Penny Little talks about her new role as executive director
Penny Little is excited about the tasks she will happily juggle as the new executive director of the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration.
“It’s exciting to be named executive director of the Summer Solstice Celebration. I stepped up officially on Oct. 1,” Ms. Little told the News-Press. “Because I take titles seriously, it feels a bit like being in line for the double-loop roller coaster ride — a feeling of expectation, knowing it’s going to be thrilling, slightly scary and challenging at the same time.
“I’m stepping up into a world that is familiar because I’ve been involved with Solstice since 2006 — as assistant director to Claudia Bratton and then as a consultant and project manager with Robin Elander,” she said, referring to previous Summer Solstice executive directors.
“The first thing I wanted to do as executive director was to bring the community together again, so we did the ‘Get on Board 2023’ party Oct. 15 at LoDO Studios, which was a fabulous kick-start to getting our theme for 2023, potential new board members, artists and participants,” Ms. Little said. “Now, in addition to all the logistics and oversight, I’m an ambassador and represent an amazing organization that promotes arts in the community, besides being the holder of the mission. It couldn’t be more perfect for me.
“It fits in with my purpose in life to bring joy and spark creativity in others through my work, art, through teaching, through events, supporting myself while at the same time supporting arts and the community.”
Ms. Little explained how her 15 years of experience with the Summer Solstice Celebration prepared her for this position.
For one thing, she has managed many aspects of the celebration, everything from event management to grant writing, public relations and fundraising. She sees her role of executive director as handling everything from managing day-to-day operations to overseeing the parade.
For another, “I understand how unique this place is and how special this nonprofit is,” Ms. Little said. “How many places in the world does the community come together to celebrate art and life the way we do here? There’s so much heart and soul in our Solstice community. I’ve grown so much because of being in this community and want to share that.”
The News-Press asked Ms. Little how her career has prepared her for her new position.
“My life experience before Solstice included being a performing and visual artist, a singer/songwriter signed to Warner Bros. UK, a filmmaker and event producer,” she said. “All of this gives me an understanding of the artistic and performance aspect of the parade and festival, as well as the practical logistical side.
“Having a healthy sense of humor is important, knowing how to sense, look and listen, see the potential in others, deal with the unexpected, are acquired skills,” she said. “ It also helps to be able to organize thoughts into text and image: I’ve written several books including Little Savage cartoons.
“Making documentary films, doing everything from fundraising to distribution, and producing other large events and tours in the U.S. and abroad have given me big picture awareness of the many moving parts of large productions,” Ms. Little said.
She said her organizational skills and knowledge of the Summer Solstice have contributed to her “big-picture understanding.” She also points to her experience when she worked as maid to put herself through school, sold art on the side and worked with Gang Prevention through the Arts.
“Everything in life gives you something to draw upon, strength and skills,” Ms. Little said.
“As a humorous side note: When I was 5 years old, I wanted to either join a circus, or be one of Santa’s Helpers. Looks like I’ve finally joined the circus!” she said.
“I see my role as a visionary logistician, an ambassador for Solstice, a lens for this huge and amazing community arts production,” Ms. Little said. “This includes everything from management of day-to-day operations, to overseeing the parade, workshop and festival logistics, fundraising, marketing, outreach — plus inspiring and inciting creativity in our community.
“On a day-to-day basis, I see myself as a juggler looking at the balls, locking onto the ones that are most important, acting upon those, getting into the trenches, doing more than ‘whatever it takes,’ without dropping any balls,” Ms. Little said. “This is not a job. It’s a calling, aligned with my life mission of sparking creativity and joy in others.
“I hold a vision for Solstice. It already has all the components of a world class festival, and each year the creativity and innovation of the community and staff can propel it into an even more wonderful arts celebration, with new energies and renewal of all that is good about Santa Barbara, Solstice and Life!” Ms. Little said. “Post-COVID, we need to restructure and rebuild, so that is part of my mission, to continue to be resilient, adapt to changes, so those changes are transformational for the culture of Solstice, and is part of what makes our community a great place to live. Solstice is about presence, people-to-people connection, art, community, and creativity, while bringing joy to thousands of people.
“I envision a year-round workshop program in ‘celebration arts,’ ” she said. “I will navigate what comes our way and what the community brings to Solstice, to thrive into the future while keeping the ROOTS of Solstice alive.
“The first participants were visual and performing artists, mimes, dancers, giant puppet makers, mask-makers, involved in improv theater. I’d like to see more of that!” Ms. Little said.
“One of my goals is to cross-pollinate with other community groups and businesses,” she said. “To thrive into the future, we will outreach to all the diverse cultural groups in our community, and to youth through our Junior Artists Program and Children’s Festival Workshops.
“We are one of very few centers teaching celebration arts in the world. I am looking at succession planning for our artists and an apprenticeship program. We need to embrace our artists and their invaluable experience, knowledge, and expertise while we have the opportunity.
“We cannot ignore the fact that if this knowledge cannot be shared and passed down and re-ignited in some way, it could be lost,” Ms. Little said. “Everyone is creative; they aren’t always aware of it.
“No matter what skill level, walk of life, you are welcome at Solstice to be a part of something big, and fun, and learn new skills, make new friends, find your tribe.”