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The Transformative Potential of Opportunities in the Arts

Published November 17, 2023

The Transformative Potential of Opportunities in the Arts

by Dennyse Sewell

The historic Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Reno

It is an honor and a privilege to join my fellow arts leaders here as the newest contributor to PBS Reno’s ArtViews blog.  I am thrilled to have this platform to share more about the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts – its history, programming, impact, future goals, and the many phenomenal people who make it all possible.  Upcoming columns will highlight different facets of the Pioneer Center in ways that I hope will educate and enlighten you, and perhaps encourage you to engage further with the arts community here in northern Nevada. But first, I want to share more with you about myself and my personal connection to that magnificent gold dome in the heart of downtown Reno.

The Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts opened to the public in January of 1968, but my first experience inside the theater didn’t occur until 1991 when my family moved to Reno.  My fifth-grade class took a field trip to the Pioneer Center to attend a Reno Philharmonic concert; I was new to Reno and new to the performing arts, and everything about the experience stunned me.  I vividly remember sitting in the balcony, looking down on the full orchestra and being transported by the lush, immersive sounds swirling around me.  Visions of Disney’s animated film Fantasia were dancing through my young mind. 

A view from the balcony inside the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts

In the years that followed, I attended some of the early Broadway Comes to Reno productions with my parents (including the iconic first national tour of RENT) and also watched my friends perform on stage in The Nutcracker, but I never imagined I would be part of the Pioneer Center in any way other than as an audience member.  As fate would have it, I took a part-time student job in the box office of the Church Fine Arts building while pursuing a degree in Conservation Biology at the University of Nevada, Reno.  That led to another student job with the Pioneer Center box office, where I would have the opportunity to experience more Broadway, opera, philharmonic, and ballet performances while still a student at the university.

In November of 2004 during the Pioneer Center run of the Broadway musical The Producers, my future came calling.  A position opened up in the administrative office of the theater, and my supervisor at that time encouraged me to apply. Despite having an undergraduate degree in an entirely unrelated field of study, the Executive Director saw potential and decided to take a chance on me.  For the next 14 years, I worked in a diverse and ever-expanding range of positions at the Pioneer Center, including front of house operations, educational outreach, box office, event management, development, and marketing.  I was given opportunities to learn, grow, try, make mistakes, learn some more, and try again.  In 2019 I took over as Executive Director of the Pioneer Center, and in 2023 I was named President and CEO of the organization.  To date, I have spent 19 years in service of the Pioneer Center on an unlikely journey that took me from a box office ticket sales rep to the CEO.

The upper lobby of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts

I share my story with you not to highlight myself, but to demonstrate the transformative potential of opportunities in the arts.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a school field trip that opened my mind to the world of performing arts.  I then had the opportunity to work in an entry-level position within an arts organization and discover that there was a place in the arts for a science-and-math-brained person like myself.  I was then given the most meaningful opportunity of all: a chance to build a lifelong career in service of nonprofit arts administration and community engagement. 

The arts can open a door in a person’s life that enables them to step through into a richer, brighter, more vibrant world.  This has certainly been true for me and for all of the phenomenal members of my staff, and I suspect it has been true for you as well, albeit in your own way that is unique to your story. 

Dennyse Sewell is the President and CEO of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno, Nevada



This PBS Reno series delves into the local arts scene, looking at the lasting impact the arts have in our communities and beyond.

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