Skip to content
Follow Us

Get the best of Capacity Interactive delivered to your inbox.

Multicultural Marketing Maven

Multicultural Marketing Maven

CI to Eye with Donna Walker-Kuhne

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

0:00 / 0:00


Erik and Donna discuss what the arts can learn from the film Black Panther, how she has worked with communities and churches to develop new audiences, and why creating a diverse and multicultural audience requires a budget and a firm commitment from executive leadership.

Erik Gensler: Donna, thank you so much for being here.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: My pleasure.

Erik Gensler: You tell a story about when you were a kid and your mom took you to see the Bolshoi Ballet. And you were the only African American family in the audience. But nonetheless, you wanted to be a dancer. Can you talk about that experience?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Certainly. Till this day, my mom is 94, I have no idea why she thought we should go, but she’s always been the kind visionary that her daughters belonged in the best environment, so the Bolshoi Ballet had come to Chicago, we were sitting there and I was completely memorized. Maya Plisetskaya was the reigning ballerina at the time, and I just said, “I’m gonna be a ballerina. This is it. This is all I wanna do.” I was five. I started taking dance classes and ballet and then, moving into African dance and then being invited to join an African dance company. But the seed was planted there.

Erik Gensler: And then you alternately ended up going to law school.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Well. In the 70s, I didn’t know any dances that made money performing, and poverty was of no interest to me.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: So I thought I should get a career, and in high school, one of the a- local attorneys came on career day, and I thought, “This is a way I can accomplish my goal.” My goals have always been to change the world. So I thought, “If I become a lawyer, I can do this and maybe still dance a little bit.” I don’t know. But, I danced all through law school. I went to Howard University Law School and was able to, still take my classes every morning at 7:00 a.m. and I performed in the talent shows. I choreographed with Georgetown Law School, so I kept it very much alive, even doing those difficult classes.

Erik Gensler: You tell a story that once you had a career as a lawyer, you spent your lunch breaks from court at a local art center.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: (laughs) Oh yeah, I got in trouble with that one. Yes, practicing law in Brooklyn family court was about adjudicating juveniles. And while it’s an important endeavor, that’s not what I went to school for, and I really didn’t feel fulfilled just prosecuting change snatchers and-and people doing robberies. I started to complain and my colleague said, “Well, you know there’s a performing arts center across the street. Literally in Borough Hall across the street.” And he said, “Go over there.” So I did. And the moment I walked in the door I saw my entire future. It was like a flash because it was papers all over the floor. It was really, really messy. But I saw this man standing there and he felt like he knew what he was doing and he talked about the arts and the passion for the arts, so I said, “I can help you. I can file. I know my alphabet. I can read, and I can help you really get organized.” And while filing, I started to read the documents and saw what a press release looks like and proposals. And I said, ” I can do this.” So I taught myself how to become an Arts Administrator during my lunch hour-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: While prosecuting juveniles. That’s how I developed my career.

Erik Gensler: And then finally one day you said, “I’m gonna just make the switch”?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Well, I’m over there. It’s four o’ clock. Five o’ clock-

Erik Gensler: Yeah (laughs).

Donna Walker-Kuhne: In the afternoon and lunch hour was over at 1:30, so it was clear I had found my purpose in life and so yes, I resigned and wrote a grant to give myself a salary and I gave myself a title as Managing Director. And that began my career, as an Arts Administrator.

Erik Gensler: Now you’re one of our foremost experts in audience development and so-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: That’s what I hear, yes.

Erik Gensler: (laughs) I’m excited to talk to you about that. you write in your book that audience development is most effective when it is seen in a philosophical and historical context. It’s a heavy topic, but I’m really interested to-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Dive into that.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Everybody makes choices about their arts and cultural experience. And so, people of color who have not been invited, too much of the various art forms such as the opera, Broadway, until recently, ballet, till recently, museums, haven’t always been so engaging, and so there has to be a root that people can then spring from to decide that, “I’m going to be a part of this,” based on how they’re being engaged. So it’s not a direct sales piece. That’s not a philosophical effort. That is a sales effort. The philosophical effort is we need to change the dynamics in how we recognize the value of everyone that lives in our world.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: And to do that, we have to have a belief system that honors diversity and honors whoever you are, that you have the right to come and have a seat. So with that as your philosophical frame work, you build your marketing strategies. Then it can stick. Then it has resonance. Otherwise, it’s simply a gesture.

