Expanding audiences with Donna Walker-Kuhne

After Donna Walker-Kuhne’s presentation on Diversifying Audiences, I wanted to leap from my seat and devote my life to marketing the arts.

Speaking on September 27th to members of the Creative Trust, CPAMO (Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario), and CCI: The Ontario Presenter’s Network, the power of Donna’s message is based on her inspiring enthusiasm for opening the doors of our theatres to new audiences. Her passion is backed by years of tried and proven methods developed at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Public Theatre, Apollo Theatre, and many nonprofit, and Broadway companies and shows.

Walker-Kuhne told us to lead with our hearts, get to know the communities we want to invite into our theatres, and help people build personal connections to the art. No arm chair marketing allowed: we have to literally take ourselves out of our comfort zones (our theatres!) and create a presence in diverse communities. Donna’s practice is to leave no stone unturned, creating lasting partnerships with businesses, churches, women’s groups, community activists, schools, travel professionals, restaurants and anyone else who might help in building communities of support.

Her message, which combines tenacity with changing our fundamental relationship to our audiences, is increasingly important as we look for ways to boost attendance and remain relevant and meaningful within our community. “I firmly believe”, she says, “that the arts are the only pure vehicle we have in today’s society that cross cultural and ethnic barriers and allow people to transcend their differences.”

There are important synergies between Donna’s advice and the lessons of Alan Brown’s Audience Engagement Survey , and Ontario Arts Engagement Study .  Together these should spark a wealth of creative marketing ideas based on solid research and an understanding of how the most successful practitioners of diversifying and engaging audiences do their work.

Who wouldn’t want to devote their lives to marketing the arts? – as long as we think of it as the passionate pursuit of sharing what you love with others.

 Donna’s presentation and the three following workshops on September 27th and 28th were so filled with food for thought that they will definitely require more than one blog post. Look for Getting down to work, my upcoming post on the workshops.

A must read: Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community, by Donna Walker-Kuhne, 2005.

Also check out CPAMO’s new Toolkit .

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