Katherine “Katie” Nicholson was named Central City Opera’s new Director of Development September of 2020. You’ll recognize her as a smart, energetic member of the development team, on staff since 2017. What you might not know about Katie is that she and her husband are award-winning homebrewers, she first experienced opera from behind her double bass in an orchestra pit at University of North Texas and she’s currently heading up Central City Opera’s Voice Your Dreams Endowment Campaign. Read on to get to know Katie and even find out where to taste some of her beers!
Tell us about your life, education and career before Central City Opera (CCO).
I first got into music in the fifth grade when my dad took me to the “orchestra petting zoo.” I took one look at the double bass and went “Wow, that’s huge!” From that day, through earning my degree in Double Bass Performance at the University of North Texas, I have been in love with music.
Once out of college, I began my professional career in development at The Dallas Opera (TDO). Soon, a development associate position opened up at The Arts Community Alliance (TACA), and the development staff at TDO graciously coached me through the interview process, helping me land the job. I worked at TACA from 2012 to 2017, eventually climbing to the position of Senior Development Manager.
My husband Sam and I moved to Denver in 2017 to chase new adventures. We got married October of 2016 at a brewery (you’ll hear more about that later), and we were ready for something new. We moved before either of us had jobs set up in Colorado. Luckily, I found the perfect fit at Central City Opera. I started June of 2017, right before the summer Festival, and I was blown away from the very beginning.
“Central City Opera’s summer Festival was like nothing I had ever experienced.”
I had played in numerous orchestra pits and attended tons of productions in TOD’s large theater, but this little opera house up on the hill put on some of the highest quality productions and featured some of the most outstanding singers I had ever seen. Maybe it was the excitement of driving up a mountain for the first time, maybe it was the altitude (I grew up at sea level in Houston), but whatever it was, Central City Opera’s summer Festival was like nothing I had ever experienced.
I can’t wait until 2021 when we can gather again and celebrate Central City Opera and great performances up in the mountains.
How did you make your way into the field of opera? Talk to us about your connections to music and what interests you about it.
As a double bass major at UNT, I played in the pit for a few operas. At the time, I was double majoring in classical and jazz performance, and to be honest, my heart was in jazz. If you’ve ever compared double bass parts for both musical styles, you probably understand why playing in a big band combo is generally a lot more fun.
In my junior year of college, I realized that I didn’t want to be a full-time musician. It was a hard realization that I know many of my friends and colleagues have gone through, as well. At that point, I decided to get a minor in business and go the nonprofit route. I knew I wanted to stick with the performing arts. Being a good team player who’s great with people, I found that instead of being on the stage, I could help fund the stage. That is how I got into development.
What do you do day-to-day as Director of Development with CCO?
Currently, my main focus is the Voice Your Dreams Endowment Campaign. When COVID-19 hit, we had to put this giant project on hold to let the market settle and find our footing in this new post-pandemic world, but now we’re reigniting enthusiasm and community around our campaign goals.
Thanks to CCO Board Member and Voice Your Dreams Campaign Chair Anne McGonagle, we are back on track for the year. The Voice Your Dreams Campaign will dramatically improve CCO’s bottom line and support our ongoing fundraising goals. As of now, the development department raises over 80% of the annual budget, but with the many generous patrons who have already established funds as part of the Endowment, annual fundraising will be much more manageable going forward.
I also work with Board Member Susan Rawley and the Nominating Committee to keep our Board of Directors healthily populated and seek out new, top-notch people to join. In addition, I’m always on the lookout for new grants to bolster our resources and, of course, I’m constantly submitting applications to foundations that have supported us for many years, with the help of our grant writers at ZIM Consulting.
What does Central City Opera mean to you?
Central City Opera is more than a job to me, it is a family.
Sometimes family members move away, and sometimes we get new family members, but the bonds we have created always keep those who have moved on close by. Once you have worked for or volunteered for CCO, you are hooked. Just like I was hooked the first time I went up to Central City.
We are a world-renowned opera company at 8,500 feet with 27 historic properties and an 88-year history. There is no way you can’t find something to be passionate about when thinking about Central City Opera. I love that we have a debutante ball that is as old as the opera company (The Yellow Rose Ball), I love that we have people on staff who’ve worked here for over 25 years, I love that we have donors that will keep us afloat even in the face of a global pandemic that forces us to postpone our annual Festival.
It is a special place, and everyone who has worked here or has been involved with the company feels it.
Tell us about your life outside of CCO.
This year, my husband and I are taking on a 52 Hike Challenge, which means one hike per week for the entire year. We got a little off track when we had to stay home during quarantine, but we’re definitely making up for it now.
While being home, we’ve enjoyed redoing our backyard and, of course, homebrewing! Sam and I have been brewing beer for seven years. With all the craziness and extended hours at home over the past several months, we have already brewed double the batches we did in 2019, and the year’s not even over. Earlier this year, we entered a lime coconut oak-aged lager in Mockery Brewing’s Homebrew Competition and won! We got to go into their facility in August to brew our beer on a much larger system, and it will be available to customers at the end of September. Sam is also helping out at Old 121 Brewhouse in Lakewood, where he’s brewing our award winning ESB (Extra Special Bitters), which will be available at the brewery later this month as well.
I am also involved with the Junior League of Denver. I transferred to Denver in 2017 after joining in Dallas, and I have really enjoyed getting to know this chapter and its opportunities in the community. My current placement is with We Don’t Waste who supports the environment and the community by reclaiming and redistributing quality food to those in need.
In addition to the performing arts, my husband and I have a passion for visual arts. I am a part of CultureHaus, the young professionals board at the Denver Art Museum, and I hope to get them involved with future Central City Plein Air Festivals.
Do you feel there’s a common thread in why you do what you do, between your full-time position at CCO and various other projects?
My goal is always to leave something better than I found it.
My husband and I pick up trash on our 52 hike challenge, we turn water into beer, I plan to wrap up the Voice Your Dreams Endowment Campaign to put Central City Opera on stronger financial footing and my home is covered in wonderful local art from First Friday Art Walks on Santa Fe and the Central City Plein Air Festival.
Where can people learn more about your projects and/or taste your beers?
My husband Sam and I post about our adventures on Instagram. Follow both of us: @_katie_bird_ & @samwnicholson
We’re involved with Mockery Brewing and Old 121 Brewhouse. You can taste our beers there in late September 2020! Check out Mockery Brewing on Facebook and Instagram @mockerybrewing & Old 121 Brewhouse on Facebook and Instagram @old121beer.
See more of Katie’s work in action at CCO’s Central City Plein Air Festival, September 26 & 27, 2020. This third annual event welcomes selected painters from across the country to Central City, Colorado to capture the town’s breathtaking mountain views, fall foliage and historic architecture. Free and open to the public. Learn more, and see the full schedule of events at centralcityopera.org/project/2020-plein-air-festival/