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Terri Trotter: Jones Center will be a regional destination

As she has everywhere else she’s worked, new CEO has a vision of expansion and education for the Jones Center. by Becca Martin-Brown | January 9, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
“Terri has made an outstanding and lasting mark on the Center, our Midland community and the entire Great Lakes Bay region. Her tenure with the center has been one of vision, action and uplifting transformation. The center will continue to benefit from her inspired leadership far into the future.” — Lisa Ungerleider

Here's how much her employers value Terri Trotter: Her first day as chief executive of the Jones Center in Springdale was Jan. 1. Her last day as CEO of the Midland (Mich.) Center for the Arts won't be until Feb. 27. Better to share her than to lose her or rush her transition.

It also tells you a lot about Trotter and her commitment to excellence.

"I have been incredibly fortunate in my career to lead multiple organizations whose astute and dedicated boards and staffs are evolving and growing their impact on the community," Trotter says. "Both Midland Center and the Jones Trust are in the midst of major transformation. I wanted to help ensure that it was a smooth as possible on both sides, finishing out some important work in Michigan while also quickly getting up to speed on the exciting new plans at the Jones Center. So, I will split my time for the next couple of months."

"The same strengths that I saw when working with Terri over her years at Walton Arts Center will serve her well as the CEO of the Jones Center and the Jones Trust operations," says Ed Clifford, who is retiring as president and CEO to transition into a role on the Jones Center Board. "She's detail oriented, asks lots of questions before making decisions, is always upbeat and understands the need for a high performing team to get things done and to make the Jones Center a special place for everyone."

"My first impression was that Terri was a visionary leader with great energy, and with the talent and drive to help us reimagine the Center in ways never before considered," says Lisa Ungerleider, chairwoman of the Board of Midland Center for the Arts. "She has undoubtedly proven that to be true during her tenure with us. Our board of directors remains overwhelmingly grateful and appreciative of Terri's many significant contributions. We know she will remain a friend and a strong ally for the Center and for the Great Lakes Bay region."

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Trotter is a familiar face in Northwest Arkansas, having been with the Walton Arts Center for 15 of its formative years, starting in communications and ending up as chief operating officer. Like the positions in Midland and at the Jones Center, she says the Walton Arts Center job was serendipitous.

"My mom, Kathleen Trotter, had recently remarried following my dad's death, and her new husband got a job running Mount Sequoyah, so she moved to Fayetteville," Trotter explains. "I honestly didn't even know where Arkansas was, but we began going down to visit and about a year later I was there visiting and there was a job listed in the paper -- the Fayetteville paper back then -- for vice president of communications at Walton Arts Center. [Husband Doug Wright] and I wanted to move out of Chicago before we had kids, so I faxed in my resume -- and things went from there.

"We figured we'd give it a try for a few years -- it was a big adjustment back then," she recalls. "We were there over 15 years -- longer than I had ever lived anywhere in my entire life -- all three of our kids are native Arkansans, and now both of my sisters have relocated to Northwest Arkansas. I loved that I came in so close to the very beginning of WAC's history and with both the Center and the region growing so much that there were continually new challenges and new opportunities. I had three different positions in that 15 years, finally as the COO, so I got to grow my career without moving from organization to organization, which is rare in my business."

Trotter's father, Richard Trotter, was a United Methodist pastor and both he and her mom worked in church camps, so moving around the country was normal for her as a child.

"My husband always rolls his eyes when we are at a party and someone asks, 'Where are you from?'" she says with a laugh. "I was born in Nebraska but moved as a toddler to South Dakota, first on the east side of the state, then to the Black Hills, outside Rapid City. I went to kindergarten through sixth grade in Rapid City. We lived at a United Methodist camp and retreat center called Storm Mountain about 25 minutes out of the city, near Mount Rushmore. My sisters and I spent a lot of time out in the woods while both my parents ran the camp. I still absolutely love the mountains -- and especially the Black Hills."

Her father had heart disease and first became ill when Trotter was 7. She then watched her mother take over as bread winner.

"My dad mostly stayed with me and my sisters and did some counseling -- and acting/directing in community theater -- and my mom worked and built an incredible career," she remembers. "I learned so much about being a working mom from her and it never occurred to me that I wouldn't have both a career and a family."

