Katie Smythe (Founding CEO and Artistic Director)

Contact: katie@newballet.org

Phone: 901.726.9225 Ext. 102

Katie Smythe oversees all aspects of NBE’s operations: educational, artistic, and administrative. She works with the Board of Directors and staff to ensure that the organization’s mission, vision and core values guide every program.

Smythe began her professional career with the Minnesota Dance Theatre where she also toured with Young Audiences Minnesota to schools in the Twin Cities area. Later, as a performing and teaching artist for the Los Angeles Music Center, she developed a condensed Cinderella that toured extensively in the L.A. County Schools. Through these experiences, she began to envision a new kind of experiential residency program to actively engage children in dance, not just to perform for them.

After a 17-year career as a professional dancer and arts educator, Katie returned to her native Memphis with that vision in mind. Smythe saw a need for a community dance program offering a high standard of ballet training for children from every corner of the city, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or ability to pay. She founded NBE based on that mission in 2002. A 2006 capital campaign to transform an unused Midtown warehouse into a 14,500 square foot facility that includes three state-of-the-art dance studios, a Pilates studio, costume shop, administrative offices, and in 2018 an Educational Resource Center for students opened.

Under Smythe’s leadership, NBE has continued to broaden its mission, expanding community engagement and reaching more children. New Ballet Teaching Artists, toured Memphis City Schools, performing and looking for talented young people, while also working with human service organizations to recruit young dancers. In 2009, NBE entered a partnership with the community of Orange Mound, creating an after-school dance program in Dunbar Elementary School. The residency has brought a number of talented young dancers into the NBE program, and it continues today.

In November of 2014, Smythe and NBE student Briana Brown accepted the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award from Michelle Obama at the White House, on behalf of NBE and its after-school residency in Orange Mound. Expanded residencies in schools beginning in 2017-2018 will reach even more Memphis youth with dance, mentoring and access to family resources.

Ms. Smythe is active locally and nationally as an arts advocate. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, as a panelist for the Tennessee Arts Commission, and is an active member of Americans for the Arts.  She was named a Scholar of the Aspen Institute Ideas Fest in 2016. A founding member of the Board of Directors of the Levitt Shell, Memphis, she has also served on the Board of Artistic Advisors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center, The City of Memphis Youth Guidance Commission and the Cooper Young Business Association. Awarded the Tennessee Governor's School award for excellence in teaching, she maintains an active teaching schedule at NBE. She was certified in Bridges Out of Poverty and Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through a partnership with the Assisi Foundation of Memphis.

Under Ms. Smythe’s leadership, New Ballet has become known for its collaborations with a wide range of organizations to achieve the goals of access, equity, excellence and professionalism on which NBE was founded. 

TEDx talk 2015