When you meet Brittany Javins, a few things will be immediately evident. She is young and energetic, she has a passion for her hometown, and is a tireless ambassador for the arts. Chatting with the 32-year-old Charleston native, she is poised, confident and an expert in her field of arts administration. But Brittany would be the first to admit that it’s taken some work to become as confident in herself and her abilities as those around her have been all along.
When Brittany took over as executive director of FestivALL Charleston in 2015, she had big shoes to fill. Larry Groce, nationally-known musician and host of Mountain Stage, had served in the role since the creation of FestivALL in 2005. Since taking on the role, Brittany has thrived as a leader and is making big waves in the West Virginia arts community, continuing to build on the foundation that the FestivALL founders established over a decade ago. It’s apparent to anyone who talks with Brittany that she was made for a job with FestivALL—in fact, she even performed in the first FestivALL in 2005 with the Charleston Ballet.
Brittany’s love for the arts started at an early age. Her mom danced with the Charleston Ballet, and her dad was a musician and often helped backstage, so she grew up surrounded by the arts. She started taking ballet classes when she was 5 years old, and danced through college.
“As an art form and something to watch, I have always loved the precise technique balanced with the flowing grace of ballet,” she said. “Even through my teens, I appreciated the discipline and focus of ballet. Classes were like meditation - there is no way your mind can be on anything else when you have so much in your body to pay attention to, and I often credited ballet for keeping me out of trouble. Ballet was an artistic outlet as well as a mental outlet.”
“Artistically, I had the opportunity to bring stories and visuals to life through dance. It was part technique, part passion. In addition, ballet along with school gave me something to work hard at and kept me focused at times in my life when everything else felt out of control.”
Brittany attended Capital High School and then West Virginia State University, where she received an English education degree. She started teaching 8th grade English at South Charleston Middle School, while continuing to dance with the Charleston Ballet and pursuing other community arts education opportunities. After three years of teaching, she became interested in earning a master’s degree that would allow her to combine two of her passions – the arts and education. She and her husband Mark moved to Florida so Brittany could pursue an arts administration degree at Florida State University.
While getting her master’s degree, Brittany reached out to Larry Groce inquiring about a summer internship with FestivALL. At the time, FestivALL did not have an internship program, but Larry knew Brittany because she previously taught ballet to one of his daughters and had volunteered with FestivALL. He decided to take her up on the offer, creating an intern position that allowed Brittany to lend her skills and expertise to arts administration. From then on, Brittany was a vital part of FestivALL. When she graduated in 2013, she moved back to West Virginia and became the first-ever assistant director of FestivALL.
Brittany credits some important female mentors with helping shape her into the successful woman she is today; first and foremost, her mom. “My mom was the full-time worker in our family, and demonstrated the value of hard work,” Brittany said. “She was a strong advocate of accepting nothing less than your best, and not stopping until you achieved success.”
Brittany also credits several teachers who supported her while also encouraging her to stay focused and disciplined. Larry has also been a great mentor. “He had confidence in me when I didn’t have it myself,” she said. “Having someone believe in you on that level is amazing.”
Since taking over as executive director, Brittany has faced some challenges, but says it’s all part of the path. “I felt inexperienced when I became executive director, so I was nervous for the new role,” she said. “In some situations, I felt like I had to earn my place as director, but for the most part, everyone, especially Larry, the board of directors, and the FestivALL team were supportive and believed in me.”
Brittany is very type-A, but has an artsy personality and style, so what she loves about working for FestivALL is feeling comfortable and confident in her own skin. “I can still be myself and do my job well—I don’t have to change who I am to do this job. It took me a while to accept that and live it and believe it,” she said. “FestivALL has made me personally grow more than I could have ever imagined.” She is often her own toughest critic, and one of the biggest challenges she’s had professionally is meeting her own very high expectations.
Now, in 2018, FestivALL, which started as a completely volunteer-run organization, has grown to have three full-time, young, female employees. Brittany now has the opportunity daily to pay it forward as she mentors her employees.
Just as her mentors provided sage advice to help pave her way, Brittany has some advice for other young go-getters. “I’m learning from my team and learning to trust them. That’s what my mentors did for me. I’ve had to learn that it’s ok to challenge yourself—it’s ok to go through the process, to fail sometimes, and to admit that the journey is hard.”
In addition to learning how to excel professionally, Brittany has come into her own and learned the value of self-care. “Embrace yourself—your hard times, your good times—all of that is ok and is a part of who you are. Bad experiences you have don’t have to hold you back. You can rise above and achieve in spite of it.”
Brittany is being honored as the second-ever Woman to Watch at the annual YWCA Women of Achievement Luncheon on March 2. Visit ywcacharleston.org/woa for tickets and more information.