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Jeff McDermott: A latecomer to the arts

November 4, 2020

Jeffrey C. McDermott, President/CEO

From his student pursuits in athletics to his successful career as a litigation attorney, Jeff McDermott didn’t have much experience with the arts when, in 2010, he received a surprising invitation: to join the founding Board of Directors for a new performing arts center in his adopted hometown of Carmel, Indiana.


“My first thought at that time was ‘Why me?’ – I have no artistic talent myself, and at that time I didn't necessarily have a passion for the arts,” he recalls. “I did, however, believe that the Center would be a great asset to our community, and I therefore accepted the invitation. What I didn't realize was how much I would enjoy my involvement or how much it would be life-changing.”


While still handling high-profile cases as executive partner at law firm Krieg DeVault, McDermott found himself increasingly involved with the Center for the Performing Arts, serving as the board’s legal counsel and a member of its Executive Committee, Development Committee, Audit Committee, Finance Committee and Governance Committee. He soon gained interest in the affiliated Great American Songbook Foundation and was elected chair of its Board of Directors.


“In my positions on both boards, I quickly realized just how much impact art, and music in particular, has on all of us,” he says. “My mind and heart were opened up in so many ways by the wonderful experiences I began to have at the Center.”


Any favorite moments? “I've never heard a more beautiful performance than k.d. lang singing “Hallelujah” by the late and great Leonard Cohen – it was simply breathtaking. … I love looking around the hall of the Palladium during a concert and seeing all of the people who are enjoying it and are experiencing the music in so many very personal ways.”


McDermott’s path took a more surprising turn in 2016, when he was asked to fill a vacancy as interim President and CEO of the Center and the Songbook Foundation. With some open calendar space after the settlement of a major case, he took leave from the firm and took on a very different job. A year later, after a national search, the board offered him the position on a permanent basis, and after three decades of practicing law, McDermott embarked on a new career as an arts administrator.


“The Center is now fully integrated into every part of my personal and professional life,” he says. “I love my job, I love the people I work with, and I love the mission I am privileged to serve. I look back at my journey and still sometimes wonder how I am so fortunate to be here. The Center and the transformative magic of art and music have changed my life for the better.”


To show his support for the nonprofit Center in a different, even more permanent way, McDermott updated his estate planning to include a financial gift that will help sustain the organization into the future.


“I've been fortunate in my life in so many ways, and it is important to me to pay it forward in some meaningful fashion,” he says. “These are difficult times all over the world, particularly for arts organizations. I hope my gift will help lead many others to give and create a significant and lasting endowment that provides financial security and flexibility for the Center for many years to come.”