The Denver Center for the Performing Arts searched the globe for its third Chief Executive Officer, and it found her less than a mile away.
Janice Sinden, a fourth-generation Coloradan from Fort Collins, has been named President and only the third CEO in the nearly 40-year history of the largest non-profit theatre organization in the country. And first woman. DCPA Chairman Daniel L. Ritchie made the historic announcement this morning.
“This hiring means there are no walls, and I’m sure Janice will demonstrate that in everything she does,” said Ritchie. “She’s just an extraordinary human being, and I have no doubt she will succeed as a person and a leader.”
Sinden, 44, has served as Chief of Staff to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock for the past five years, where she oversaw 26 city departments with more than 11,000 employees and a budget of more than $1.5 billion. Before that, she ran Colorado Concern, an alliance of more than 100 of Colorado top business executives.
“We wanted someone well-connected in the community, and she is about as well-connected as anyone could possibly be,” said DCPA chairman Daniel Ritchie.
It says something of Sinden’s character that when Hancock chose the most vital connector of his administration, the Democrat mayor turned to a Republican who had previously served under Sen. Wayne Allard. Five years later, perhaps the greatest measure of Sinden’s success is evidenced by how hard it is for Hancock to let her walk away. Sinden has helped spearhead numerous mayoral initiatives that have strengthened city finances, reformed city operations, improved the lives of underserved communities and supported Denver’s children, Hancock said.
“So much of what we’ve been able to accomplish is because she was in the lead making sure we could get across the finish line,” said Hancock. “Her professionalism is unparalleled. The people of Denver are better off and on a better course because she answered the call to serve.”
And when Sinden was offered the opportunity to become the first female to lead the DCPA, Hancock gave his reluctant blessing.
“Mayor Hancock has often told me: ‘Janice, when the time is right, don’t run away from something. Run toward it,’ ” Sinden said. “I’m ready to grab the baton and join this incredible team as we run toward a common goal.”
Since 1979, the DCPA has presented Broadway tours and produced homegrown theatre, cabaret, musicals and innovative, multimedia plays. As the primary tenant of downtown’s Arts Complex, the DCPA entertained nearly 1.2 million last year through 40 productions, 888 performances and 205 events. The Education program serves 92,000 students each year. It has been estimated the DCPA has registered a $600 million economic impact over the past five years. It has an annual budget of more than $50 million and employs 1,000 full- and part-time staff.
Sinden, who assumes her duties at the DCPA on Sept. 12, said her top goal will be to help the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District win reauthorization from voters on Nov. 8. That penny-per-$10 sales tax generates more than $50 million annually for more than 300 arts organizations in the metro area.
“That’s No. 1. We need to get that done,” said Sinden. “I have traveled to 20 countries with the mayor over the past five years, and the first thing everyone asks about is the SCFD. It’s a model that no one else has anywhere in the world.”
She also cited as a top priority The Next Stage – the city’s grand vision for transforming the Denver Performing Arts Complex into an entertainment destination complete with a new amphitheater and music hall, residential towers, hotels, restaurants and retail. As Denver’s former Chief of Staff, Sinden should bring key insight to the project as discussions turn next to governance and funding.
Institutionally, Sinden said, her initial focus will be on inclusion, diversity, fundraising and expanding audiences.
The Hancock administration’s support for arts and culture has been well-documented. Hancock created Imagine 2020, the city’s first strategic plan for arts and culture in 20 years. His wife, singer and actress Mary Louise Lee, has also created a city program called Bringing Back the Arts.
“Arts and culture are the fabric of our city. They are woven through everything we do,” said Sinden, who imagines a 2020 when Denver arts will be “better, deeper, richer – and with lot more diversity in our participation.”
Sinden replaces Scott Shiller, who resigned in May. Ritchie said he has no doubt Sinden was the right person for the job.
“We wanted someone who had demonstrated leadership with a large complex organization; someone who has a passion for theatre and the arts; and someone who shares our values of integrity, diversity, innovation and putting the customer first in everything we do,” Ritchie said. “Janice fits every bill.”
