Still several years shy of 40, DJ Kelly appears to be giving our stateside leader a run for his money as a community organizer. Sure, Kelly’s presidency is over a slightly smaller fiefdom (the Winston Heights Mountview Community Association versus the United States of America), but — like Barack Obama — Kelly brings passion and commitment to his cause. And that cause is making Calgary a better place to live.
Kelly’s paid work is helping arts organizations like Lunchbox Theatre build awareness of their work. For Lunchbox, the world’s longest-running lunchtime theatre company, Kelly helped publicize the theatre’s recent relocation, overhaul the ticket buying process and create a cheeky ad campaign. He also has a radio gig with CBC talking about technology issues such as using Facebook at work.
And Kelly’s volunteer work also ties in to his efforts to reshape the city.
In addition to his work with the community association, he has been involved with CivicCamp, encouraging Calgarians to become more engaged with municipal politics through workshops and online discussions about the direction the City is taking.
A member of the 2010 Leadership Calgary group, Kelly also speaks on behalf of the arts with politicians and funders. “I spend a lot of time trying to balance the argument and strip away the hyperbole,” he says.
After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Calgary in 2001, he initially thought a career in stage and lighting design was in the cards. But once he fell into marketing, he was hooked.
“I’ve always been a fan of the arts,” says Kelly. “What motivates me is you are giving people something to talk about; you are shining a light on a corner of society that may not have had a light shone on it before.”
Despite all these accomplishments, Kelly is wary of high-fiving himself. “I don’t think there is such a thing as success,” he says. “It is about waypoints along that journey.”
Kelly admits that those waypoints are marked with challenges at times; in marketing the arts, it is about getting into other people’s heads, interpreting what they’re looking for and what is being offered addresses that. And generating money for the arts is tough; some people just don’t “get it.”
The “it” is that arts are more than just entertainment, says Kelly. They inform us and help us to shape our identities.
But difficulties don’t intimidate Kelly. In fact, he is convinced that the majority of obstacles people face are self-imposed. Goals can be reached if people are focused and dedicated, if they are courageous enough to step up.
Make small differences in your life or in the lives of others, recommends Kelly. “Everyone has a responsibility to make change.”
Why he’s the top: DJ Kelly is committed to the big picture — a better Calgary — through a more vibrant arts community, a more accountable political system and more transparent communication. And he is involved hands-on in making change.
The key to his success: Kelly doesn’t believe success is a destination; for him, it’s about the journey.