Erik Gensler: You wrote the book, Invitation to the Party, and I wanna dive into that. the title Invitation to the Party, what does that mean?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: When I first started working at the Public Theater, when George C. Wolfe invited me to come and make an audience look like a subway stop, I had a vision. A dream, where in the lobby, it was like the United Nations. It was all kinds of different people there and everyone was smiling and laughing and the lights were twinkling, and I just thought, “This is a party.” So at the end of the day, where at the arts are a party. Which it should be. Which doesn’t mean that they’re not heavy topics and things that may not always make you smile. But that celebratory feeling, the notion of being invited, the getting the invitation, preparing yourself to go. I think that’s what the arts experiences should be about. So the invitation means that people who have been traditionally excluded from these experiences have to be invited. We’re not just gonna come ’cause we woke up one day. It has to be. We’re invited, and we’re invited in innumerous ways that we trust. that means you’ll be welcomed, which means a church experience visit. It means, you know, that social media. It means seeing flyers in my local grocery store. It means, “My girlfriend is also telling me I should go.” You know, Black Panther film gave us a fantastic template, how to engage people of color. I think that’s really what we should follow. So, the title of my book is about how I think people of color should be engaged and what the thinking should be behind it.

Erik Gensler: Let’s talk about Black Panther.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes.

Erik Gensler: And what you took away from that.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Wakanda forever.

Erik Gensler: Yeah (laughs).

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Number one. Well, I’m a Buddhist. And in our Buddhist practice, we have a concept called kosen-rufu, which means, in a short version world peace. It means respecting the dignity of each person’s life. And when I saw Wakanda I thought, “So this is what it’s like when black people are in control, when we can control our destiny, when the colonizers aren’t there trying to take away everything that’s of value. This is what it looks like.” I’d never seen it before.

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: I just didn’t know it was even possible.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: So that movie showed me so many things. So that was one vision that I got and saw. I’m gonna hold that one very closely. But also, I saw how people went to the film, and that was really interesting to me. The fact that it did a billion point three was because, of course it was so many repeat movie goers, but there was such an excitement because this was a story- One that was authentic, too. It didn’t show men beatin’ up the women and cursin’ them out. It didn’t show women that was struggling, prostitutes, raisin’ 50 kids with drugs. It showed how most black people live. Just living our best, smart, you know, supporting each other, respecting women. That was huge. And that women actually ran the film. It was really a woman’s movie. And how smart they were. We just couldn’t get enough. We had to go. I saw it four times. And I have the DVD. You can’t get enough because that’s the only time we see that, where mainstream America actually honors, the legacy and culture of African Americans. So that was another piece. And then seeing how people were going to the film, dressing up in African robes, drummers in the lobby, organizations buying out the house to make sure children could go and see it. I thought, “This is how theater should be. And we can do this.”

Erik Gensler: What are some tangible things arts marketers could take away from that?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: First thing, arts marketers have to be more aggressive and talk about the product. ‘Cause the end of the day, that’s what we’re selling. And so if you look at your season and it cannot be the traditional August Wilson play. I love August Wilson. I have marketed many of his plays. But there are so many new voices. And that was what was refreshing about the film. The director was new. The actors were people we hadn’t seen before or not very often. So find the new voices that talk about the narrative of the African American experience in a positive way. We don’t wanna pay money to be depressed. That’s our life. We’re do- We’re not gonna do that.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: But, when you tell the story in such an honorable way. That’s one step. Marketers have to be aggressive and demand that because we’re the ones held accountable. Second thing is make it an experience. So if you’re doing your one black play during Black Hysterical Month-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Then make it fun. You know, encourage people to dress up. Encourage lobby experiences. Talk about post-performance experiences. Have chat rooms. Do champagne sips, make it an experience so it’s not just coming in and out. And then do your follow up. Okay, so after they come, find out, “How was it? So what’s next? How can we keep you in our family? What does that look like?” You know, so-so some basic things, I think.

