, leveraging academic, artistic, and community relationships to highlight the instrumental value of the arts. Special projects have included a partnership with Penn Medicine and the Mark Morris Dance Group; campus and community-based residency work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Negro Ensemble Company and Rennie Harris Puremovement; and the expansion of PLA’s community rush program into the more accessible West Philly Welcome.

An inclusive curator, Gruits has deepened PLA’s commitment to storytelling by marginalized communities and has introduced over 35 world and U.S. premieres and more than 30 debut artists to Philadelphia. He has significantly expanded PLA’s commissioning and producing programs and established thematic festivals such as an exploration of the music of immigrant communities of Philadelphia, the performing arts of Cuba, and explorations of the work of composer Philip Glass and jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane. He has also developed the PLA Accelerator program, providing artists with essential resources to create and present new work across dance, music, and theatre for Philadelphia audiences before they tour nationally and internationally.

As part of a larger initiative to expand, integrate, and improve infrastructure for Penn students, Gruits has spearheaded a reimagining of the Annenberg Center’s physical spaces and the management of campus theatrical venues. In 2020, he launched the Annenberg Center's first capital campaign in 50 years to increase performance space and renovate the historic performing arts center in the heart of Penn’s campus. Included in this redevelopment is the Weitzman Theatre, Penn’s first new theatre on campus in 50 years, announced as PLA launched its 50th anniversary celebration season. The Weitzman Theatre will expand resources for Penn students and visiting artists, creating flexible space for up to 250 attendees while providing a state-of-the-art performance environment.

Under Gruits’ leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, PLA was the only major performance venue in the Philadelphia region to continue to present artists in live onsite performances, streamed to audiences that tuned in from across the globe. In 2021, he oversaw a comprehensive institutional rebranding, which ushered back audiences to live performances under the Penn Live Arts banner.

Gruits has initiated efforts to further diversify the PLA board and staff while leading PLA in its first, organization-wide Antiracism and DEIA Task Force, comprising a series of workshops and initiatives that culminated in a continued commitment to fostering a community that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility among employees, students, artists, and audiences; and a pledge to continue creating an inclusive and inspiring experience where all are welcome and feel valued.

Gruits has been a featured speaker and panelist at national and international conferences including Classical:Next, The Association of British Orchestras, and the Midem International Music Conference. He serves on the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation Board of Advisors and is active in the Major University Presenters Consortium. He is a 2021 Eisenhower Fellow.

Gruits is the former Vice President and Executive Producer of Presentations, the programming and arts broadcasting division of Interlochen Center for the Arts. Previously, he was Director of e-Strategy at Carnegie Hall and Commercial Director for, the web's first and largest social music network for classical musicians and listeners. He began his career at the Seattle Symphony. Gruits holds a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary humanities with a concentration in arts management from Michigan State University, and a master's in business administration with a focus on strategy from the University of Edinburgh.