The 2018 Rozsa Award Shortlist



Celebrating Excellence in Arts Management

The Rozsa Foundation is pleased to announce our shortlist for the 15th Annual Rozsa Award. Congratulations to JP Thibodeau, Artistic Producer of Storybook Theatre, Keri Mitchell, Executive Director of Theatre Alberta, and Shelley Youngblut, CEO and Creative Ring Leader of Wordfest.


Selected by the Rozsa Award Jury out of several exemplary nominations from across the province, these candidates are distinct in their transformational leadership, moving their organizations forward through innovation and outstanding executive management.


JP Thibodeau – Managing Artistic Director, StoryBook Theatre (Calgary)


JP Thibodeau has been in the role of Managing Director StoryBook Theatre (SBT) since January 2013. During that time, he has been tireless in producing quality Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), providing opportunities for aspiring actors to work with professionals and creating exciting learning environments for students. He has been very successful in this endeavour while working in a largely volunteer-driven environment.


While managing one of Canada's largest TYA theatres, JP contributes to every aspect of bringing a show to life. SBT produces 7 or more shows a year and JP oversees the overall production of each show. He can be found producing, directing, or creating the set and lighting designs and often doing all of these at once for several shows.


Thibodeau has been able to use his experience and reputation to build teams for every show that includes a combination of local professionals and enthusiastic volunteers. The polish and professionalism he brings to each show are undeniable. Under JP's leadership, STB continues to be recognized as Calgary’s best theatre for families by Calgary’s Child Magazine.


Outside of STB, JP has been honoured with the Greg Bond Memorial Award for his contribution to Musical Theatre in Calgary because of his contributions to the theatre community.


This fearless leader has grown StoryBook from a community theatre group into a semi-professional theatre company that strives to create employment opportunities for established and emerging artists as well as a place to foster and develop new works. He keeps StoryBook on its growing edge by creating new opportunities. 


In 2018, the Storybook Theatre season contains 11 full shows and 3 fundraising shows. JP has transformed both the Theatre School Programs and Storybooks live productions in various ways.


One of the biggest changes implemented by JP at STB has been to focus on creating more opportunities for local artists. His initiatives have created paying opportunities for working professionals and emerging artists on and off stage. This has increased the quality of Storybook Theatre shows and has moved StoryBook from a community theatre to a semi-professional structure.


Prior to JP's leadership, there were only small honorariums paid to production teams but now Storybook Theatre is able to offer competitive rates for production roles and contracts as well as honorariums to actors. This year, over $300, 000 will be paid out in salaries.


Finding quality scripts to meet a young audience mandate is no easy task. JP has focused on alleviating this challenge by facilitating the creation and production of new works. In 2017, SBT premiered a new musical the Urban Jungle Book. This year, the show was produced by a local school. Story Book Theatre will also produce a brand-new production- Ty Rex King of Third Grade which was the winner of the National Playwriting Competition in 2016. Two more new works will be presented next season.

Keri Mitchell, Executive Director, Theatre Alberta (Edmonton) 


Keri Mitchell is a passionate and exceptional arts leader who has dedicated her professional life to the betterment of the arts in Western Canada. Keri’s long history with Theatre Alberta began when she worked as Program Coordinator from 2004 until 2007. After her initial time with Theatre Alberta, Keri moved on to become Artistic Associate at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, where she coordinated the annual Teens @ The Turn Festival and various audience enrichment programs.

Keri also worked as the Outreach Coordinator at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, where among other duties she acted as Tour Manager for the 2010 Regional Tour of Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s Tempting Providence.

In 2010, Keri returned to Theatre Alberta to assume the role of Executive Director. During her time with the organization she has been a regular champion for the arts in Alberta, attending national and international conferences. She has continued to adapt, grow, and innovate Theatre Alberta’s programs while ensuring financial sustainability.