Erik Gensler: You do a lot of work with church groups. When you’re working with an organization, what is your approach as you bring the program or the work that you are trying to market to the church groups?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Well the reason why one of my talking constituents are church groups is because the black church is very organized. And so it’s easy to identify your groups. You already have a cluster of people who gonna be at a certain place on a Sunday. Number two, you have a certain group of people that trust the minister in the pulpit. Number three, the purpose of the church is to create civic engagement. So it kinda checks off-

Erik Gensler: Perfect, yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: A number of things on the box.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: You have to do your research. Make sure that it’s a church that resonates with the work that you’re doing. That the congregation is one that appreciates the art itself. Some churches are very strict and they may not want to see a play that has profanity or nudity. So you have to be careful with that. But once you’ve gone through those filters. My approach is always to go to the wife, not the minister, because he’s very- or she, very busy. But usually the partner is looking for their own project. And so I give it to them.

Erik Gensler: That’s really clever.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: And I tell them-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: “This is yours. Now, how can we make this, like, shine? What does this look like?” Then I found out, “What are the concerns of your congregation? Is it youth? Are you concerned about drugs? Well this play shows you how people can redeem themselves,” or you know. So you do your research and you find those sweet spots, and then you make that match. And then you make the sale process as easy as you can. I’m finding today with group sales, a lot of, potential group leaders don’t wanna collect money. They’re like, “I’m not doin’ that. Are you kidding?”

Erik Gensler: But really what seals the deal is when the artist makes a church appearance. That’s what seals the deal.

Erik Gensler: Yep.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: And that can be, for instance, musicals that I’m working on now, Little Rock, Smokey Joe’s Café, Once on This Island. All our shows, we take the cast to the church where they sing, not a song from the show, but a song- a gospel song, that the church would appreciate. And then the minister talks about the show and pulls out the universal themes, and then he’ll say, “We’re going.” So we know that that’s gonna happen, and we follow up. The cast stays until the end of the service. This is not a run in, run out. You stay there and you sit and you listen, and then you shake hands with the congregation. When they leave you take pictures. The church distributes flyers. And most importantly, we get an announcement in the church bulletin. That’s the gold.

Erik Gensler: Huh.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Because people read that bulletin religiously, daily-

Erik Gensler: (laughs) No pun intended.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: (laughs) Exactly.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Daily.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: And so all of those layers are very helpful.

Erik Gensler: A lot of people use the term audience development and marketing interchangeably. I’m curious what you see as the difference.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: I see audience development as a strategy to develop communities to become ticket buyers. Community engagement is where we create access to the arts. The primary goal is not that they purchase tickets, but that they understand that, “I have access to these various art forms. I wanna experience them.” And ultimately, “I’m going to go and see something on stage,” but that’s not the fundamental goal. Audience development is definitely looking at targeted groups and figuring out, “What is our strategy to- for them to become ticket buyers and how do we make that happen?” So marketing informs both. We can’t be successful without solid marketing principles.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: We have to understand direct mail, direct sales. You have to understand how to measure success. And we decide that. We have to create dashboards so you can evaluate your work along the way. So I can’t imagine being successful with this without having the marketing experience that I had and then making sure that exists wherever I go.

Erik Gensler: In your book you write about Bring In The Noise, Bring In The Funk. I also heard you talk about.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Oh my baby.

Erik Gensler: (laughs) So the Public Theater when you were working there, and you helped bring it to Broadway and you say it represents the most successful experience you’ve ever had engaging and bridging cultures-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: For a cultural organization. Can you talk about that experience and why you think-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes.

