When you think of careers in the arts, you probably envision the people who are public facing and receive the majority of the accolades: singers, directors, producers and conductors. But a lot of roles take place behind the scenes and are vital in keeping the organization and productions moving forward smoothly, especially when it comes to managing people and their paychecks! Today, we discuss where a career in accounting and human resources can take you at an opera company like CCO. Meet Sara Blackwelder, Central City Opera’s Controller and Director of Human Resources!

What do you do in your role at Central City Opera?

My role at Central City Opera is the Controller and Director of Human Resources. While these two positions integrate in many ways, they are also very different in focus. As Controller, I review and approve all accounting transactions for the company, prepare and monitor financial statements, prepare and monitor the annual budget, as well as participating in a variety of meetings and planning for the financial health of the company. As HR, beyond the normal payroll processing, I take care of onboarding our staff throughout the year, as well as any helping to make sure everything is running smoothly amongst our personnel. I also lead two internal committees – IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) and Employee Relations. Both of these committees have helped to improve our work environment at the opera and I’m very happy to have been instrumental in the creation of both of these groups here at CCO.

Why is your work in accounting and in HR important to the whole at an arts company?

Accounting work, while not everyone’s favorite topic, is essential to every arts company. It is the measure of the financial health of the company, which is necessary to continue to produce the mission of the company. I love being able to help improve reporting and understanding of this life blood of the company. It’s not the fun creative piece, but it is very important. HR is also incredibly important at arts companies, because people are what makes us successful. Being able to support the staff and to help facilitate a positive work environment is always my goal, as it helps us all to achieve the mission together.

Tell us a bit about your life, education and career before Central City Opera (CCO).

Well I’ve had quite the eclectic work path!  I started off my adult life planning to be an opera singer…..and instead went to work at Disney World in entertainment! I spent four years there performing and bringing smiles and happiness to thousands of guests and loved it all! But then I wanted to change things up and went to trade school for electrical work in the thoughts that I would get a job as a pyrotechnic technician at EPOCT. I ended up not taking that job in the end and only worked as an electrician for a short time. Then I stumbled into accounting to help my dad out for a time. I went from accounting for a small resort camp and bar to an auto auction as an Accounts Payable clerk. Quickly I moved up the ladder to staff accountant and started going back to school to get my accounting degree. But then decided that corporate accounting was not for me and I went and got my Bachelor’s in Anthropology and Religious Studies at University of Central Florida.

After that, I started working for the South Florida Museum (now The Bishop) in Bradenton, FL as the accounting specialist. After a few years doing that I was moved into a full time role as accounting and exhibits and collections specialist. I loved getting to work with the collection at the museum and all of the important work I helped with there. I wouldn’t have left if I had stayed in Florida. Instead, I got the call of adventure and set out with my daughter to Colorado in 2017 looking towards new opportunities! Within the year I had found CCO and knew it would be the perfect place for me, a mission I believe in and an art form I love.

How did you make your way into the field of opera? Why does the artform appeal to you? 


I wanted to be an opera singer and was working towards that goal when I was leaving high school. Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to fund school at that time, so I pursued other opportunities. To come back to it after many years was really exciting for me! There is something just so incredible about the voice, and in opera the skill to sing with such power without tech assistance is just incredible. I just love the music and the feelings from the artform!

Tell us about your world outside your position at CCO.


I have a nine year old daughter, who lights up my life and loves to stay busy, so she takes up so much of our time after work. I also met my husband shortly after moving to Colorado, and we were married almost a year ago in October 2020! I love my family so much and they are everything to me. For fun I keep it pretty simple, I love yarn crafting – crochet and knitting – and spend a lot of time with that. I also love reading and watching TV and movies. I’ve always been into stories, in any medium, I just love adventuring to other worlds. I also enjoy singing with community choirs and currently sing with the Cathedral Choir at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver. I am also in school at Regis University getting my Master’s in Accounting. I have less than a year to go in that program and this takes the rest of my time up.

What’s your personal mission statement? Why do you do what you do?

I would say my mission is to believe in what I do. With work, because it takes so much of my time in life, I want to believe in the mission of what I do, or it makes me miserable honestly. But ultimately my life is about my family, and giving them the love and support for us to be happy and comfortable in life. They are who I think about in my choices, and are the source of why I do what I do.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about opera? 

It’s so much fun! It has this weird reputation of the fat lady singing in Viking horns lol, but it is so much more than that! The musical talent that this artform requires is stunning and the stories being told are truly relevant to our lives as much now as when some of these pieces were originally written. It’s worth the time to enjoy this experience.

What does Central City Opera mean to you? 

CCO gave me the chance to show what I could do to help a company succeed and improve. The opportunities I’ve had to grow as a professional here has been great and I look forward to continuing my growth along with the company’s.