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Sundance Institute’s New Acting CEO Will Focus on ‘Long Term Sustainability’

Amanda Kelso, the new acting CEO of the Sundance Institute, told the Sundance community that she is focused on the “long term sustainability and growth” of the non-profit well into the 21st century.

“As we look to the future of the Sundance Institute, I am filled with both pride and humility as I take on the role of acting CEO,” Kelso said in a statement shared with press. “It is an immense honor to return to lead during this pivotal time for arts organizations and, more specifically, independent storytellers. I believe in the power of Sundance and its ongoing impact in nurturing our mission-based work. This work is dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and connecting them with audiences around the world.”

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Joana Vicente, who joined Sundance from TIFF back in 2021, announced Friday that she will be stepping down, with Kelso coming aboard in April and Vicente remaining in an advisory role through June.

Kelso comes from a tech background working at both Google and Instagram, but she has a degree in Film and Media Studies from Columbia University and started her career as a production assistant on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” She’s also been with Sundance for some time, joining as a trustee on the Sundance Institute’s board in 2020 and previously serving as acting CEO in the transition from CEOs Keri Putnam and Joana Vicente.

Vicente will also be involved with the search for a new CEO alongside the board, but it’s clear that Kelso intends to bring her communications and tech experience to the organization in the interim. She was crucial in helping Sundance pivot to a virtual festival in 2021 and 2022.

“As I jump into leadership, my goal is to further cement the place Sundance has in this greater ecosystem,” Kelso wrote. “We are at an important moment in time where the impact of the work we do to support artists matters enormously. In this time of transition, I am reminded of the wisdom imparted by our founder, Robert Redford, who advised, ‘Don’t be shy of taking risks. It can be the catalyst that propels you forward.’ It is with this spirit of boldness and innovation that I plan to approach the future together.”

When Kelso sent her message, Vicente simultaneously shared her own message with members. “As an organization, over these past years we have been able to sustain and expand our support of global storytellers,” Vicente wrote. “We have found ways to offer more funding opportunities for independent and creative voices. These newly launched fellowships to uplift underrepresented storytellers are impacting the careers of so many.”

Sundance recently announced its dates for the 2025 Sundance Film Festival, running from January 23 to February 2.

Read the full letters from both Kelso and Vicente below:

To the Sundance community,

As we look to the future of the Sundance Institute, I am filled with both pride and humility as I take on the role of Acting CEO. It is an immense honor to return to lead during this pivotal time for arts organizations and, more specifically, independent storytellers. I believe in the power of Sundance and its ongoing impact in nurturing our mission-based work. This work is dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and connecting them with audiences around the world.

As a trustee of this non-profit for over four years, I have had the privilege of working closely with Joana Vicente. I first want to thank Joana for her meaningful contributions to the Institute and wish her well as she begins her next chapter. She has been a tremendous asset to both the Institute and our global community of artists, especially during some of the industry’s most challenging times. I am appreciative that Joana will be available as an advisor to me and the board in this transition. I know she will continue to make a positive impact on this community, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

In this new role, I am keen to work closely with the Sundance leadership team, our board chair, Ebs Burnough, and my fellow trustees in the capacity of Acting CEO. I am eager to begin collaborating with the wider team on developing the next strategic plan for the Institute’s continued advancement, while both upholding Robert Redford’s vision and ensuring the Institute’s long term sustainability and growth well into the 21st century.

I intend to bring my over 25 years of experience as a creative communications and brand leader, working in a variety of global community focused places like Google and Instagram, to my leadership of Sundance. Throughout my career, I have been dedicated to building communities and have always admired and been inspired by the community that makes up Sundance. At its core, this community includes a diverse array of global artists, whom the Institute has had the great privilege of helping to nurture and propel their visions forward. It also encompasses the broad audiences that gather to experience the magic of storytelling, the funders who generously support our work, the volunteers who devote their time, and, of course, the dedicated staff who have committed their careers to championing the artists and this organization.

As I jump into leadership, my goal is to further cement the place Sundance has in this greater ecosystem. We are at an important moment in time where the impact of the work we do to support artists matters enormously. In this time of transition, I am reminded of the wisdom imparted by our founder, Robert Redford, who advised, “Don’t be shy of taking risks. It can be the catalyst that propels you forward.” It is with this spirit of boldness and innovation that I plan to approach the future together.

I’m excited to be on this journey with you all, and I look forward to the impact we can have on uplifting storytellers.

Thank you,

Amanda Kelso

Dear Sundance Community from Joana Vicente

Dear Sundance Community,

After two and a half inspiring years, I have made the decision to begin a new chapter and will be moving on from my role as CEO of Sundance Institute.

Over the past six years, I have had the privilege of leading two of the most culturally significant organizations for independent film in North America through some of the most challenging times for our industry. This journey has been incredibly rewarding. I’m so proud of the work our Sundance team has accomplished together, championing independent storytellers and amplifying their voices. As I look ahead, I have decided that it is time to explore new opportunities and adventures while I continue my lifelong passion for supporting transformative storytelling.

The board and I are working closely on the leadership plan, and I am pleased to share that Sundance board member Amanda Kelso will be returning to oversee the organization as acting CEO. I will remain on as an advisor to Sundance through the end of June, providing support to Amanda and the board and ensuring a smooth transition for the organization’s continued success.

With great pride and respect, I look back at the significant work we have accomplished together at the Institute and the herculean task of bringing the Festival back from the pandemic – all while making the Festival more accessible by welcoming a community online. From our first pivot to a digital festival and two successful in-person hybrid festivals, we have cemented Sundance’s position as the best platform for emerging storytellers. Facing extraordinary financial and logistical headwinds coming out of COVID, we came together to find new ways to ensure that our in-person artist labs, the heart of Sundance’s mission, could continue on.

As an organization, over these past years we have been able to sustain and expand our support of global storytellers. We have found ways to offer more funding opportunities for independent and creative voices. These newly launched fellowships to uplift underrepresented storytellers are impacting the careers of so many. We have also expanded the opportunity for artists internationally, with new Festivals in Asia and the recently announced Sundance Film Festival CDMX in Mexico City. Together, we have set the Institute up for future growth and stability to continue its meaningful work supporting artists and connecting their projects with audiences worldwide.

Much of our work has been focused on our long-term strategic planning process, and I am confident Amanda is the right person for the job. I am excited to see what comes next.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to be supported by Sundance as a producer, and it has been a privilege to lead this extraordinary organization, directly supporting the mission Robert Redford started over 40 years ago. I will forever be your champion and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

Warmly, Joana Vicente

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