Erik Gensler: It was so successful?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Oh my gosh. The art. It’s still the best production I’ve ever seen. It’s just the best on every level. So intelligent. The music, crisp, excellent beats, great dialogue, choreography fabulous. It was just the best. And with George’s hand on it. George C. Wolfe. It was a seamless conversation. what we did with Noise Funk that allowed me to really develop my career as a specialist in this field even more so than my work with Dance Theater of Harlem. Because Broadway gave me a larger landscape. And with George, there was total trust, so I could really fly. There was nothing I felt I couldn’t do because I knew George trusted whatever I did. This is gonna be fine. So as a producer, he’s probably one of the best to work with because there’s, not that you don’t wanna be questioned, but the trust. That’s so important. And the respect that, you know, even if you make mistakes, that’s okay. So, with Noise Funk I was able to craft, from the workshop experience, who should be coming and I wanted to make sure we got young audiences and at that time in 1993/94, there weren’t many young, you know, teens and millennials African Americans going to Broadway ’cause there wasn’t a lot for them to see. And so, by cultivating this campaign with them at the Public, which we were sold out very quickly, and we extended three times. And then the transfer to Broadway during that time, I took the cast all around New York, got people to see them, touch them, hear them speak was great. All the cast members. They were young. They’re all under 18. And-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: their moms, I created the Mother’s Club.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: So the moms also were supportive. This was all before internet, so the moms were pullin’ out their phone books and callin’ their aunts and cousins and friends. And then the experience themselves. when you saw Noise Funk your life changed because you saw the history of African Americans in the smartest way, yet honest, nothing compromised. It was really brilliant. And so I always thought with the art , for me, that’s where my success will come from. It doesn’t matter how clever my campaign is. if the product sucks, meaning that the book is weak, meaning that it’s not honest, it’s not true, meaning that the artist phoned it in. Then the work has to reflect that. Seth Godin says the product is the marketing.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes. It is.

Erik Gensler: I mean, yeah. You can spend all the money you want-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Right.

Erik Gensler: On ads & interrupting people, but if the word of mouth. And it’s not something that people want to see-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: It doesn’t, doesn’t matter.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: That’s right.

Erik Gensler: So we worked together, I guess it was like 12 years ago when I was up in New York City Opera.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Oh yeah.

Erik Gensler: (laughs) You were our consultant to help us cultivate-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes.

Erik Gensler: An African American audience. and I’m curious, in the 12 years a lot has happened.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: Certainly in terms of, the world but particularly in terms of equity, diversity, inclusion-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: And how art organizations talk about it, in particularly-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Sure.

Erik Gensler: The context of where we are in this horrific political (laughs) environment we are today, so I’m just curious-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: In your work, what are some of the major changes you’ve seen over the last 10 to 12 years?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Great question. When I began this work, in the 90s. really formalizing the idea of engaging audiences, it was really conversations. Everyone was talking about it. “We must do this.”, but there wasn’t a lot of money to make it happen. I started to see the money in the 2000s, when foundations were funding very specific audience development initiatives and when I started my lecture tours and going around the country, one year I did 52 speaking engagements. I couldn’t even keep up with myself. I remember one time my husband, at the time I was married, my husband said, “So what’s for dinner?” I said, “Oh, I’m in Seattle. I forgot to tell you.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: “You better have a look at the refrigerator (laughs) because I’m not there.” Moving so fast because the demand was incredible. There was a really hunger by the time 2001, 2002 came around. People, meaning arts administrators in the field, executive directors, heads of arts councils really wanted to figure out, “So what do we do?”, so then those years following that became about tactics. so then you have a challenge of, “Well who can do it?” ‘Cause none of them have the staff to actually implement this. So when we started working together on Margaret Garner, at New York City Opera, what an amazing story. That was so painful-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Oh my God. During that time, you know, around 20, what was that? So what is this 2018?

Erik Gensler: 2006?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Two-

Erik Gensler: 2007?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: It was around that time. Yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: What I was seeing more was increased interest. First of all, at 2000, 2001, t-there were no Directors of Community Engagement. There was no one Director of Audience Development in an arts organization. Now, there’s a lot of them. They’re sprinkled throughout the United States. I just smile and grin every time I see that title because I know that that represents a change, that there’s an investment that the arts organization is making. There’s a clear statement that, “This is part of our philosophy, part of our mission.” So yes, I have seen a tremendous increase of creating the positions to give up staff person the freedom, flexibility, and most importantly, budget to be able to create these initiatives. So that’s the growth. Fabulous. More to come.

Erik Gensler: You say, “Executive leadership remains the single most critical factor in facilitating change that creates a positive and lasting impact, especially in the arts community.”

