Lydia Kontos joined Kaufman Music Center in 1979, shortly after the opening of the Goodman House. The principal activity of the center was its community arts school, then called the Hebrew Arts School, which served about 400 students. Lydia was initially a consultant for the concert hall, but soon became an integral part of the organization. Named Director of Merkin Concert Hall in 1980 and then Executive Director of the Hebrew Arts School in 1986, she combined innovation with pragmatism as she set out to put the institution on a firmer footing, and to find its niche in the New York cultural landscape. She wanted the Hebrew Arts School to serve a larger and more diverse population, and to achieve the prominence that Merkin Concert Hall achieved while she was its director; the school is now the largest community arts school in New York City.
While growing the center's programs was the more dynamic work, creating a strong infrastructure was equally important for the center's future: the center needed an endowment and a strong financial base. In 1991, as part of a larger restructuring, and in recognition of major endowment gifts, the Hebrew Arts School, Inc, was named the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, and the Hebrew Arts School itself became the Lucy Moses School.
In 1996, Lydia's passion to deepen Kaufman Music Center's commitment to education inspired her to found the Special Music School. Based on the pre-college music education system prevalent in the former Soviet Union, Special Music School is a New York City public school that provides rigorous academics combined with intensive musical training to musically-gifted children. It is the first of its kind in the country and has met with great success for the students and their families.
With an impressive record of building the center's education program, Lydia has more recently turned her attention back to the place where she began: the concert hall. In the midst of exciting and versatile new programming directions, the hall is enjoying a renewed prominence among the city's many concert venues.
Lydia received her B.A. in Anthropology from Hunter College, undertook additional studies at Merton College of Oxford University and the Catholic University of Milan, pursued an MS in Nonprofit Management at New York University and completed the Institute for Not for Profit Management at Harvard University.
Lydia began her career in the arts as an usher at the Hunter College Concert Bureau while she was attending college there. After graduation, she worked in the concert office full time, as assistant to Mr. Omus Hirshbein. In 1971, she married and left the concert world to become a teacher, but circled back to her professional roots at the Goodman House, after a brief time as a public relations consultant.
In addition to her work at Kaufman Music Center, Lydia taught arts administration at SUNY Purchase. She serves on the Board of Trustees at the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, the National Guild for Community Arts Education and the American Society for Jewish Music.