Teri Orr announces she plans to step down after leading Park City Institute for 25 years
On Wednesday, during the Park City Institute’s 2019-20 Main Stage lineup announcement at Gallery MAR, Executive Director Teri Orr announced she would step down from her post of 25 years after the end of the season. (See accompanying story).
While the news shocked some in the audience, Orr knew it was time.
“I have watched other nonprofits, specifically in the arts, but not specific to Utah, do the same things too long, and they were no longer effective or had fresh ideas in their programming,” she said in an interview Thursday.. “So, I wanted to make certain to step aside in a timely manner so that the energy and vitality of the Institute could keep morphing.”
Orr said she had been thinking about doing this for at least the past five years.
Orr hired a managing director, Sarah West, in 2014 with the intention to gradually give West more responsibility as part of her succession plan.
When West left for a job at Ballet West that winter, Orr stayed on.
Other circumstances in the past couple of years, such as the 20th anniversary of the construction of Park City Institute’s main stage, the Eccles Center for the Performing Art, and learning that Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater would not be available to house summer concerts after 14 years, also prevented Orr from leaving.
To continue the summer concerts, the institute set up pop-up stages around Park City for the 2018 series before hosting the 2019 summer season in the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Her final project as executive director was the booking of this upcoming season.
“I put the season together, and I will help execute that season,” she said.
But even when the 2019-20 season ends, Orr, a recipient of the 2007 Myles Rademan Spirit of Hospitality Award and the 2012 Governor’s Leadership in the Arts Award for her work with the Park City Institute, said she isn’t going to abandon the nonprofit.
“The board and I are still working things out, and there may be some consulting down the road,” she said. “What I wanted was to make an announcement before we started the season to make sure the community was aware that this was going to happen.”
Orr was named Park City Institute executive director in 1994, when the organization was known as the Park City Performing Arts Foundation.
The nonprofit was organized that year by Parkites Ann MacQuoid, Gary Cole and Heather Urich, the wife of actor Robert Urich, to raise money for the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“They brought me on to help pass a bond election, which was to build this facility that would be used jointly by the Park City School District and the Park City community as equal partners,” Orr said.
Bill Cosby headlined the first performance in the Eccles Center in 1998, setting the tone for the calibre of performer that the Institute would book since then.
The nonprofit changed its name to the Park City Institute in 2013.
“We changed it for a variety of reasons, not the least which ‘Park City Performing Arts Foundation was a mouthful to say,” Orr said laughing. “The name was more in line with our mission to ‘educate, entertain and illuminate.’”
In addition to presenting performing arts and facilitating student workshops with visiting performers, the Park City Institute took the mission one step further with the Mega Genius Supply Store and I.Q. H.Q., a free after-school tutoring program.
Since 1998, the Park City Institute has always tried to extract student outreach from the artists, according to Orr.
“Working with the students is the most soul-touching and forward-thinking thing we do,” she said. “We want to make sure young people in Summit County get free opportunities to meet and work with artists in an intimate setting, so they can take those experiences and use them any way they want.”
Orr said she is hard-pressed to name her favorite visitors and outreach workshops.
“It’s like having to choose which child I love the most, because the experiences within each genre all have highlights,” she said.
Still, Orr listed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s appearance via the “Snowbot,” CNN commentator Van Jones’ discussion of criminal justice reform and anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky talking with students about her experiences of being bullied as some of the most memorable.
“Then to have Monica on stage later that night and see so many people crying by the end of the evening because we realized we all got it wrong with her is also a highlight,” Orr said.
As for dance companies, Orr said she could present the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the pioneering African-American dance theater every year.
“They just tipped me over,” she said. “Their performance of Alvin’s ‘Revelation’ is legendary. I love that piece.”
Musically, Park City Institute has presented legends from Kris Kristofferson and Lyle Lovett to Bernadette Peters, but Orr has also enjoyed introducing new artists to Park City audiences.
“Chris Thile is one of those artists,” she said. “Here was this young teenager who formed Nickel Creek all those years ago, and then to watch him become the host of NPR’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ which has since been renamed to ‘Live From Here’ was pretty amazing.”
Orr also introduced TEDxKIDS to Park City, and at last year’s Park City High School graduation, four of the five kids had already given TED talks, she said.
Although Orr considers all of these events successes, she said nothing compares to seeing audiences gather to enjoy a presentation.
“We become a congregation, and for a few hours, the rest of our troubles are left in the parking lot,” she said. “We find ourselves having this shared experience where we laugh, cry and dance next to people we didn’t know 20 minutes before. In true Park City style, we exchange phone numbers at the end of the evening and end up going to dinner the next week.”
The ultimate reward for Orr is to see how art can change lives.
“If there’s a kid who now sees the world differently or if there is an adult whose mind was changed by hearing a speaker, then that’s it,” she said.
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