Milwaukee Business Journal: UPAF's new CEO rooted in arts community since childhood

Margaret Naczek | November 26, 2020

Patrick Rath's commitment to the Milwaukee arts community started as a 10-year-old boy performing with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and grew to a variety of leadership positions with institutions including the Milwaukee Art Museum and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

A Milwaukee native, he graduated from Greendale High School before pursuing his bachelor's of music at Northwestern University. Rath became the new CEO of the United Performing Arts Fund, or UPAF in October. He replaced Deanna Tillisch, who retired from her position in September.

"I have a perspective that is in different areas from a board member perspective, from a professional staff as well as a patron, as well as a student. All those come together to say we have something that is for everyone," Rath said.

Rath previously worked for Advocate Aurora Health, first as the senior vice president of foundation development from 2012 to 2018 and then the executive development officer and system vice president. His leadership experience includes a variety of institutions throughout Milwaukee such as Columbia St. Mary's, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and even a previous stint at UPAF.

Rath served as UPAF's vice president of development from 2004 to 2006.

"It was a time of transition at that point for UPAF as we were building the allocation formula, which was really helping to build in best practice management activities, so each of our member groups can really learn from each other and leverage the expertise of our business community in the best ways to put forth for their own management and operational programs," Rath said.

In his previous employment at UPAF, Rath helped develop the Next Generation Committee, which focused on growing future Milwaukee arts leaders. Many of these people, Rath said, have gone on to be board leaders and board presidents.

Others agree on his leadership and commitment.

“Patrick’s deep love of the performing arts and his commitment to greater Milwaukee is outstanding,” said Steve Johnson, regional president at BMO Wealth Management and chair of the UPAF CEO search committee. “We know that he will continue the great legacy of Deanna and those who came before her of growing UPAF’s role in working with all of UPAF’s stakeholders to sustain a vibrant arts sector long into the future."

In his first two months as UPAF's new CEO, Rath said his daily routine features a lot of Zoom calls in the current Covid-19 world. Right now, he said he is using his time to assess where the arts community currently is at with the hopes to create a stronger future.

"It’s been really positive in the fact that everybody in this time of Covid is not focused on just the here and now. They want to see that future. They’re ready for that future. They want to rally around that future," he said.

UPAF is in the middle of its traditional campaign, though Rath said it normally does not go public until the months of March through June. Rath said he is using his time now to invest in the relationships with over 19,000 UPAF donors in order to make a difference in the arts community.

In September UPAF reported it raised $11.7 million for local arts groups in its 2020 campaign. That total was 1.9% less than 2019 though better than UPAF projected with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

"The arts can define that and do define that. We want to make sure that our conversation is part of that overall future of what Milwaukee will be as well."

Patrick Rath

  • Title: President and CEO
  • Organization: United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF)
  • Education: Bachelor of music performance degree from Northwestern University
  • Family: Wife, Tracy and daughter, Tessa
  • Hometown: Pewaukee
  • Age: 49
  • Hobbies: "Enjoying anything in a theater – movies, musicals, and the occasional sing-a-long."
  • Books currently reading: "Make Your Bed" by Admiral William H. McRaven
  • Favorite place in Milwaukee: "Bradley Wing at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the orchestra pit at the Cabot Theater, but being a Lake Country resident, anytime spent on a lake is a perfect day!"

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