People You Should Know: Donnell Powell

Alumnus gives back to the nonprofit sector, which he benefited from growing up.

Donnell Powell stands next to a mural commissioned through his first nonprofit. | LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / TTN
Donnell Powell stands next to a mural commissioned through his first nonprofit. | LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / TTN

Donnell Powell could be called a poster boy for nonprofit organizations.

In his junior year of high school Powell participated in Operation Understanding D.C., a year-long program that attempted to bridge the gap between African-American and Jewish high school students. When he got to college he started his own nonprofit, Color My Sidewalk, and now he found his first job upon graduating at non-profit Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

“I always told myself, because I was grateful for OUDC, I wanted to give back and pay it forward in the nonprofit sector,” Powell said.

The Temple News caught up with Powell, a 2012 broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media alumnus, to find out how he landed his job and about his involvement with “Time Machine,” which will be part of this year’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

THE TEMPLE NEWS: Were you involved with PYP before you graduated?

DP: I learned about PYP through my professor, Glen Knapp, who was teaching a theater management class at Temple. He is the executive director of PYP.

In [Fall 2011] I did an internship with PYP and then that internship carried over until it was time for me to graduate. When I graduated I moved back home to Washington, D.C. and then I got a call from [Knapp] that said, “Hey, I want you up here working with me.” And that was all she wrote.

TTN: What was your internship like?

DP: I was the general management intern. I would pretty much assist with general things such as producing. I was actually handling a lot of contract work for our professional productions in 2011 at the Wilma [Theater]. I was also serving as the company manager. If you don’t know about theater, the company manager pretty much makes sure the cast is taken care of.

TTN: You graduated with a degree in BTMM, how did theater come into play?

DP: I’m an artist. I consider myself more of a creator than an artist. I do visual art, anything from painting to mixed media to sculpture to installations. In college I discovered I wanted to go into arts administration.

I’m also a jazz pianist so I said to myself, “I have the music component of arts down pat, I have the visual arts component of it and I took a couple dance classes at Temple so I had a gist of what dance is.” Theater was the component that was new to me and I was like, “If I want to go into arts management I have to know every medium of the arts.”

TTN: How did you manage to land a job in PYP so soon after graduating?

DP: It’s funny because I had that class with [Knapp] and then I did the internship with PYP and I guess prior to my internship ending, [Knapp] and I had a conversation about my [plans after graduating], whether or not I’d be returning to [Washington], D.C., and what the job market was like there.

[Knapp] told me, “The door’s always open here at PYP for you because we’ve seen the work you do and we know your work ethic.”

I came [back] up during the summer [after I graduated] with a friend on a thing we called “The Government Cheese Tour” where we just went to D.C., Baltimore, Philly and New York just going to see different art scenes and network pretty much. When we came to Philly we went to a PYP event called “The Summer Revision Open Notebook” and [Knapp] and I chatted.

He said, “Lets work out a plan.” It got moving from there.

TTN: What’s your involvement with “Time Machine?”

DP: I’m serving as producer of the piece. So I’m the person who makes it happen. I put all of the ingredients in place such as contracting the cast, the design team, the director, things of that nature.

Since “Time Machine” is a coproduction with [PIFA] and the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts it’s just a matter of staying in contact with our partners who are invested in this project.

TTN: What is “Time Machine” about?

DP: “Time Machine” is a devised performance installation we are calling a multi-generational performance installation. We say “multi-generational performance installation” because there’s three components to this “Time Machine” project. It’s the professional artist we hire, the University of the Arts students and the high school students from all around the Philadelphia area who all make up this ensemble of participants.

The theme for PIFA this year is “If you had a time machine…” It’s an open-ended question. So what we’ve been playing around with, instead of focusing on one specific period of time, we’re playing with the concept of “the lost hour.”

“The lost hour” [refers to] the hour you lose springing forward, the hour we lost this most recent daylight saving time. So what happens in this lost hour?

TTN: You only had to wait two months to secure a job after graduating, how would you recommend students go about that?

DP: I would suggest making relationships, cultivating relationships and sustaining relationships with your professors. As I said, my professor got me my job and other people I graduated with landed their first jobs with a professor they were close with.

Secondly, be good at what you do. It’s funny because when [Knapp] offered me the job it wasn’t through a [traditional] interview. The fact that I did his class and [was his intern] was pretty much my interview. He saw my work ethic throughout that whole process.

Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at or on Twitter @theluisfernando.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.