One to Watch

Jennifer Steele Saunders.
Photo by Scott Holstein.

ONE TO WATCHJennifer Steele Saunders

By Stephanie Castellano 

Jennifer Steele Saunders is a singer, actress, businesswoman and mother whose 2-year-old plays the mandolin. Executive director of the Cultural Arts Association in Walton County and co-founder of the Seaside Repertory Theatre, Saunders has lived in Seaside since 2000. She graduated from Valdosta (Ga.) State University with a degree in theater performance, but as a single mother, she wasn’t able to pursue a career onstage. Instead, she opted for a career in the business side of the arts.

While living in Atlanta, Saunders met Craige Hoover, who became her ticket back to the Emerald Coast, where she grew up. Hoover and Saunders co-founded the Rep, now Northwest Florida’s largest professional theater. Saunders was managing director for the Rep until January 2007, when she resigned to take on a new role as consultant to the theater through her own company, The Saunders Group LLC, which specializes in guiding nonprofits in development, marketing and events production.

“You need a creative mind in order to be progressive in the nonprofit world,” Saunders said. “You need to be competitive to raise money in this small town (and) to keep things interesting for the people who live here and the tourists.”

Saunders’ creativity, combined with her business skills, led her to the Cultural Arts Association, where she was hired to produce the annual ArtsQuest. She then stayed on as events and development consultant before being promoted to executive director. Having done so much to promote the arts in her community, Saunders has more than earned her turn in the spotlight.