Judy Mitchell has led the Kravis Center through a quarter-century of seasons and is not stopping now as the performing arts center rings in its silver anniversary.
She supervises a staff of 200 and a volunteer team of 700. She sets corporate policies and approves the annual budget. She steers administration, fundraising and programming. As CEO of the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Judy Mitchell shepherds the serious side of show business.
“I am a servant leader,” says Mitchell, sitting in a third-floor office suite bustling with activity. “See all those people out there? I make sure they are successful.”
Mitchell arrived as a new employee at the performing arts center in 1989, when what has become a 2,795-seat South Florida destination was a giant hole in the ground.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, this is going to be the biggest community swimming pool I have ever seen or a fabulous performing arts center,’ and it turned out to be a fabulous performing arts center,” she says.
The Kravis Center celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, a milestone she might never have seen. While working as general manager of Ruth Eckerd Hall at the Richard B. Baumgardner Center for the Performing Arts in Clearwater, she received a recruitment request from the east coast asking her to take on the duty of development director. She jumped at the chance.
“I came here not knowing anybody, but I also came here knowing I’ve always been good in sales, and I’ve always been good with people,” she says.
Not long after settling into her role raising money to fund the facility’s construction, she received another recruitment request, although this one came from the Kravis Center itself.
“I was asked to take the head job,” she says. “I said, ‘Absolutely not, under no circumstances would I take it.’ I had no experience.”
The board of directors, specifically Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr., for whom the main stage is named, pleaded with her to accept the position. Others offered her words of encouragement and pledged to help her tackle the transition.
“They were willing to mentor me, and I was willing to learn, so I said, ‘I guess it’s OK,’” she recalls. “I love challenges, and I love solving challenges, so here I am.”
In 1992, she became executive director, a title subsequently changed to chief executive officer. Turns out she made the correct call—both professionally and personally. Professionally, she received the “Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award” from the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and earned the “Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award” from the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. Personally, she met her husband, Jim Mitchell, the Kravis Center’s chief operating officer.
“And we didn’t like each other at all,” she laughs. “I almost fired the guy four times.”
The ice broke when she received a shipment of bait—she is an avid angler—delivered to her desk. Jim Mitchell, a big boater, realized the two of them had something in common. They got married in 2000 and live in Stuart with a 46-foot sportfisher in their backyard.
“My life is most affected by my time at the Kravis Center because I found my best friend in life,” she says. “I’ve also got a great team.”
Much like she has, she says, “People stay here forever.”