A graduate of the University of Alberta’s BA Honors Drama program, Keri currently serves on the Board of Directors of the iHuman Youth Society; and a member of Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 Class of 2013. She recently became a certified equity, diversity, and inclusion facilitator through artEquity, a U.S. organization promoting ongoing learning and growth of equity-based initiatives in the arts.


During her tenure as Executive Director, Keri Mitchell has been instrumental in spearheading and achieving the following initiatives:


Theatre Alberta’s involvement in EMCArts’ New Pathways adaptive change program, which helped us radically change our thinking around our current membership model. Ms. Mitchell understood the importance of adapting Theatre Alberta’s membership model to reflect the changing nature of “belonging” in today’s world in order for a provincial arts service organization to remain relevant and viable. Theatre Alberta is beginning to implement some of the changes to our membership model this year.


The implementation of two three-year business plans, each with a focus of strengthening and stabilizing infrastructure to allow the organization to be more innovative and responsive in serving our community. Ms. Mitchell actively and conscientiously leads the way in tracking the performance measures of these business plans, and effectively engages Theatre Alberta’s staff in pursuing these goals.

Initiating a complete review of Theatre Alberta’s policies, working with the board to ensure that key gaps are filled. This includes looking at our Compensation Philosophy, Parental Leave, Harassment, and other key HR documents that were not required when Theatre Alberta was a smaller organization.


Theatre Alberta’s participation in Business for the Arts’ artsVest sponsorship training and matching investment program, which has resulted in several new sponsor relationships and a total of $9,000 of matching donations from Business for the Arts. By initiating Theatre Alberta’s participation in this program, Ms. Mitchell mobilized the board and staff to think creatively about partner opportunities and to pursue them with confidence.


Ensuring that Theatre Alberta remains responsive to the needs of its members. Under Ms. Mitchell’s leadership, the organization spearheaded work with WCB Alberta to recognize Recreational Theatre and volunteers as hobbyists, and has recently started offering PACT’s ALL-IN program for equity, diversity and inclusion.


The Rocky Mountain Series – a new master class series which replaced Theatre Alberta’s long-running but stagnating Dramaworks professional development conference. Now in its third season, the Rocky Mountain Series is drawing growing numbers of artists, and building Theatre Alberta’s profile provincially and nationally as an innovative provider of theatre workshops.


Picks of the Edmonton Fringe – a collaboration between the Alberta Arts Touring Alliance, Fringe Theatre Adventures, and Theatre Alberta, which saw the promotion of Alberta made-theatre touring across rural portions of the province. Ms. Mitchell cleverly made the connection between the tour-ready productions that Edmonton Fringe attracts and the hunger in the provincial roadhouse community for more locally-created programming outside of musical acts and bridged the gap through this innovative partnership.


Shelley Youngblut, CEO and Creative Ringleader, Wordfest (Calgary) 


Shelley Youngblut connects smart, funny people with life-changing ideas as the CEO & Creative Ringleader of Wordfest . In partnership with the Calgary Public Library, she is transforming Alberta’s oldest library into a vibrant arts and culture hub. Shelley was the founding editor of the award-winning Swerve magazine, as well as Calgary alternative music magazine VOX, and has created magazines for ESPN, Cosmopolitan, Nickelodeon, and The Globe & Mail.


She also produced three sports books for Hyperion in New York. She was the 2008 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western Magazine Awards, as well as a 2010 Lion Award for Heritage Advocacy from the City of Calgary. A fierce advocate of emerging talent, she has mentored writers, illustrators, photographers, editors and art directors. A former pop culture correspondent for ABC World News Now and Canada AM, she is unconventionally opinionated on CBC Calgary’s Eyeopener.

She is currently working on a memoir about poker and parenting, as well as a Tzavta Salon Cookbook (in collaboration with Michal Lavi of Sidewalk Citizen Bakery).