Donna Walker-Kuhne: If it doesn’t come from the top, it won’t last. Because let’s face it. Not everyone is, “woke.” So there are people who work in the arts who may not see the value of investing in engaging diverse audiences, but if you’re told this by the Executive Director, “This is who we are and what we do,” your choice either is, “I’m gonna support this, or I leave.” And so that’s why it’s critical to have that statement, and at the Public Theater when George announced that we were gonna be focusing on diverse audiences, several people left. And that was great because we don’t need them in the room. You have another mission someplace else, probably under a rock. But certainly not in an arts organization. That’s one of the great benefits of working at New Jersey Performing Arts Center, that I was able to experience, John Schreiber’s made sure that the language for celebrating diversity is embedded in our mission statement. And he worked with not only the staff on that, but our board. so as an institution, everyone embraces that idea. So there are no surprises when, you know, we say, “Well we’re gonna do this kind of event,” or where we wanna place our ad dollars. There’s no question about that because this is who we are. It’s very, very difficult for marketers, to be able to implement any kind of audience development initiative without support from exec. It’s very hard. First, they don’t have the budget. And two, if the budget is created, the moment you don’t make budget or sales from a show, they’re gonna steal that money back because it’s considered soft and it has no deliverables, anyway. So we’re gonna take this money. And I’ve had that happen to me. Uh, so when you have executive leadership protecting it, then you give the Marketing Directors the freedom to really dream and implement and engage people. Because when you know, this can’t be where you just, “Okay, I’m gonna talk to my top five influencers in my community. Oh, wait. My budget’s gone away. I can’t talk to them anymore.” That’s more damaging than you not having spoken to them at all. So it has to be sustainable and-and the person implementing the work needs the confidence that, “I can do this to the end.” So that’s why it’s so important that it comes from the top and that the board supports it..

Erik Gensler: We’re talking about audience development, you mentioned the board. It also has to be making your staff more diverse-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes.

Erik Gensler: And I think we have a lot of work to do there.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes we do. And there’s two weaknesses that I think many people have, and that is, “I’ll just go after the low-hanging fruit. I’m gonna call my friend ’cause we went to school together.” Or, “We just worked at the last organization together.”

Erik Gensler: Right.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: That’s not how you’re gonna diversify your staff. And so I am infuriated-when an organization will tell me, “I can’t find anyone.” That translates to me, “I didn’t look.” Because we’re all here. There’s skilled individuals of every color and hue, but yes, you do have to look because this is not a traditional career for people of color. Our families don’t understand what arts administration means. But you know, the traditional jobs, that’s what we’re supposed to be. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, and nurses. “What do you mean you’re an Arts Administrator? What’s that?” My aunt still asks me, “What exactly do you do? You’re not practicin’ law?” “No, I help to make sure that the shows have audiences.” “But is that a job?” “Yes, it is.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: You know, so we’ve not been exposed to the behind the scenes structure of arts organizations just as culture. And so it’s still a very new field when you talk about, “I’m gonna go work in an arts organization.” It’s difficult for many families to support that. So the kids then choose something else ’cause they may not wanna fight that battle. So as an arts organization it’s like, “Well how do I find these people?” You have to recruit. You go to the colleges. You go to alumni groups. You go to PR agencies. You go to corporations. You go to churches. You go everywhere and put your information out. I hear a lot of them say, “Well I put an ad in the New York Times.” I’ll say, “We weren’t reading The Times.”

Erik Gensler: Or Playbill. It’s like, “Yeah, you’re gonna get-”

Donna Walker-Kuhne: “We-we weren’t reading that.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: “We didn’t even see it.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: So it’s research to even find out how to recruit. But without that, we’re not gonna be successful. the changing demographics of our country are clear. People of color will be the majority in about 20 to 30 years. If we don’t have the leadership in place, it’s going to be an extremely interesting experience.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: So we should get on board with this now.

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: What’s a question that you wish you got asked more but never get asked?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: That I would get asked more?

Erik Gensler: Or have never been asked but you wish people asked you.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: How much it costs. How much does it cost to build a diverse audience? There’s an assumption that it can be done for free, based on my good looks, a smile, I don’t know. But rarely do the numbers come in until I start talking about advertising or, hard costs. You know, “I have to print these postcards,” or, “We have to pay for these spots.” But it costs money. So I would love for that to be at the beginning of the conversation. “We wanna build a diverse audience, and we’d like to talk about what that’ll look like. What the numbers are. How many people do I need to make that happenso I would love to have that more, instead of this assumption that either will do it low, low, low cost or no cost.

Erik Gensler: So you’re writing a second book.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Yes.

