TPAC moves into its 2019 – 2020 season under the leadership of its new president/CEO, Jennifer Turner. Prior to her move to Nashville, the Trenton, Michigan, native served as the executive vice president and managing director for the Sergerstrom Center for the Arts in Southern California. With more than 20 years experience in nonprofit arts, Turner previously was the chief operating officer for the national historic landmark Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. She's also held roles with Michigan Opera Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Harper College.
Nashville Parent caught up with Turner for a quick Q & A to get to know her a little better as she settles into her new role at TPAC and life as a citizen of Nashville.
Are you married? Any kids?
I’m not married, and my only children are two adorable boxers named Lucy and Leo. I am also the proud aunt of a 5-year-old nephew and 18-month-old niece.
When did you first realize you have a love for the theater, and what was the very first show you remember seeing?
My first show was a school production of Our Town. I loved bringing the show to life and inhabiting the characters. Originally, I thought I would like to be onstage, but soon realized I was a better fit behind the scenes.
Your degree is obviously a perfect fit for your role at TPAC. What inspired you to obtain a graduate degree in public administration/nonprofit management?
I really loved the program, which examines the role of nonprofits in the context of public service. I started a graduate program immediately after college when I wasn’t set on my career path, so it was great to revisit my master's once I was more settled in arts management. If I wasn’t working in nonprofit arts, I would love to be a diplomat with the Foreign Service, and this program allowed me to study both of my passions.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment during your time at Segerstrom Center for the Arts?
The opening of the Center for Dance and Innovation (CDI) and the Argyros Plaza. We opened two dance schools under the CDI program, a partnership with the American Ballet Theatre modeled after the JKO school in NYC, and a school of dance and music for children with disabilities. The Argyros Plaza created an outdoor performance space, patron amenities and a café. This space allowed us to program 120 free community events, festivals and performances during the first year.
When the opportunity arose for the position at TPAC with Kathleen O'Brien's retirement, what attracted you to the organization and to Nashville?
TPAC has a wonderful reputation in the industry, and when it was announced that Kathleen was retiring, it seemed like a good fit for my background and experience. I was very excited about the many opportunities for TPAC in a market that is experiencing enormous growth.
What are some of your short- and long-term goals for continuing to grow TPAC at the helm?
My first priority is to learn the organization and the community. I have been spending time meeting with our civic partners, resident companies, and other arts and business leaders. We want to focus on TPAC’s role in the community and determine how we can best serve this region through the arts. It’s important for us to be a leader in the cultural marketplace and present work that represents the communities in which we live and work. Community engagement will be a major focus for us as well as understanding how we can develop partnerships that are meaningful, collaborative and mutually beneficial.
Any ideas yet about further development of TPAC's education programs?
We’re adding a focus on community engagement to the Education Department, and we plan on developing programs and partnerships that utilize arts to serve a need in the community. Our Disney Musicals in Schools program recently launched a rural expansion into Bedford County, and there is more growth to come with that program. We are extremely proud of it and hope to continue to serve more students in Tennessee.
TPAC has an incredible Broadway lineup in its 2019 – 2020 season. What would you like to say to parents who’ve yet to bring their kids to a Broadway experience at TPAC?
There is nothing like the experience of live theater, and we do have shows like CATS, Blue Man Group, The SpongeBob Musical, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that families will enjoy. Experiencing these stories live can be exhilarating, and exposure to the performing arts at a young age can help children develop a lifelong appreciation that benefits them in numerous ways as they develop. The arts in general are a powerful tool for young people to build confidence, social skills and high self-esteem. Whether through a Broadway show or integrated into their classroom learning, the arts can truly change our lives.
What is the greatest lesson your parents taught you?
My father is a coach, and I’ve learned how to recognize and develop talent. People are our most valuable resources, and it’s worth the time to mentor, coach and invest in your team. I also learned that individual achievements cannot ever surpass the fulfillment that comes from accomplishing ambitious goals as a team. Both of my parents have always championed and encouraged the independence I developed at a young age, and I’m grateful for their support.
What are a few of your favorite discoveries so far living in Nashville?
Nashville is an incredibly warm and welcoming town. I love the sense of community, the small-town feeling and the abundance of working artists.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
I’ve always been a huge reader. I just picked up a copy of The Women’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote to learn more about the fight for women’s suffrage that unfolded just blocks from TPAC. I am very excited to partake in all the festivities to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification next year.
What are your top five favorite musicals?
The Sound of Music, Les Misérables, Hamilton, Chicago and West Side Story.
What are your top five favorite plays?
A Raisin in the Sun, Angels in America, Hedda Gabler, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Doubt.
Who are your top five favorite artists/bands?
This is tough. I love to listen to a wide range of music and enjoy live shows. My current favorites to see live are The National, Band of Horses, Jenny Lewis, Neko Case and Jack White. My dream would be to see The Smiths reunite, but I think the chances are slim.
If you could meet any Broadway star, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Lin Manuel Miranda. I love the study of history and deeply admire his ability to take this subject matter and make it relevant and exciting to audiences of all ages. I would also like to ask if I could invest in his next project!