Tod Leiweke and the Seattle NHL team aren’t simply interested in building up the existing hockey community in Seattle. They want to create a community around the game. To do this, they hired Mari Horita, the President & CEO of ArtsFund of the last seven years.
Transitioning from ArtsFund to the new Seattle NHL team might seem like a big change, but Horita highlights the hidden connection between the two organizations: building community.
“At ArtsFund, even though our specific focus is the arts, the work that we do is really about community building,” Horita told me in an interview last week. “Our mission is to strengthen communities through the arts. For the last seven years, the arts have been my vehicle for building community. Moving forward, it’s going to be hockey.”
When it comes to community, ArtsFund and the new Seattle NHL team have the same objectives. Both work to use their respective vehicles (arts and sports) to support the surrounding community by elevating quality of life, helping youth, and bringing people together.
Horita is excited to to be involved in creating such positive change from the beginning for an organization building itself from the ground up.
Joining the new NHL team in Seattle
In April, Tod Leiweke became the CEO and President new NHL Seattle ownership group and gave this statement: “As a lifelong hockey fan, I pledge to our fans to make this franchise great both on and off the ice, with an organization that will give back to the community while pursuing the ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup back to Seattle.”
By hiring Mari Horita to lead community development initiatives so early on in the process, Leiweke is putting action behind his words.
Likewise, Horita has a lot of trust in Tod Leiweke as someone who prioritizes community. When talking about Leiweke, she said “[he’s] is just very inspiring to me. He has a proven track record of not only being a brilliant leader and a brilliant sports executive but also someone who, at his core, is committed to the community and committed to making a positive difference. That is it part of the foundation. That it is part of the DNA.”
Creating a shared experience with hockey
Hockey has a tendency to bring people together, from teammates on the ice to the fans off the ice. Mari Horita knows that creating a shared experience can be a powerful builder of community and a bridge for the things that would normally divide us.
According to Horita, “when you’re sitting next to someone, whether it’s in a concert hall or watching a game, you may be completely different from that person in every other way but, for a moment, you can suspend those differences, transcend them, and focus on something to celebrate together.”
Finding ways to build a connection is more important than ever with so much division our country and communities. For Horita, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the things that actually bring people together, such as the arts and sports.
But along with that she also recognizes the need to make the Seattle NHL team more accessible and inclusive, especially when building a new fanbase. The league is working to grow the game of hockey beyond its traditional audience. It recently hired executive Kim Davis to help grow diversity in the NHL and has promoted initiatives like Hockey is for Everyone since 2017.
Horita talks about this in regards to her new role on Seattle’s NHL team. “The emphasis here at ArtsFund and also with NHL Seattle is access and inclusion. We recognize that there’s a lot of positive impacts that come out of the work being done. It’s important that we share those broadly, making sure that everybody can benefit from them and have access to them.”
Diving in and learning the game
Mari Horita admits that she isn’t the most knowledgeable about hockey but she’s ready to learn as quickly as she can, starting with some reading. “My colleagues got me the ‘Hockey for Dummies’ book. People are sending me a lot of literature so I can start building up knowledge,” says Horita.
Books are great for learning the game but most hockey fans will tell you to go see a game live to get the full hockey experience. Even though she’s been to a Thunderbirds game a few years ago, she’s more motivated than ever to get her first NHL game experience under her belt. Horita has already let her friends in San Jose and LA know, “I’m visiting you soon and we’re going to some hockey games!”
But being a newcomer to hockey is not a disadvantage when it comes to building a community around the Seattle NHL team. According to Horita, it’s a good thing.
“Reaching out to someone who doesn’t have subject matter expertise, and is certainly willing to learn, brings different perspectives and skill sets to the organization. It’s important for those of us who work in a particular field to realize that we need to be talking to those who aren’t necessarily in that field. It’s incumbent on us to show why these things have a much broader impact. Even if you’re not a diehard symphony fan or a diehard hockey fan, both of these things make a big positive difference in our community.”
Ultimately, her extensive background with ArtsFund makes her ideal for this role. She has the experience to build a community around the new NHL team, the enthusiasm to learn the game, and a fresh perspective that will strengthen the organization as it grows roots in the city of Seattle.
Moving forward with Seattle’s NHL team
Horita wants long-term hockey fans in Seattle to know that she’s committed to working hard in her new role.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of building this organization. Having now met the leadership, I couldn’t be more inspired and confident with the people who are putting this together. I’m really quite humbled to be a part of this team. There is a demonstrated and authentic commitment to making this not just a great team on the ice but off the ice as well. I will be here to work with and in the community as best I can to advance the team, of course, but really the community at large.”
As for getting out on the ice, she plans to try but recently told Tod Leiweke “if I can learn to skate then he’s an absolute miracle worker!”