Erik Gensler: Can you tell us about that?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: It’s based on my blogs. Thank goodness I had the sense to start a blog last year-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Because those blogs are definitely the basis for a-a lot of what will be in the book. But my book will be an extension of my first one. So much has happened in these past 15 years, in terms of arts marketing and diversity and inclusion, and I definitely wanna capture those stories and experiences. I will be focused on social media. None of that was in my first book ’cause we were just beginning it’s become so fundamental now in-in building communities that I really want to talk about success stories with that. I certainly wanna talk about the international scope. I’ve had the privilege, during that window of time of traveling around the world, teaching, theater directors and artists about how to look at diversity. So I wanna capture those stories there’s some amazing work and experiences that are happening around the world. I’ll capture those as well. And then of course my company has become smarter in how we build our campaigns and what those formulas look like. All of those elements will be in there. And some things that I feel very strongly about. I’ll be writing about that as well. Such as cultural appropriation, I have very strong feelings about who should tell the story, what the narrative should be, authenticity, legacy. So I’ll be talking about that too.

Erik Gensler: Where do you look for inspiration?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Oh, my religious practice. You know, my mentor is Daisaku Ikeda who heads the international organization called Soka Gakkai. He’s an amazing man who traveled around the world and inspires leaders of countries how to build harmony and how to respect, individuals in their- in these various countries. He’s received over 300 honorary doctorates. He’s received, medals from the United Nations. I mean, really honored as a worldwide peacemaker. And since that’s how my life began on this journey of being a peacemaker, he is my mentor and someone that I’m very inspired by. And then my mom is the other. My mom is the one who’s always nurtured al- my sisters and I and all of our creative impulses and always encouraged us, that we could do anything we wanted and that the only thing she would ask is that we did 100%. So I don’t know any other way to work other than to do 100%. I just don’t understand what that looks like.

Erik Gensler: We’ve come to your last question and we call this your CI to Eye moment.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: And the question is if you can broadcast to the Executive Directors’ leadership teams staff and board of 1,000 arts organizations-

Donna Walker-Kuhne: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: What advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Donna Walker-Kuhne: I would encourage them to be entrepreneurs as Executive Directors of arts organizations and to look at streams of income that it cannot just be limited to ticket sales and unearned revenue. But to look at all kinds of possibilities. I think NJPAC is a fantastic example. I so admire John Schreiber’s work in looking at real estate as a source of income. We just, opened up our first apartment building, which is across the street from the arts center. We’ll be building a hotel in two years and a conference center. And I think that the more nimble arts organizations can be, the more successful. The construct that was developed in the 60s when arts organizations were being formed, particularly with the support of the NEA. Where you come in as an assistant, then you can become a manager, then an assistant vice president and then vice president. The millennials, Generation Z, they’re not gonna stick around that long. We’re lucky if we get them for two years. So if we wanna capture the best of our younger generation of arts administrators, we have to create environments where they can thrive, which means they enter in different ways. It means they don’t come in five days a week. It means that they’re going to work in a very creative way. But they’re focused on deliverables. They know what they have to- to give. And so, we build the team of who’s going to shepherd the arts for the next 50 years. We have to have this kind of thinking. You know, that’s fluid. You know, that’s dynamic, allows people to kind of bring who they are to the team, and absolutely has to be racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. We need all those voices to inform what will this look like.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. thank you so much.

Donna Walker-Kuhne: You’re welcome. You’re welcome.

About Our Guests
Donna Walker-Kuhne
Donna Walker-Kuhne
Founder, Walker International Communications Group

Donna Walker-Kuhne is the Founder of Walker International Communications Group a marketing, press, and audience development consulting agency that specializes in multicultural marketing.

Read more

Related Episodes

Are Subscriptions and Memberships Dead?
EP 118
Aug 29, 2023
Are Subscriptions and Memberships Dead?

Is it time to rethink subscription/membership models? Tune in for a transparent conversation with arts marketers who are doing just that, and gather tips for revamping your own offerings to meet audiences’ evolving needs.

Zeroing in on What Matters
EP 112
Jan 31, 2023
Zeroing in on What Matters

As arts marketers, it’s easy to get distracted by shiny new digital marketing trends or bogged down with low-impact work. In this episode, we cut through the noise and help you focus on strategies that yield the greatest results for your organization.

Don’t Miss an episode

Don’t Miss an episode

Subscribe to CI to Eye and have your insight and motivation delivered on demand.