Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble

Alicia Carney takes the executive director’s chair at the Dreamland.

Few institutions perfected the pandemic pivot last summer better than the Dreamland. With its theaters shuttered by COVID-19, the Dreamland team erected a drive-in theater off of Old South Road that became a dose of nostalgia for those seeking reprieve from quarantine. The drive-in was the brainchild of then executive director Joe Hale who left his post at the end of last year to take a position as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Rising to the director’s chair is Alicia Carney, the nonprofit’s longtime director of programming. A graduate of Yale, Carney brings a unique background to this cultural institution. N Magazine sat down with Carney to get a preview of what’s to come for the Dreamland this summer.

The Dreamland really exemplified the pandemic pivot last summer with the Dreamland Drive-in. What innovative ideas do you have in-store this summer?

The Dreamland Drive-in was really our lifeline in 2020. The support and cooperation we received from the community, town administration, service partners and our donors allowed the Dreamland to meet our mission and offer a family-friendly and safe entertainment outlet for Nantucketers to enjoy. Our mission of building community on Nantucket through shared experiences in film, the arts, culture and learning is what we are focused on right now. In addition to re-opening the drive-in, we are lining up a programming schedule this season that ranges from a photography exhibition featuring exclusively Nantucket photographers, a weekly concert film series, acting workshops with Dreamland Stage Company including theatre camps and productions, Dreamland Storytelling, Dreamland Conversations, Summer Decks, Luna Festival and a dance production—all of which are live and in-person.

And the Nantucket Film Festival returns this June. Can you tell me a little bit about how that collaboration will look this year?

We are so excited to welcome back the Nantucket Film Festival this year, in person, and will be hosting festival programming at our Dreamland Drive-in over the course of eight nights in June.

What unique perspective or past experience are you bringing to this role that’s different than your predecessors?

The Dreamland is very fortunate to have had many effective leaders. The perspective that I bring to this role is a deep understanding of the impact that entertainment can have to shape the narrative of our culture and encourage future generations of thoughtful and engaged global citizens. We have many thriving programs at the Dreamland and my focus is to grow our initiatives and think big. My past experiences have been primarily focused in operations expertise, fiscal management, special event production and hospitality.

You’ve been on Nantucket for quite some time now, but what’s something most people don’t know about you?

Prior to moving to Nantucket, I was a professional snowboarding instructor and freestyle coach in Vermont on weekends and holidays, in addition to my full-time career in CT and NYC. Working with kids was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and it taught me the significance of balancing work with having fun.

And prior to the Dreamland, you also held a leadership position at Yale University where you specialized in events big and small. What do you think events will look like this summer?

I think we are going to see many more in-person events take place this summer if local and MA state guidelines and restrictions are rolled back. I anticipate that there will be a lot of thoughtfully designed and engaging event concepts adapted to establish trust and keep event attendees safe this season. An important factor to consider is that the events industry is a vital economic driver of tourism, which supports our small businesses and is key to our economic health.

The Dreamland has been really effective in living up to its mandate as a cultural arts center. What are some more peaks you plan to climb?

We have worked hard to align and produce mission-driven initiatives over the last several years. Creating and nurturing an organizational culture of innovation and agility is a top priority of mine. My philosophy is that there are no bad ideas, and our team regularly participates in ideation discussions. The next peak I have set my sights on is how we can bring world-class programming from the Dreamland stage to virtual audiences. Digital disruption is forcing the entertainment industry to adapt, and our team is ready and excited to rise to the challenge.

There’s been talk in the past of expanding the Dreamland’s facilities. Is that something still in discussion?

We are not currently discussing the expansion of the Dreamland’s facilities. We are focused on optimizing our existing operation and will revisit these discussions at a more appropriate time.

What are some programs that you’re excited for this summer?

I’m excited to welcome back the Nantucket Film Festival, Dreamland Conversations, Storytelling and our Summer Decks series (if all goes well with state guidelines). I am also really excited for our theatre programs. Dreamland Stage Company has lined up multiple theatrical productions including a Barnaby Bear collaboration and co-production of Godspell this summer. We have a lot to look forward to!

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