Sundance Institute’s Joana Vicente Steps Down As CEO; Amanda Kelso Named Acting CEO

The Sundance Institute announced on Friday that Joana Vicente will be stepping down as CEO, with Amanda Kelso to lead the organization as Acting CEO.

No specific reason for Vicente’s departure was given, nor a next destination. But Kelso starts in her new role in April, with Vicente to continue to serve as an advisor to Kelso and the board through June.

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“After two and 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,” wrote Vicente in a letter to staff. “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, and I’m so proud of the work our Sundance team has accomplished together, championing independent storytellers and amplifying their voices.”

Joining the Sundance Institute as the world was coming out of the Covid pandemic, Vicente helped bring the festival back in person, at the same time making it more accessible online. During her tenure, the Institute has created new funding opportunities for artists with fellowships to uplift underrepresented storytellers, forged relationships to ensure that artist programs could continue in-person labs, and expanded the opportunity for artists internationally with new festivals in Asia and the recently announced Sundance Film Festival CDMX in Mexico City. However, Vicente was widely blamed for the sudden in-person cancellation of the 2022 festival, a move that soured relations with many Park City businesses and vendors. She came to oversee the Sundance Institute after spending three years as Executive Director and Co-Head of the Toronto Film Festival.

“Joana has been a tremendous asset to the Institute and our global community of artists and has worked through some of the most challenging times for our industry during her time here,” Sundance Institute Board Chair Ebs Burnough acknowledged. “She has been a true advocate for independent storytellers, and I know she will continue to positively impact this community. On behalf of the entire board, I want to thank her for all that she has done for the Institute and independent film.”

A trustee of the Sundance Institute over the last four years, Kelso has held the role of Acting CEO before, also serving as co-chair of the Technology Committee and a member of the Finance Committee. Additionally, she was actively involved in the Digital Festival Task Force, helping the organization to navigate the pivot to online in the early days of the pandemic.

Boasting over 25 years of experience as a creative communications and brand leader for global technology companies, as well as an advocate for independent storytellers, Kelso reports to the board and will work with key stakeholders while leading a year-round staff of 165 and additional seasonal staff. She will oversee all areas of the Institute, including its year-round artist programs, the Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Collab, public and field-building programs and more, while working to advance Sundance’s commitment to its mission and values.

Previously working to foster Instagram’s community of more than one billion people, Kelso has previously served as the Managing Director of Google Creative Lab and provided digital creative leadership at Goodby Silverstein & Partners and West Ventures. She worked, earlier in her career, on television productions including Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“Amanda joined the board in 2020 because of her admiration for the work our organization does and our mission to support artists. Over these four years, her skill set from decades of work at the intersection of storytelling and technology has helped contribute to the strategic decisions the board plays a role in,” Burnough said. “It’s those same reasons why she stepped in before and why she is making a longer and larger commitment now to guide the team and lead the organization through strategic planning and the day-to-day operations of the Institute.”

Stated Kelso on her appointment, “As we look toward 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.”

With its current contract with Park City set to expire in 2026, Sundance has until October to seek an extension or put forth a new proposal.

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