Trotter's second boss -- who ran an event firm in Chicago -- reinforced that belief, teaching her that "you have to own responsibility, and it's never someone else's job if something needs to be done. And second, being the president of the company doesn't mean not being a good mom. She led by example, and I will always remember the pack-and-play set up in her office after her first son was born. She grew her business, took care of her family, and nurtured us as employees."

Trotter and her husband have three children. Allie, 21, a senior at the University of Michigan, is in pre-med, majoring in creative writing with Spanish and music minors; Evan, 19, a freshman at Northwestern University -- Trotter's alma mater -- is a theater major and musician; and Will, 15, is a freshman in high school who is a singer/actor, percussionist and a sports enthusiast -- especially college football, Trotter says.

"My kids are way more talented than I am! They are all amazing singers and hearing them all sing together is one of my favorite things in the world."

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Trotter says she's always loved the arts, performing in a girls swing choir in high school and with a summer drama troupe for three years during high school and college. "But I excelled most on our speech team (forensics)," she adds. "I competed in original oratory and poetry and was a state finalist through high school in Marion, Ind. [where they had moved in 1983]. While she credits that high school choir director, Richie Walton, as "the teacher I learned the most from and who taught me the most important skills for my career and life," she started college at Northwestern thinking she might go into radio news.

"I worked in the news department at WNUR, our campus radio station at Northwestern, while I was there," she explains, and "first quarter of senior year in college I got an internship with WBBM-AM, the CBS affiliated Chicago news station.

"It was a lot of fun; however, just down the hall from the newsroom was the FM station for WBBM -- B96, the Killer Bee. Their morning show team, Eddie and Jobo, were rising Chicago radio stars. It seemed like something just kept pulling me down the hallway, and by the end of my internship at WBBM-AM, I was offered an internship as the morning show producer -- answering phones and screening calls for on-air conversations from listeners," she relates. "I fell in love with entertainment."

When she graduated from college, Trotter was hired as a promotions assistant in the WBBM marketing department and was an on-air character on the morning show.

"I drove the 'B-Van' around the city looking for people sporting our bumper sticker, and then I pulled them over and gave them prizes," she remembers. "My name was 'Elain (A-Lane) Change,' and the running on-air joke in the banter between me and the jocks was I was a really bad driver. It was the most fun first job out of college I could have ever imagined."

Sadly, she says, Trotter learned she "couldn't be a promotions assistant on a funny morning show forever, and the business just wasn't what I wanted." Still in Chicago, she started working as a producer for a special event design and production company, doing marketing, client relations and event design. The Walton Arts Center job came along in 1997, when Anita Scism, the CEO at the time, asked Vice President Jenni Taylor Swain to find "a visionary marketing director."

"First impressions: she was smart, had a strong background in communication, impressive work ethic and diverse job experiences," says Taylor Swain. "She valued family, education and community. I liked her strategic thinking and the way she was able to articulate ideas, impressions and opinions. She showed curiosity in Northwest Arkansas and an openness to wanting to know more.

"What sold me on Terri was her instincts and her passion," she remembers. "We were looking for someone who shared, with passion, the vision of the arts center that had been created by our community -- making the arts center a central figure in shaping regional development, enhancing the quality of life, supporting economic growth and being a place for diverse voices from around the world.

"She was the right person to collaborate with the community and then forge ahead with this vision."

Asked what she remembers most proudly about her work at WAC, Trotter says "the rebranding of the center that included the current WAC logo, helping position [the center] for regional growth, being the marketing lead for the center's first 'full week' Broadway series and working with the city on the new parking deck that integrated with the new lobby and office construction."

Taylor Swain says she's thrilled to see Trotter's knowledge of Northwest Arkansas come back home.

"Terri is the ideal person to take the Jones Center to the next level. I can't wait to see how she does it," she says. "It will be bold, strategic, collaborative and community centered. I have no doubts that Northwest Arkansas will be gifted with an organizational model that breaks the mold, complements the region and shines bright for Springdale."

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In 2014, Trotter left Northwest Arkansas to run the Sun Valley (Idaho) Center for the Arts, an organization that in addition to presenting lots of different artists and bands, also had a professional producing theater and a contemporary art museum, she explains.

"We were there about 18 months when I got a call from the recruiter for the Midland job. I said no at first, but he called again, and I did some research and realized I'd be crazy not to apply," Trotter remembers. "Midland Center is such a unique organization. We are a cultural campus that includes theaters (a 1,500- and 400-seat) where we present everything from touring Broadway to speakers to artists from around the globe; museums (with art, history and science); and rehearsal/gathering space. It's a gigantic campus.