Sinden said she was not deterred that Shiller resigned after only a year on the job.
“Jim Crowe, the founder of Level 3 Communications, told me recently that 40 percent of all CEOs don’t work out, and it’s not because they’re not qualified,” Sinden said. “It’s because it just didn’t work, for a variety of reasons. I don’t think it’s a reflection on Scott or on the organization. Chemistry is everything.”
Sinden is a quintessential Coloradan who hikes, skis and recently took in the Michael Franti concert at Red Rocks. She lives in Evergreen and often can be found hiking Bergen Peak. She recently scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, an experience she said was “one of the most important things I have ever done for myself.”
She was born in Steamboat Springs, where her father, Roger Sinden, ran the town’s first Grade-A dairy farm. When the family moved to Wellington, her father then went to work for a Northern Colorado water conservancy district. Her mother’s family owns many dryland farms in northeastern Colorado that are “spread out from Brighton to Yuma and everywhere in between,” she said.
Sinden grew up playing the piano and attending the theatre with her mother, Arleen Brown, as often as possible. She remembers seeing a production of Annie Get Your Gun at Fort Collins’ Lincoln Center that turned her into a theatre-lover for life.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” she said, “but my mother was always exposing us to theatre, and that was a wonderful part of growing up. My mother made sure I could play the piano and swim – and I am grateful for both.”
She loves live theatre, she said, because “it presents us with an opportunity to tackle a whole lot of issues and experiences we are facing as a community in a way you can’t get from television or film.”
Sinden graduated from Rocky Mountain High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley before completing the Executives in State and Local Government program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
She attends theatre and other arts performances as often as time allows. Most recently, she frequented the DCPA Theatre Company’s DeVotchKa-infused production of Sweeney Todd, and her response offers some insight into what kind of programming might most appeal to her at the DCPA.
“I loved Sweeney Todd because was risky,” she said. “And that’s exciting, because theatre should be risky. If we weren’t willing to take risks, we’d just show Cats over and over again. This organization is clearly progressive.”
While the DCPA fielded inquiries for the CEO position from around the globe, Ritchie said Sinden’s intimate knowledge of Colorado and its most powerful business leaders will uniquely situate her to succeed.
“Denver is not like New York or Boston or L.A.,” Ritchie said. “Janice doesn’t need to learn the culture here – she is already part of it.”
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Janice Sinden’s community work:
Janice Sinden served on and/or led the boards of some of the area’s leading non-profit organizations:
- American Transplant Association
- Colorado Civil Justice League
- Colorado Council on the Arts
- Colorado’s Future
- Colorado Preservation Inc.
- Colorado Reform Roundtable
- Colorado Workers Compensation Coalition
- Denver Good Government Committee
- Denver Preschool Program
- Downtown Parks & Public Spaces Master Planning Committee
- Executives Partnering to Invest in Children
- Mental Health Colorado
- ONE Colorado
- Visit Denver
Janice Sinden’s city initiatives
Mayor Michael B. Hancock credits new DCPA CEO Janice Sinden for the following city initiatives since 2011:
- Recruiting a new Police Chief and Sheriff to implement major reforms in those two public safety agencies;
- Creating the new Rose Andom Center, Colorado’s first family justice center to serve domestic violence victims by bringing multiple agencies and services together in one location;
- Securing voter approval for Measure 2A in 2012, which eliminated the city’s recession-induced budget deficit and restored essential city services;
- Re-authorizing and expanding the nationally recognized Denver Preschool Program allowing the program to reach more preschool students and reduce costs for families;
- Creating the Office of Behavioral Health Strategies and Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, both of which will bring a new force and focus addressing vulnerable and underserved populations;
- Establishing the Mayor’s Good Government Committee, which has led to many reforms that today make city government more modern, effective, efficient and fiscally responsible;
- Negotiating seven successful collective bargaining agreements with the city’s fire, police and sheriff associations; and
- Supporting other Mayoral initiatives, including international economic development and cultural missions to promote Denver nationally and internationally, the memorial events for the 10th and 15th anniversaries of 9/11, and Denver’s bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.