Little did Kathy Jepson know when she took a part-time events and marketing job at the Palm Theater in 2006 that the position would quickly mushroom to full time, and eventually lead to the managing director role. After nearly 17 years of facilitating Palm Arts’ mission to enrich and expand educational performing arts and cultural opportunities for the Telluride community, Jepson will retire in July.
In 2004 Telluride voters narrowly passed a bond measure to construct an auditorium at the high school with seating for at least 650 people which resulted in the Michael D. Palm Theater opening its doors in 2005.
Prior to the Palm Theater, Telluride Film Festival (TFF) screened movies in the high school gym at the makeshift “Max Theater.” With a vested interest in the planning process, TFF helped to outfit the Palm Theater with world-class sound and film projection. Tried and true festivals that have since regularly accessed Palm Theater include Mountainfilm, Horror Festival and Bluegrass.
“The Palm was originally built to play two roles: To serve as a school theater and auditorium and as a top tier performing arts venue for the wider Telluride community,” explained Palm Arts Board Chair Jonathan Abram. “Balancing these two is a dance, and Kathy was its original choreographer. We’ve all watched in awe as Kathy showed us how it’s done.”
Jepson is energized by the sheer number of events she’s witnessed at the Palm Theater over the years, from spelling bees to award ceremonies, school musicals to dance recitals, band concerts to graduations.
The Palm Theater operated under the purview of the school district until 2009 when operations shifted to the newly formed nonprofit Palm Arts, allowing for more autonomy to add programming, seek grant money and pursue fresh opportunities. Subsequently, Palm Arts created affiliate agreements with Telluride Theatre, Telluride Dance Collective and Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
“While we might not always have our marquee lit up with an event, we’re not dark very often,” Jepson said.
Jepson said the biggest change during her tenure was the addition of Palm Arts Dance as afterschool programming in 2013.
“I’d been on the Telluride Dance Academy board for years as my daughter had danced,” she explained. “There wasn’t a stable home for the dance academy, and it was important not only to me but for the community to keep the dance program alive.”
The biggest challenge Jepson experienced over the years was operating Palm Theater during COVID-19.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day – Friday, March 13, 2020 – when I shut everything down in the middle of Telluride Theatre’s production of ‘MacGyver,’” she explained.
Palm Arts invites four or five touring shows each year and hosts at least three student outreach programs annually.
“We broke new ground when we invited the Met Opera in, the first venue on the Western Slope to facilitate live broadcasts from Lincoln Center,” Jepson enthused.
Two of her favorite productions at Palm Theater were watching MOMIX and Ailey II dance on stage and seeing Beck perform and transform the stage.
“Beck was incredible,” she recounted. “A night I’ll never forget, especially the long load out.”
Jepson is excited to welcome David Sedaris to Palm Theater on July 21, a co-presentation with The Ah Haa School. The music group Take 3 will perform on December 29, followed by a show in January by a hip hop group out of Houston called Fly Dance.
Jepson said her job has been incredibly rewarding and she leaves with “an abundance of gratitude.”
“I’m really going to miss my colleagues. We’ve got a great crew here at The Palm,” she said. “I’ll also miss the constant exposure to the arts – I’ve never had a dull day here with myriad things going on.”
While Jepson intends to continue her volunteer work on various boards in the community, intentionally she has no firm plans moving forward aside from traveling to see family, gardening and spending time with her first grandchild.
Having announced her retirement last summer, the Palm Arts board conducted interviews for Jepson’s replacement at the beginning of the year, landing local Nicole Hattler to take over the job.
“Nicole knows the Telluride arts scene well, and will step right into the job and make it her own,” said Abram who looks forward to “the new directions Nicole will launch us in and the new ways she’ll find for Palm Arts to support performing arts in Telluride.”
Hattler served as a ballet instructor, then as artistic director for Palm Arts Dance, a position she’s held for the past several years. She left her job with the school district business office to start work at Palm Arts last week.
“I’m excited to bring back more family and youth programming that we enjoyed pre-COVID,” she said. “And offer more professional dance performances from the connections that I’ve built through my own years in dance.”
Palm Arts will announce its official 2023-2024 season in mid-summer. For more information on Palm Arts, visit www.telluridepalm.com.
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