Teri Orr: A starring role in Park City

She had no idea how long she’d stay in Park City, or how significant her presence would become for the state of Utah. When Teri Orr moved to Summit County from the Lake Tahoe area in 1979, she was a single mother with two children. She soon took a job writing a column called “Sunday in the Park” for the local newspaper. Before long, she became the paper’s editor, a position she held for eight years.

“I loved the paper, but I felt an increasing desire to get more involved in community activities,” Orr says.

That set the table for the roles she’s played in Park City ever since. Today, she is executive director of the Park City Institute, the nonprofit organization responsible for the Summer Concert series at the St. Regis, the Main Stage Season at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, and an amazing free literacy program that has touched the lives of many in Summit County and beyond. She’s also organized TEDxPark City, and she says her introduction to the TED Talks series was “life changing for me.”

It was shortly after she left the newspaper that Orr got involved in the bond election drive to build a new civic center. She helped with fundraising both before and after the bond passed, seeing the need for more conference space for the ever-growing Park City community.

“The high school wanted to build a 500-seat auditorium, but the residents wanted it to be larger,” she says. “The Eccles family got involved—and Spence Eccles saw the vision of building one for the future. So we now have the Eccles Center with 1,300 seats, and it’s a jewel in the community.”

The building has hosted events for the Sundance Film Festival annually, among myriad of other events.

The Institute changed its name two years ago from its former name—the Park City Performing Arts Foundation, which Orr has headed up since 1995.

“We were starting to do more and more programming beyond just performing arts,” she says. “The name is more representative of what we’ve become.”

It was in December of 2007 that she was invited to a TED Talks’ program in Aspen, Colorado. She was part of a group of about 400 people who were introduced to the concept.

“It changed everything about how I saw both my world and the world,” she says. “It was so well done. We weren’t just sitting in a procedural lecture for two hours. The speakers were on stage for 18 minutes or less. The speakers were not well known, and in general, didn’t use notes or show slides. But they were at the cutting edge of their fields. It’s a fascinating way to curate some of the most interesting people in the world.”

The Park City Institute was one of the first 100 licensees for TED globally and hosted a live TED Talk via the internet with Edward Snowden last December.

Orr is particularly proud of two literacy centers the Institute has initiated. The free after-school tutoring programs for students in grades 2-12 help guide them in their exploration of literary arts.

“We call it the ‘third place,’ because it’s not school and it’s not home,” Orr says. “It’s about primary literacy and quick thinking. I love the arts, and it’s really a logical part of our mission, because civil discourse is itself an art.”