Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam will be stepping down later this year after more than ten years with the Sundance Institute. Under her leadership, the renowned media and arts non-profit has seen a decade of extraordinary growth and impact. The organisation is uniquely positioned as a leading global advocate for independent artists, diversity in media, freedom of expression, and the critical role of arts in shaping society. Board of Trustees Chair Pat Mitchell and Vice-Chair Ebs Burnough will Co-Chair a Search Committee to identify Sundance Institute’s next Chief Executive.
Putnam has led the Institute through an era of significant change in the media landscape. At the same time, she has been instrumental in establishing the Sundance Film Festival as a thriving global market and investing in the Sundance artist development programs as a vital home for new independent creators working across disciplines. Putnam also spearheaded the launch of new programs to support artists seeking production, financing and distribution, including Sundance Catalyst, which raised $40 million in equity and grant investment over the past eight years for a wide array of independent projects.
Throughout her tenure, Putnam and her team have prioritised the Institute’s longstanding commitment to historically underrepresented voices by expanding and establishing programs for artists of color and artists with disabilities. In addition, they launched a fellowship to diversify critics covering the Festival. Putnam also commissioned groundbreaking research on issues of equity and inclusion in media, including a 2012 partnership with Dr. Stacy Smith and Women in Film to study the barriers facing female-identifying artists, based on Sundance Institute’s extensive applicant and acceptance data. The learnings led to the launch of the Women at Sundance program, helped Sundance achieve gender parity in its programs, and became the basis for ReFrame – an industry-wide advocacy group for women in media co-founded by Putnam.
Putnam also oversaw the expansion of Sundance Institute’s global footprint, bringing Sundance to artists and audiences beyond Utah with festivals in London and Hong Kong and Lab programs not only in cities across the US but in Mexico, East Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Recognising an opportunity to connect and serve an even larger community of independent artists around the world, in 2018 the Institute launched Sundance Co//ab, a digital platform offering courses, classes, and community events. By 2020, the platform was home to one million users from over 150 countries. Most recently, the Institute built an innovative new digital platform to deliver the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The reimagined Festival reached people from all 50 states and 120 countries, the largest audience in Sundance history, with an inspiring program that resonated with fans, press and the industry alike.
“As a fierce supporter of independent creators, Keri has been instrumental in seeing the Institute through a decade of transformation, while keeping a laser-focus on Sundance’s mission of preserving, discovering, incubating and encouraging independent artistry in all forms,” said Founder and President of Sundance Institute Robert Redford. “We cannot overstate her impact, and we thank Keri for her invaluable service in support of independent artists.”
“Under Keri’s leadership, Sundance forged new partnerships across the industry and beyond,” said Board Chair Pat Mitchell. “She helped build a diverse, world-class team, and invested in leadership at all levels, from staff to the Board. As a result, the Institute is stronger than ever, and poised to leverage this exciting moment to continue its invaluable work on behalf of independent artists in the US and around the world. We are grateful that Keri will be staying on in her role through the end of our fiscal year.”
“After an incredibly rewarding decade, and following the success of our first-ever online Festival, I have decided it’s the right time for me to step down as CEO of Sundance Institute. Leading Sundance through this volatile era in media together with such an impassioned team has been one of my greatest joys,” said Putnam. “The remarkable growth of our community of artists, audiences and partners over the last ten years is a testament to the vitality and urgency of the independent storytelling Sundance supports. The Institute stands today as an innovative and resilient organisation at the intersection of arts and media, supporting more artists and reaching a bigger audience than ever before. I look forward to exploring new challenges and opportunities in my next chapter, and can’t wait to see the extraordinary Sundance team break new ground in the years ahead while maintaining their renegade, independent spirit.”
A Letter from Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam
To our Sundance community —
After 10 deeply rewarding years, I have decided that it is the right time for me to step down as CEO of the Sundance Institute. Leading this incredible organisation through a volatile era in media with the help of such a passionate and talented group of colleagues, artists, audiences, board members, partners, friends, and donors has been one of the greatest joys of my life. As I work with the team and the Board of Trustees to prepare for my departure at the end of this summer, I am confident that Sundance is thriving and poised to begin a transformative new era.
I could not be prouder of all we’ve accomplished together over this last decade. With your support, the Sundance Institute has cultivated a vibrant worldwide community of fiercely independent artists. We’ve created innovative online platforms like Sundance Co//ab, a digital community of over one million users that’s free and open to all. We’ve diversified the disciplines in which we work, catalysed financing for scores of projects, and supported entrepreneurial pathways to distribution. At the same time, we’ve strengthened our long-held commitment to amplifying historically underrepresented voices and provided a launch pad for an incredible array of culture-shifting artists. Thanks to the dedication and generosity of this community, the Institute stands today as an innovative and resilient organisation at the intersection of arts and media, supporting more artists and reaching a bigger audience than ever before.
I am incredibly grateful to Robert Redford and the Sundance Board for their support and friendship, as well as their collaboration in planning my transition. The Board of Trustees has formed a search committee to identify Sundance Institute’s next chief executive in the coming months, co-chaired by board chair Pat Mitchell and vice chair Ebs Burnough. I will continue in my role through August 31, 2021.
I will always cherish the memory of my first summer at the labs, taking a chair-lift ride with Bob as he showed me the beautiful landscape of Mount Timpanogos and told me the story of his founding vision for the Institute. That summer I took part in my first Director’s Lab at the iconic Sundance Mountain Resort, spent time with artists in the Owl Bar (which became a favorite haunt), marveled at the generosity of the advisors, and was awed by the extraordinary care and professionalism of the Sundance team. Every year since then, my time spent at the labs meeting the extraordinary new cohorts of artists has been a highlight of my work. And as a longtime attendee, I discovered there’s nothing quite like experiencing the Sundance Film Festival from the inside. The moments spent with filmmakers in greenrooms before their premieres, the talent and energy of the team working behind the scenes, the late nights and early mornings, and the excitement of launching culture-shifting artists and projects will stay with me forever.
I am extremely proud to have been part of the Sundance team — never more than over this last year, despite all its challenges. Thanks to the adventurous spirit of our artists and audiences, the 2021 Sundance Festival was a resounding success. Through our newly built online platform and partner screens across the country, people from all 50 states and 120 countries — the largest audience in Sundance history — were able to take part in an inspiring program that showcased a majority of first-time feature filmmakers and films made independently.
None of this would have been possible without our extraordinary partners and donors. It’s hard to capture in words just how much it has meant to me to have the support of such a diverse group of people and organisations who believe in Sundance’s mission and are deeply committed to sharing their resources, talent, and expertise — not to mention their own passions and communities — in order to support independent media and the artists at the heart of everything we do.
This year’s Festival was a powerful reminder that storytelling can not only entertain us — it can shine a light on the full range of human experiences, convey deeper truths, and shift our perspectives. Storytelling can spark empathy and bring us together when we feel isolated and alone. In an era when the media is dominated by a handful of powerful companies, audiences are served up entertainment that distracts or affirms their worldviews, and the value of art is often reduced to its bottom line, supporting independent creators is a transformative act. That’s why Sundance’s mission is so vital — and so urgent.
I’m excited to explore my next chapter over the coming months, pursuing new adventures and opportunities. Most of all, I look forward to being part of this community of supporters cheering on the Sundance Institute and its important work for years to come.