Today’s FACE of Memphis has her own Memphis motto: “You couldn’t believe how much fun we have.” A love of Memphis and all the exciting things going on in her hometown drew Amelia Thompson back home after several years away. She joined Ballet Memphis in 2017, and in her position as Associate Director of Development, she helps manage the annual fund, as well as major gifts, for Ballet Memphis. Her enthusiasm about Ballet Memphis, their new building (she would love to give you a tour!) and her hometown is inspiring. We are pleased to introduce you to today’s FACE of Memphis, Amelia Thompson.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I am fortunate to be a born and raised, multigenerational Memphian. Growing up in Memphis is fun, bizarre and truly one of a kind. Spending four years for college in the Midwest solidified the unique wonder of growing up in Memphis!
How did you end up in the nonprofit world?
Accidentally, as I’m sure with most people. In high school, I attended a summer program at St. Albans, a prestigious all-boys school in the heart of DC. I ended up going back to help run the program after college and soon transitioned to their development office. Who knew I was a fundraiser at heart? I really enjoy crafting stories around organizations that I love and matching that with other people’s passions and interests.
You were also a buyer for Macy’s in NYC. Tell us about that experience and how it has helped you in your current career.
Working in buying at Macy’s was a crash course in a lot of important life lessons — accountability to the bottom line, advocating for myself, trusting my gut and the importance of true mentorship. I was at Macy’s during a really hard time in retail and learned something every single second of the day. There were plenty of gut-wrenchingly hard days along with moments of pure bliss. There’s still quite a bit of corporate blood in me, sometimes unfortunately for my Ballet Memphis colleagues.
What brought you to back to Memphis?
I never, ever thought I was leaving the East Coast or New York City or coming back South or back to Memphis, but it hit me over the course of many trips home in 2014 that the city was on a monumental trajectory. A year later, I moved home and have never looked back. Every single day may not be roses and sunshine, but for a high-energy 30-something, it’s pretty damn close. My own Memphis motto: “You couldn’t believe how much fun we have.”
What drew you to Ballet Memphis?
I knew I wanted to transition from education fundraising to the arts, so when I had the opportunity to meet with Ballet Memphis Founding Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh, I jumped on it. Within 30 minutes of our conversation, I knew I had found the right place. I loved ballet in New York, but the way I feel about Ballet Memphis expands every day. Hardworking people, gorgeous artists, devoted donors and a dedication to improving our city and nation through truth and beauty – what more could you want?
What’s involved in being the Associate Director of Development for Ballet Memphis?
Better yet, what’s not? We had an electric first season in our new space and have no plans to slow down. I realized pretty early on that in order for me to connect with current donors and cultivate new ones, I have to consume the ballet in every form. I create solicitations, communicate with donors of every level, show off our nationally award-winning building nonstop and am constantly connecting the dots to get new people in the door. In short, I am an ambassador of the ballet, and within 30 seconds of meeting me, I hope people feel that. So if anyone wants a tour, call me. Seriously.
What is the most rewarding part of being in fundraising? The most challenging?
The most rewarding is definitely seeing how our audience reacts after every performance. I may be biased, but I swear every show just gets better and better. When I saw the way people reacted to seeing Felecia Baker, a new African American dancer in the company, as Clara in The Nutcracker, I knew I was doing the right work.
The most challenging is helping people see that ballet is not an art form for the elite. You can know nothing about dance and still have a transformative experience at the ballet. Trust me, I’m a product of it! It’s about your spirit, not your knowledge.
Describe your typical day.
Mama Gaia coffee to start the day — the best $2 cup in the city! Then catch up with Steven McMahon, our associate artistic director and my work BFF … meetings, meetings, meetings … building tour for a potential donor/sponsor/collaborator … barricade myself in my office to do work like sending donor pledge reminders, writing solicitation letters or running donor reports … probably another tour of the building — seriously, call me if you haven’t seen our space yet! … take a break to watch the company dancers in rehearsal (best part of my day!) … hunt down Steven for the millionth time … write down a few good ideas before heading out, right as the Ballet Memphis School is cranking up around 5 p.m. … wine … home … mask.
What are your top three words of advice?
Do you, boo. [Laughs] No, really. I find I’m at my best when I’m being 100% Amelia. Authenticity is a privilege of growing older, and I’m grateful for it every day. Ballet Memphis is the first place where I truly feel like I can be myself. Be you unapologetically, and people will take notice.
What do you do to relax?
Exercise. I’m a total fiend. I love yoga, running, spinning and, of course, Pilates at Ballet Memphis. Cooking is a close second — nothing like standing at the stove with a glass of wine and good music.
Where is the first place you take out-of-towners when they visit you?
Gus’s Fried Chicken. To quote a Yelp review, “Best fried chicken in the known universe.”
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
… to telepath with our city and state leaders so that they can feel the significance of what financial support for Memphis’ insanely wonderful arts culture could do on every level. The arts organizations in this city are talent retention and attraction centers. We represent many millions of dollars in commerce, jobs, entertainment and so much more!
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Dear young Amelia, Be totally fearless. And maybe don’t be so boy crazy.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I am a giant Excel nerd. It’s a well-known fact at the ballet.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Following my intuition all the way home in the summer of 2015.
What is your best piece of advice?
Recognize that the person beside you is doing the best they can. I have to give myself that reminder in the many moments that I am being incredibly impatient.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Thank you, Amelia! To learn more about Ballet Memphis, visit balletmemphis.org.
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