Job Title: Executive Director, Theatre Alberta
Why She’s Top 40: She pours her passion into supporting theatre in the province and tirelessly promotes arts as a major quality-of-life amenity.
What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “The greatest thing I like about Edmonton is the iHuman Youth Society. I’m so proud to live in a city where arts support is not only going to high-profile companies, but also really grassroots levels, especially in helping at-risk youths integrate.”
Sometimes, working in theatre can be a source of high drama. Take the case of Keri Mitchell, who in 2010 landed the executive director position at Theatre Alberta, a registered charity that fosters and advocates for theatre development in the province.
It was a bittersweet appointment, considering two month earlier, the Ed Stelmach government slashed $35 million in arts funding. That left Theatre Alberta and more than 1,000 groups and individuals it represents – including nearly 30 Edmonton theatre companies – scrambling to find ways to overcome an up to 17 per cent shortfall in financial support.
“That was an exceptionally difficult year for all the arts organizations across the province,” says Mitchell. “We had a bit less grant money and still had to be able to subsidize our programs.”
Mitchell looked for ways to ensure those programs, including Theatre Alberta’s flagship Artstrek student summer theatre residency school, would survive the crunch. Fortunately, she found some fundraising leverage thanks to her predecessor managing to finagle charitable status for Theatre Alberta, which provided members with tax receipts as incentives for donating. She, along with her team, also created a marketing and communications program with a huge focus on social media to boost visibility in the arts community.
Three years later, those efforts paid off with individual donations pouring in tenfold, memberships jumping by seven per cent, and the unprecedented addition of two corporate sponsors. While she’s quick to credit her board, staff and members with the support they’ve provided, there’s no doubt Mitchell has the gift of gab and plenty of heart for her occupation.
“You have to get out and talk to people and be really passionate about the work that you’re doing,” she says. “Once you get me talking about the specifics of our programs and services, I think I can get anybody excited about them.”
Mitchell’s flair for generating enthusiasm in the arts didn’t seem like a career prerequisite when the Saskatchewan native graduated from the University of Alberta in 2003 with a B.A. Honours in drama. She remembers feeling fortunate that she managed to get a summer Theatre Alberta gig registering adults into a theatre training program. She worked her way up to program coordinator and, aside from a three-year tenure as an artistic associate at the Citadel Theatre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, has been with Theatre Alberta ever since.
These days, community outreach remains high on her agenda. She delivered a presentation at the 2012 inaugural Alberta Cultural forum, represents the city arts scene on the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, and is active in a coalition dubbed Alberta Partners for Arts and Culture. Whether working a room or hitting the meet ‘n’ greet, Mitchell relishes the opportunity to promote theatre every chance she gets.
“I’m always thinking about ways of how working together will help [us] continue to have a strong theatre community in the province,” she says. “Facilitating connections and interactions between people are where I get my kicks from.”