The 20th anniversary year of Wordfest marked a transformational leadership change for the organization with the appointment of Shelley Youngblut as General Director in May 2015. Since then, the last three years of her tenure have seen Wordfest radically reinvent itself and thrive against all odds. Youngblut made a pivotal bet on a company that was on the brink of closing its doors, just as it was about to celebrate twenty years as a Festival.


At the time, Wordfest was grappling with a downward trend in attendance, declining community support (both financially and in terms of goodwill from partners), back-to-back years of budgetary deficits, a burnt-out staff and volunteer crew, and an organization constrained by two decades of legacy assumptions about its limited potential as a "literary arts festival."


Having come to the organization from outside the non-profit arts world, Youngblut began to diagnose and repair what she identified as a key misalignment of its current focus and energy when trying to fulfill its artistic mission. At its core, Wordfest was a live event producer. It was ultimately a readers’ festival, not a writer's festival — a major and necessary shift in the organization's brand orientation. Before anything else could happen artistically, these key pieces — and the ingredients that go into creating an exceptional and memorable live experience for audiences — needed to be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up, and fully internalized by the team and stakeholders at all levels. Only then would the company be in a solid position to regain the support of its best champions, achieve stability, and thrive in ways that further its discipline and the arts sector as a whole.


Taking the "event producer" and "reader's festival" lens to heart when planning her first festival in 2015, Youngblut marshalled wide community support, inspired audiences and energized volunteers in the creation of a lively, public celebration of two decades as the region's premier international readers and writers Festival.


In the second year of her tenure, Youngblut had identified and began addressing another missed opportunity that had been baked into Wordfest's legacy operating model. A narrow focus on producing just a six-day festival in October — by rinsing and repeating the same formula each year — was blinding the company to new opportunities to generate earned revenue and stable cash flows year-round.

The publishing industry had already shifted to a 365-marketing cycle of touring authors nationally and internationally. It was time for Wordfest to adapt, work closely with publishers and agents to schedule author visits in Calgary throughout the year, and explore new theatrical venues such as the Bella Concert Hall for presenting higher-profile acts to larger audiences.


Under Youngblut's leadership, it accomplished all of the above and more, having attracted for the first time in the organization's history A-list speakers such as comedian Mike Myers and musician Robbie Robertson in 2016. It then filled the 650-seat Bella Concert Hall again in 2017, landing exclusive Calgary stops in the international book tours of Youtube sensation Lilly Singh in the spring, and spoken-word performer Rupi Kaur in the fall. Both headline artists introduced younger, diverse audiences to the company.


By the end of 2016, Youngblut diagnosed and addressed another major challenge that had severely limited Wordfest's capacity for growth over the years — its lack of a permanent home, both for hosting performances and in terms of affordable office space. Youngblut lead the organization into a mutually-supportive new partnership with the Calgary Public Library, signing a five-year agreement that would see the company move its operations to the 2nd Floor of Memorial Park Library, and begin curating and producing live arts experiences for the first time as a resident company with its own 120-seat performance space, dubbed the "Wordfest Engagement Lab."


The result was a full year of programmatic experimentation in 2017, producing on average 4-6 staged author events per month in addition to its main October festival — expanding its artistic output to 180+ events annually and attracting audiences exceeding 20,000, while at the same time earning enough earned revenue to replenish the operating reserves that Wordfest had drained before Shelley had assumed the leadership of the company.




Created in 2002 to honour the philanthropic efforts of Drs Ted and Lola Rozsa, the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management is unique in Canada, celebrating outstanding arts administrators and providing additional professional development benefits to the recipient and his or her organization.

Thanks to our generous partners including Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta,Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, CKUA Radio Network, Deloitte, GOOD Company, Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, Ross W Marsh Consulting, Transcend Management Advisors Inc and Vital Business Systems, as well as other valued partners over the past 14 years, the Foundation has distributed over one million dollars in benefits to our award recipients and their organizations across Alberta.

Read more about The Rozsa Award, the History of the Award, our Award Jury, our Award Glass Artists, and our Award Partners.

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