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‘A certain magic’: Christie Mitchell is ready to return to her La Jolla roots as new Athenaeum director

Christie Mitchell will be the new executive director of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, beginning this summer.
Christie Mitchell will be the new executive director of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, beginning this summer.
(Lauren Young)

With an eye on community, Christie Mitchell will soon return to the one that influenced her career.

Mitchell will become only the third executive director of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in the La Jolla institution’s 123-year history when she succeeds Erika Torri upon Torri’s retirement in July after a 33-year tenure.

“I’m definitely excited,” Mitchell said. “I’m ready to jump in and learn a lot.”

Mitchell grew up in Bird Rock and graduated from La Jolla High School in 2006. While in La Jolla, she attended every Athenaeum art class she could and was interested in “taking everything and experiencing as much as possible,” from watercolor and oil painting to ceramics and ink drawing, she said.

Mitchell said the Athenaeum classes were invaluable to her eventual career as a curator and an art historian.

“A lot of people don’t really understand intimately how these materials function and what it means to work with them,” she said. “I feel so lucky that I was able to take advantage of those classes, and it’s such a great resource for the community.”

The breadth of the Athenaeum offerings, from classes and lectures to concerts and exhibitions, means “it’s so much more than just an art school,” Mitchell said. “It’s a community center in a lot of ways.”

That appeals to her view of museums, where she has worked the past decade while based in New York.

“They’re community spaces, convening spaces, places to bring people together, to look at new things, to learn something,” she said. “I’m really excited to come back and do that in my hometown.”

“The Athenaeum is really well-known within La Jolla and I’m excited to maybe give it a bit of broader exposure across San Diego.”

— Christie Mitchell

Mitchell said coming home to her family and that of her husband, Daniel DuBois (La Jolla High class of 2005, whom she met while in an Advanced Placement music theory class at the school), is “just a wonderful thing. I get to come back to give back to my community that helped make me who I am.”

In addition to the formative Athenaeum art classes, Mitchell took piano lessons for 13 years and sang with the San Diego Children’s Choir, among other organizations.

That led to a bachelor’s degree in art history from Duke University and a master’s from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

“There are so many organizations that contributed to my arts education,” Mitchell said. “Being able to be a part of that ecosystem … is really important for San Diego, for the Athenaeum and what everyone can achieve through that.”

She said she’s looking forward to bringing to the Athenaeum her experience from larger New York institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The smaller institutions do so much as well,” she said. “I’m really excited to kind of get in there and be part of the arts community that I think is really thriving in San Diego right now.”

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
The breadth of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library’s offerings makes it “a community center in a lot of ways,” according to Christie Mitchell, who soon will become its executive director.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Michell said the Athenaeum is “an incredible organization. I think it has a certain magic to it; you can feel it even when you walk into the building, which is so historically important in and of its own right.”

As the Athenaeum’s executive director, Mitchell said, she will strive to retain the multidimensional programming, educational component and library resources the institution is known for while also partnering with other organizations to plan multidisciplinary programming, such as a visual artist with a musician, and “seeing how we can collaborate to create something that’s immersive.”

She said she’s also hoping to work with younger artists in her network who are eager to create in San Diego.

“I’m looking forward to kind of building on everything that Erika has done in the past,” Mitchell said. “The opportunities are endless.”

Mitchell will start at the Athenaeum in June for a transition period working alongside Torri. She will fully take the reins after the Athenaeum’s annual meeting July 19, which Torri will run.

“I’m super excited about digging into San Diego more broadly,” Mitchell said. “The Athenaeum is really well-known within La Jolla and I’m excited to maybe give it a bit of broader exposure across San Diego. … I think it will be great for both San Diego and the Athenaeum and the health of all of these cultural organizations that work together.” ◆