The Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) said Tuesday it has hired Kimberly Motes, a respected leader with deep experience in both arts and higher education, as its new managing director.

The job brings Motes full circle to the place where she saw her first professional play four decades ago.

“I remember seeing ‘The Little Match Girl,’ and when she died, a light went up in the air on a scrim,” recalled Motes, who grew up in Cottage Grove, the eldest of John and Karen Ferlaak’s five children. “It was magical and created an experience that forever left a mark. That’s what the theater did for me and does for generations of children, teaching us about empathy and possibilities of togetherness.”

Motes, 48, who starts work Feb. 29, joins the nation’s largest theater for young people at a time when it is facing lawsuits from several former CTC students who allege they were sexually abused by staff members in the 1980s. She would not comment on the suits, but said she is excited to help the theater realize its mission of “educating, inspiring and challenging young people.”

She joins artistic director Peter Brosius on the theater’s senior leadership team. Both will report to the board.

“Peter has an artistic vision that’s energizing, bold and ambitious,” Motes said. “I like to take on bold and ambitious efforts. I think CTC has a vibrant future, and I’m very interested in helping to secure and shape its next 50 years.”

She replaces Tim Jennings, who left in September to become executive director at the Shaw Festival in Ontario after helping the CTC overcome a budget crisis.

Motes spent 20 years in arts administration, including serving as managing director of Theater Latté Da and heading the effort to relocate and renovate the former Shubert Theater into what is now the Cowles Center in Minneapolis.

In the past five years, she has held senior executive positions at the University of St. Thomas and at the College of Saint Benedict, her alma mater.

Motes began her career in Washington, D.C., where she was an intern at the Kennedy Center, general manager of the Washington Ballet and development director at Arena Stage.

R. Virginia Rogers, longtime director of events for students at the Kennedy Center, worked with Motes 25 years ago. She praised her “judgment, vision, foresight and integrity. She’s the kind of leader you dream of having.”

Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith said that Motes’ “drive, charm and tremendous intelligence are three attributes that means that she’ll be a huge success.” At Arena Stage, she significantly increased the number of contributors and worked on the early stages of planning for a $125 million theater center. “The beauty about Kim is that she always makes a place better,” said Smith.

Motes majored in vocal performance at St. Ben’s and minored in business management, on the advice of her father. “My dad wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t have to live in the basement trying to eke out a life as a performer,” she said. “But I always knew that this was the type of work I wanted to do, in the arts.”

News of her appointment brought huzzahs from arts leaders in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Peter Rothstein, founding director of Theater Latté Da and a schoolmate of Motes’, noted her experience in smaller nonprofits: “You can’t run a small organization and not have a grasp of marketing, development, public relations, finance, really everything. Kim understands all the facets of a nonprofit organization and can be very nimble, even in a big institution. Selfishly, I’m glad to have her back in the arts.”

Ralph Remington, former head of theater at the National Endowment for the Arts, said “Kim is someone who can be in a presidential Cabinet. She is a dynamo with a rare combination of skills. She brings energy, passion and clarity to whatever she does. And she’s got enough charisma to sell you farmland in the middle of Manhattan.”