Sarah is the performing director for the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, South Dakota.

City/Town: Lead, South Dakota

Where else can we connect with you online?


Who is your community?

The Black Hills of South Dakota — and more specifically, the Northern Hills. That includes Lead, Deadwood, Central City, Sturgis, Spearfish, Whitewood, and Belle Fourche.

Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.

The great thing about my average day is there is no average. I have placed myself in a quickly growing nonprofit performing arts venue that has many projects to be funded, and they’re all very different but very exciting while in full operation. People are getting behind these projects and I am a fundraiser, operations manager and a programming director. Daily, I have conversations with board members about their upcoming deadlines and events; discussions about performers and events for 2016 and ideas; meet up weekly with our downtown business association and partners related to tourism and Main Street developments and our visitor base and accessibility.

What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?

Our organization is growing. Our building has some huge potential to be reused in a different way. When completely restored, the theater has the potential to change the face of Main Street, Lead, SD. The challenge is to give me more time to get out to the people who don’t know about us and to meet up with the people who do and find out better ways to make change in Lead through this building.

If you could do any job, what would you do and why?

Ever since I’ve gotten this job, I have believed it will be the biggest thing I’m going to do — because I know it’s going to take a lot of time. And I’m rewarded every day by the challenge — knowing I’m making a difference. If I wasn’t the executive director of a 100-year-old theater building in full operation while being restored, I would have my own agency fulfilling the needs of marketing design specifically for the thousands of other deserving nonprofit agencies in South Dakota.

What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?

South Dakota is known for their work ethic, and the quality of the people. We hear that a lot out here in the Black Hills as well. I grew up in South Dakota and am proud to say that. And the state is a small state and I have lived on both sides during my adult career; the networking and collaboration I’ve had with people have proven to be the best experience and one thing I can lean on.

At what intersection do you live your life?

I live at the intersection of I know what I have to do and Who is with me?

Where do you think good ideas come from?

From listening to other people discuss their ideas about their passions or the topic at hand.

What’s one current trend you think will change the world?

The Go-Pro cameras have shown us things from angles we’ve never seen; the drone equipped camera has now shown us spaces we’ve never seen and given new found creativity to people who may never had the chance before.

What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?

Collaborate with others on an idea.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?

Quitting a thriving full-time advertising firm associate creative director position to run a nonprofit performing arts venue in restoration.

What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?

I was overly confident before a performance as a young person. I then proceeded to make several mistakes during the performance and was quickly reminded how imperfect we are and to take preparation very seriously.

Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?

Kids who’ve never had the chance to see professional performing arts. It has changed my life.

Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?

Michelle Kane of Spearfish greets every single person she meets with respect, looks them in the eyes, and is overly positive. She remembers you, remembers things said about you, and always goes out of her way to make you feel like a million bucks. She’s got a great sense of humor, is driven and motivated, and because of her personality and her contacts and her own mentors, she was inspired to open her open public relations agency and is very successful.

Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?

Matt Klein is a young professional. He is fit and fun and is married to another young professional. They love their community, and strive in both their jobs to make change. However, his personality lends itself well to having fun. He’s created opportunities for people to get together. I’m working with him on branding for the Lead Chamber of Commerce and he’s thinking in ways that an outsider would think; that’s not always easy to do. He’s not afraid to dress in costume for random photo shoots, and is quick-witted when you need help on a slogan for an event fundraiser or phrasing to explain something difficult to comprehend.

Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?

Joan Irwin is woman on our board of directors. You can also find her on two other nonprofit boards. She’s a worker bee, handling physical volunteerism as well as offering brainstorming and help in membership tasks as well. You can count on her to fulfill her roles as promised whether it’s hanging up 100 posters in a 30-mile radius or raise $500 for an urban art project and make 5 presentations in 2 weeks. She’ll be at the event helping you out and take off to go help at another event. She is a full-time business owner at the same time. Joan is also 81 years old and has more enthusiasm and energy than some of the 25-year-olds I have met.

How are you thriving in possibility and using all opportunities given to grow both in your careers and in their passions?

When I lived and worked in Sioux Falls as a graphic designer and a custom publishing creative director, I was given opportunities to work on all kinds of different visual projects, including my time as a volunteer with Main Street Sioux Falls with Joe Bartmann and Carole Pagones. I received an award (that now, as a nonprofit executive director I appreciate even more) for MSSF Volunteer of the Year. After a decade, I moved to the Black Hills to work for an ad agency where I could also use my audio talents. Both of these South Dakota locations were creative environments, as we ‘creatives’ leaned on each other for strengths and acknowledged them. I learned to “be with those who help my being.”

Five years ago, I was given an opportunity to manage a performing arts building and the organization behind it. That type of job definitely doesn’t insist on creativity. But the events happening in the space are entirely creative – I knew it would be something in which I would thrive.

In 4.5 years, we have created a Field Trip program with five other organizations bringing in nearly 650 elementary students from a 250-mile radius featuring acoustics, historic preservation, performing arts, and more.

We are developing an Interpretive Center on the second floor in a 2,000-sq.-foot original library space to tell the whole century-long amazing story of this “theater built by a gold mine” with a grand opening target date of Mother’s Day 2016.

This year, I brought in professional recording studio owners, photographers, and performers to view a space in our basement to understand any possibilities of turning the space into a studio for recording, rehearsal, and photo shoots for both current and up-and-coming artists to showcase their work in the most professional way. As the head of a performing arts venue, I find oftentimes musicians don’t have professional or usable head shots for the venue to market the artist. I’d like to change that. This nonprofit arts organization could be used as a huge gateway for these musicians to get their name out to our region and state, and I’d work with the SD Arts Council on that project, among others.

I led a charge to create a real magazine for Lead, South Dakota. It is the closest access to beautiful Spearfish Canyon, and this community doesn’t have a convention and visitors bureau to help spread the information about access to forest, trails, photography, four seasons of tourism, and so much more. (You just can’t visit and not be changed!) So I designed and produced the last three years of Lead Magazine, a 48-pg. full color glossy with 5,000 distribution with the Lead Chamber of Commerce and were really proud to show Lead off to visitors and we’re planning the 2016 issue.

Last year, besides raising $290,000 for operating the Homestake Opera House, we also raised $150,000 for the Stage Design Fund, which will pay for design schematics for the renovation of our stage. I worked with an architectural firm to create a rendering of what the theater will look like when completed.

I just completed a course with Black Hills State University’s South Dakota CEO “Women In Leadership” Series with 31 other women leaders in the Black Hills, and through the course found weaknesses I could strengthen and also strengths I didn’t realize I wasn’t using as a community leader.

I will be entering into a $10 million capital campaign for complete restoration of the theater, and to do so am gathering a team of quality people who have strengths I do not have; and working with them to plan our strategy with a consulting and management team.

What project (passion or professional) are you working on right now?

The second floor interpretive center is not only a complement to our story and our building, but is a visionary tool for stewardship, a solid new attraction for visitors to Main Street Lead coming from the new $7 million Sanford Homestake Visitor Center and will benefit the community by offering a tangible way to showcase our story.