Ahmed Dents brings his unique work experience to expanding Carlsbad theater

Ahmed Dents standing in front of a white building.
As the new associate artistic director at New Village Arts, Ahmed Kenyatta Dents is already making an impact, says artistic director Kristianne Kurner. “Ahmed has already had a fantastic impact on the whole staff. He helps everybody raise their game — leading by example. He gives people undivided attention, so they know they’re listened to.”
(Courtesy of Jay Reilly)

New associate artistic director at New Village Arts is already having an impact on the theater organization


When someone says they grew up in the theater, it may conjure up visions of a youngster acting up a storm on stage. But for arts administrator Ahmed Kenyatta Dents, his love of the performing arts began behind the scenes.

Recently named associate artistic director at New Village Arts, an expanding and well-respected theater in Carlsbad, the San Diego native started “hanging out” at the historic Spreckels Theatre at a young age.

In a somewhat circuitous and decidedly unique route to New Village Arts, Dents donned many hats. He has been an administrator at the former San Diego Repertory Theatre; an on-air personality at a smooth-jazz radio station; founder and co-host of the pandemic-era online series “We Are Listening: A Live Salon About Black Artists’ Experiences in the Theatre Industry”; and a software-applications specialist for Tessitura, an arts-focused platform.

“I call myself a different type of theater kid,” said Dents, 50, who grew up in Mira Mesa. “My dad was head of security at the Spreckels Building for 40-plus years, so I would hang out at the theater. In high school, I’d do security occasionally.”

In 2002, his father helped him get a maintenance position at the 1,500-seat theater. He worked there with one other maintenance staffer and two janitors.

“We were all that kept that building and the theater up,” Dents said. “We were at the center of it. Something was happening every day. Rock concerts, comedians, plays, every type of performance came through that theater.

“I was immersed in different modes of creativity. I was watching so many different things every day and meeting people who put on live performances. Seeing my dad’s concern for the safety of the building and the treatment of the tenants is where my diversity of thought came in.”

Dents worked at San Diego Rep from 2007 until it closed in June, except for his two-year stint at Tessitura.

“I’m all about access to the arts,” he said. “The arts have provided career paths mainly for White people and the upwardly mobile. People of color are thought of mostly as performers. There’s so much more about it than performing — electricians, carpenters, designers, philanthropists.”

‘Fantastic impact’

Dents attended the New Village Arts’ new building groundbreaking on July 7 and saw Kristianne Kurner, the theater’s founder and executive artistic director. Knowing the San Diego Rep had closed, she asked him to apply for a position for New Village’s upcoming expansion.

He became its associate artistic director in August.

“I can’t believe we got so lucky because the timing worked out perfectly,” Kurner said. “Ahmed has already had a fantastic impact on the whole staff. He helps everybody raise their game — leading by example. He gives people undivided attention, so they know they’re listened to.

“Also, Ahmed has this big, boisterous laugh that carries through the building. If I’ve had meetings in the morning and I’m coming into the office, to hear that laugh coming down the halls is infectious, in the best possible way.”

In the spring, Dents also became the managing director of the annual Carlsbad Music Festival. As an independent contractor for the festival, he can do both jobs.

At New Village Arts, Dents will divide his time overseeing two new programs.

Both are named after San Diego playwright Dea Hurston, a longtime supporter of the local arts community and an advocate for artists of color. Her name now precedes New Village Arts’ soon-to-open Events Center, which will be programmed and overseen by Dents. Hurston’s musical “1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas,” made its world premiere at New Village Arts last year, and it will return when the theater reopens Dec. 20.

The other half of Dents’ responsibilities will be administering the Dea Hurston Fellowship program. Its goal is to help BIPOC, female and other underrepresented artists on the high school, college and adult level gain access to different careers in the arts.

The Dea Hurston Fellowship has been operating in San Diego for seven years, administered by San Diego Opera and Moxie Theatre. In partnership with them, New Village Arts will expand the program into North County.

Dents, who counts Hurston as a longtime mentor, is excited to oversee an undertaking that so perfectly matches his commitment to providing access to the arts.

“I believe people can do what they want to do,” he said. “They can step into different roles — as long as they have a good work ethic and keep curiosity at the forefront of their vision.”

Dents has been enjoying his new roles and new colleagues.

“Over the years, you become aware of the characteristics of a theater,” he said. “New Village Arts seemed to have a truly adventurous spirit. When I came in, I was welcomed. It’s a very diverse staff, not only ethnically, but in terms of range of experience and age. This is a company walking the walk. It’s a great energy to be around.

“The arts are a place for people of color to thrive.”

Wood is a freelance writer.