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First goal for new Britt director ... 'sustainability'

The Britt Festivals stayed in-house for a new leader, naming Donna Briggs its new executive director.

Briggs, 55, of the Gold Hill area, was Britt's development director for the past year. She replaces Jim Fredericks, who resigned last month from the Jacksonville-based, nonprofit music festival's top job.

The Britt board cited Briggs' record of nonprofit leadership and her strong track record of development at Britt. She added 25 new Britt business partners in the past year, secured more than $100,000 in new grants and was a key player in the first major changes to Britt's concessions in many years.

"We are very excited to have someone with Donna's background and experience to lead Britt as we celebrate our next 50 years of combining live performances with the magic of the Britt experience," incoming board President Ken Trautman said in a statement Wednesday.

Before moving to Britt with her husband, Briggs was executive director of the International Visitor Leadership Programs, a nonprofit group that works with the U.S. State Department on professional exchange programs, in Tulsa, Okla., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., for 15 years. She has a bachelor's degree in communications and is completing a master's in organizational development at Antioch University in Seattle.

The first challenge facing Briggs is to get Britt back in the black, she said. She's confident that can be done in two years.

"We're on the path to sustainability," she said.

Britt has lost about $1 million since 2007 but dipped into reserves to avoid carrying a deficit.

Thanks to increases in membership fees and other efforts, Britt cut its yearly losses in half, to about $100,000 this season, compared to the year before, Fredericks has said.

On the good-news side for patrons, Briggs said the festival is committed to holding the line on ticket prices, which have been flat the past couple of years after many years of hefty increases. In part, that meshes with another of Briggs' goals, which she said is to have fewer boomer-generation superstars, who tend to command fatter contracts, and more newer and upcoming talent.

"I'm committed to that," she said. "The Michael McDonalds are great, but they won't be around forever."

Briggs worked with Fredericks on the major revamping of concessions that took place on the Britt hillside this year, which saw a greatly expanded menu and an outside vendor providing food and drink. In another new wrinkle with Briggs' fingerprint on it, patrons could buy a Britt wine container for $10 and have it filled with their choice from among seven wines from area vineyards and re-use it all season, an innovation that keeps thousands of wine bottles out of the trash.

"It's an attempt to change people's mind-set," she said.

Briggs said she'd like the festival, one of the oldest and largest in the Northwest, to bring back dance programs and other different genres of entertainment. She'd also like to see more small, intimate concerts with the audience onstage with the performers, like the recent Raining Jane show. Such shows can be held after the regular Britt season ends in September and before it starts again in June.

Briggs also plans to put new emphasis on a planned giving and endowment program, which encourages patrons to remember Britt in their wills, noting it's a practice increasingly popular with nonprofits.

"It's a huge opportunity to tap into people who have a lifelong love of Britt and a desire to see it keep going," she said. "Some people are not comfortable approaching people about this. But people want to be asked. I see myself taking it on. If you love Britt, leave a legacy."

Briggs said the festival is in desperate need of various upgrades, including better handicapped access and new seating, bathrooms and fencing.

"The list goes on and on," she said.

She promised a big announcement soon on Britt's classical program, to which Britt remains committed, she said. The classical season was the original seed from which Britt grew nearly 50 years ago.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

First goal for new Britt director ... 'sustainability'