For decades, Teri Orr’s signature has been accompanied by the phrase “Art Matters.” The founder and executive director of the nonprofit Park City Institute (formerly Park City Performing Arts Foundation) has stepped down after 25 years of building, fundraising, programming, and doing just about anything else necessary to bring performing arts to the Eccles Center and other stages throughout town.
“Park City has always had a great appreciation for the arts,” she muses. “The miners knew right from the beginning that they needed entertainment. They wanted to elevate their existence. They built an opera house here in the late 1880s.” (The opera house burned down in the great fire of 1898 but was soon rebuilt nearby as the Dewey Theatre, and after several iterations became what we know today as the Egyptian Theatre, which Orr helped revive in 1998 as a member of the grassroots Save Our Stage organization.)
Orr moved her young family to Park City in 1979. She had a public relations company, was a freelance writer for multiple national publications, and served as editor of the Park Record for eight years (and still writes a weekly column for the local newspaper). After her involvement with the Egyptian Theatre renovation, she and her fellow arts proponents realized that the Egyptian alone was too small for the dreams of the community. Park City needed a performing arts center. She helped get a bond passed to fund it, and in 1998, with the help of donors like the Eccles family, art advocates, and the support of Sundance Film Festival (which needed a home for its premieres), the Eccles Center opened. The theater, located at Park City High School, is a unique educational-nonprofit partnership. According to Orr, the school district and PCI always had a parallel mission: bringing performing arts to town and serving the students. Throughout the partnership, PCI has offered discount tickets and student outreach for almost every performance—and the students use the Eccles theater for their performances.
“In the beginning, we were just building a building,” Orr says. “And then it blossomed. Our first year we had six shows. And then there was an expectation. Everyone wanted more. The community got emotionally and financially invested. We kept upping our game.” Eventually, PCI was producing 20 shows a year on the Eccles stage (“in a theater that holds 1,200, which is a lot [of seats] to fill, especially in 1998,” explains Orr), organizing summer outdoor concerts at Deer Valley for 14 years, and offering another half dozen shows between seasons. Show audiences have ranged in size from 100 in the Black Box Theatre to 5,000 outdoors at Deer Valley. Orr also shepherded efforts for PCI to obtain one of the first 100 licenses granted globally to host TEDx events, which began in 2009.
For Orr, the standout memories are infinite. “We had Bill Cosby here for the grand opening,” she says, shaking her head. “Boy, have times changed,” she comments. She also remembers an aromatic Chinese magic show (“The family cooked in the green room and the whole theater smelled like fried rice when people arrived for the show”). Then, there was her discovery that dance troupes like Alvin Ailey and Pilobolus need oxygen tanks on hand to be able to perform at altitude. The Tibetan monks, who performed and built a gorgeous sand mandala in the theater lobby, also left an indelible impression, as did the tradition of New Year’s Eve shows with Broadway stars. Controversial speakers like Edward Snowden (who presented via his “snowbot”) and Monica Lewinsky, who did student outreach training about bullying, were equally unforgettable—as was Tommy Tune, who refused to cancel his September 22, 2001, performance and had a full-house audience holding hands and talking about 9/11.
“It’s the best gig I never knew I wanted. And the opportunity to see some of my personal heroes on our stages, and to see our students and community enriched, inspired, and touched by performers we’ve hosted—it’s better than any paycheck. There’s such a thing as ‘founder’s disease’ though,” laughs Orr. “It’s time for me to move on. I want to make sure the institute has a future without me.” And indeed it does, with the naming of Ari Ioannides as the new executive director. “Ari has done fabulous work over the years running his company BoardDocs and BootUp and as a board member of the Education Foundation and Recycle Utah. He is now jumping into the Park City Institute with lots of fresh energy,” says Orr.
Ioannides says, “Because of Teri’s tireless efforts, we now have a state-of-the-art performance venue that has served the community for over 20 years and is poised to continue educating, illuminating, and entertaining Park City for years to come. I’m honored to be able to build on the work of Teri, the past board members, and hard-working staff to provide the kind of programming that will enhance the community that I have come to love.”