"In addition, we run the Midland Symphony Orchestra and produce a regular season of community theater. It has been such a huge opportunity to oversee so many different kinds of cultural activities."

Ungerleider, the Midland Board chairwoman, ticked off a list of some of Trotter's accomplishments in a press release announcing her resignation.

• Overseeing audience growth of 40% while ticket sales doubled pre-pandemic.

• Growing the number of individual gifts to the annual fund by 35% while the average size of gifts rose by 60%.

• Presenting professional touring Broadway for the first time in the Center's history that, after only three seasons, enjoys a subscriber base of nearly 1,000 patrons – and growing.

• Expanding and integrating the Museum programs at the Center, energizing and strengthening STEM-based learning, including launching a distance learning platform for schools focused on the intersection of STEM and the arts.

• Leading the development of plans to rebuild and refresh the Center for the coming decades.

Trotter says none of it would have happened without generous and supportive donors, who helped "us both weather the crisis and flex our creative muscles."

"We focused on staying in touch with our community and experimenting with new programs. We got engaged in online content, bringing people together with books and speakers talking about race and social issues. We began a distance learning program for schools that we are now working to marketing nationally, and we began producing outdoor theater. And, we had a historic flood in May of 2020, so our staff has been so resilient it has inspired me."

Leaving was not an easy decision, she says, but she was wooed by the potential of the Jones Center.

"Above all, I see the Jones Center as a key partner and collaborator in continuing to develop Springdale and Northwest Arkansas as one of the most desirable places to live and work in the country," she says. "In addition, the Jones Center has a commitment to inclusion and diversity and to being a place where everyone feels welcome. There is an incredible legacy, and I can't wait to work with the team to continue building and evolving the organization."

"The Jones Center is an amazing community space, is known for its recreational venues, for its work in education, and for bringing all the different families and communities within Northwest together to thrive in a wholesome environment," agrees Clifford. "Terri's skill set is such that she will bring a new perspective to the Board and staff about the center's potential to be one of the three or four major attractions in Northwest Arkansas for both our residents and for the many visitors we attract from all over the country and world.

"She has the experience to activate the Jones Center and the Jones campus for a whole new audience," he adds. "She has the knowledge of Northwest Arkansas and the growing creative community to make that happen. I can't wait to see that happen. I'll be working with our board and many others to make the campus the palette that Terri needs to work her magic."

"Her vision, drive, and incredibly high energy make Terri an outstanding leader," says Ungerleider. "She can see into the future ... Terri knows what it takes to guide an organization as it grows to fulfill its potential in new and exciting ways. Her depth of experience in the arts industry, and the deep network of professional and personal connections that she's cultivated during her career, are also very powerful tools."

"Like I said, Midland Center is a cultural campus and a destination in mid-Michigan," Trotter concludes. "I see a similar energy and opportunity at the Jones Center. It is a flagship Springdale entity, and as Springdale continues to grow and evolve, I know the Jones organization can be on the forefront of collaborating to strengthen the efforts. And to have a great professional opportunity come along where I can also move home near my family was something I couldn't pass up."

  photo  “I’m excited to work at the Jones Trust because the board is so passionate about wanting to use the incredible resources of the organization to serve the broad communities of Northwest Arkansas to the fullest,” says Terri Trotter. “We have a new master plan that physically connects the Jones campus to the Razorback Greenway and to the evolving downtown Springdale area. The goal is to create a destination point attraction — a place people want to come — that offers entertainment, education and gathering for Springdale residents, the Northwest Arkansas community and tourists alike. We know that the arts will be an important part of that, both visual and performing, and we are looking at other ways to activate and augment the campus that add new and different experiences to the region.” (Courtesy photo)
 
 

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Terri Trotter

Date and place of birth: March 7, 1968, Seward, Neb.

My favorite theatrical experience was: Seeing “Memphis The Musical” in New York the first time.

If I wasn’t in my current career, I’d: rent Airbnbs around the world.

The best advice I ever got: The sign of God is that you will be led where you did not intend to go.

My idea of the perfect Saturday must include: relaxing with a cat in my lap.

One thing I’d change about me is: I have trouble not going at top speed all the time.

When I am not working, you’re most likely to find me: at my kids’ events.

My proudest accomplishment is: I hear from people frequently about each of my children that they are kind to others.

The word that best describes me: Driven.

 


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