Donna Walker-Kuhne is an award winning thought leader, lawyer, scholar, educator, writer and strategist for community engagement, audience development and social justice. Acknowledged as the nation’s foremost expert on Audience Development by the Arts & Business Council, Donna Walker-Kuhne, an accomplished arts administrator and adult educator, has devoted her professional career to increasing the accessibility and connection to the arts for our nation’s rapidly growing multicultural population. She has raised over $23 million in earned income promoting the arts to diverse communities. “I firmly believe 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.”
She is founder and President of Walker International Communications Group, Inc. a thirty year old boutique marketing, press and audience development consulting agency. Her team has over 50 years of experiences specializing in multicultural marketing, group sales, multicultural press and promotional events. She has developed numerous marketers whose have not only contributed to the growth and success of the company but who have also transitioned to share their skills at the nation’s leading arts organizations including Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jazz @ Lincoln Center, The Apollo Theater and more. Her transformative leadership enables her staff and mentees to be able to discover and master their skills to be a valuable asset to the projects the company manages.
Walker-Kuhne has gained unique insights into the challenges of initiating conversations and reputation among performing art patrons of exposing them to high-quality productions and unique experiences in a way that exceeds audience members and clients expectations alike. This comes at a time when arts organizations are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing cultural landscape and shifting demographics – evidenced by the growth of LatinX, African –American and Asian American populations and the rising consumerism of Generation Y and Z. As an African American female led entrepreneur, Ms. Walker-Kuhne has demonstrated sustainability and consistent delivery of excellence for her clients.
She was formerly Vice President, Marketing and Communications where she supervised a team of 40 staff and managed a budget of $12milion. Ms. Walker-Kuhne developed a new department, one of the first in the nonprofit arts industry focusing exclusively on community engagement. She was appointed Vice President of Community Engagement at NJPAC in 2016. In 2018, she became a consultant to NJPAC and since that time has been consulting as Senior Advisor, Community Engagement at New Jersey Performing Arts Center charged with developing and deepening relationships with targeted communities through partnerships and special events. Most recently, following the murder of George Floyd, she is leading a new initiative, Standing in Solidarity, a social justice program focused on promoting racial equality through conversations and films to share the issues we’re grappling with today. These programs have become a model for the performing arts industry as they incorporate Standing in Solidarity initiatives.
A veteran of over 22 Broadway productions providing multicultural marketing and group sales most recently for Once on This Island, The Lion King, Aladdin, Smokey Joe’s Café and Little Rock. Shows that her company serviced include THURGOOD starring Laurence Fishburne, August Wilson’s Radio Golf , HUGHIE, A Raisin in the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Bring in da’’ Noise, Bring in da’ Funk, STICKFLY, Time Stands Still, Driving Miss Daisy and Ragtime. Previous non-profits include, WNYC Radio, the Arts and Business Council, and Dance USA The Romare Bearden Foundation, The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Three Mo’ Tenors, Columbia University Arts Initiative, The Montclair Art Museum, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Staten Island Arts Council, HARLEM WEEK, Carribbean Cultural Center, The Billie Holiday Theater and Dance USA.
Walker International Communications Group expanded its expertise into real estate development and Ms. Walker-Kuhne was Media Director for The Lenox a luxury condominium in Harlem. In fall of 2008, Ms. Walker-Kuhne was appointed Publicist targeting the African American community for the release of George C. Wolfe’s film, Nights in Rodanthe starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. She also provided media support for the opening and closing ceremonies of The Middle East International Film Festival..
From 1993 through 2002, Ms. Walker-Kuhne served as the Director of Marketing and Audience Development for the New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater located in New York City (The Public Theater).
She originated a range of audience development activities that positively affected thousands of children, students, and adults in multicultural communities through the five boroughs of New York City. Her successful outreach programs include “Conversations with…” intimate Sunday afternoon panel discussions with actors, writers, directors and community activists; “The Public Theater’s Annual Open House,” and the “All-Borough Ticket Distribution for Shakespeare in Central Park.” Her work to reach New York City public school students includes a successful group ticket sales program that has enabled over 8000 students to attend performances in The Public Theater, and she received several grants that have funded projects bringing Shakespeare to public schools via specially designed workshops and performances. Through all these endeavors, she met her local objectives of embracing an ever new and expanding family of audience members. These cultivation efforts not only targeted audiences by ethnicity or nationality, they include all non-attendees—thereby creating “a true common ground where people of all histories and backgrounds can join together in appreciation and respect for the arts and each other.”
She was an Associate Producer in 2002 for the critically acclaimed production of George C. Wolfe’s Harlem Song in at the world-famous Apollo Theater. She was able to develop a marketing and audience development campaign that engaged local businesses, tourists and theater going audiences to sustain a six month run of this production. This also established the impact and economic development of a major production in the Harlem community.
In 2004 she was honored with the Pioneering Women in Theater award by the Black Public Relations Society of Greater New York , proclamation from the Manhattan Borough President, C. Virginia Fields, City Council Citation from Brooklyn Council member Yvette Clarke and Certificate of Recognition from 11th Congressional District, Brooklyn from Member of Congress, Major R. Owens.
In 2010 she was co-founder of Impact Broadway, a socially and technology audience initiative serving 300 African American and Latino students throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The purpose of the program was to expose and empower a multicultural group of high school and college aged youth to aspire to become active participants in the performing arts community. Over the course of the four years, there were a total of 20 schools participating in the program and more than 1,000 youth participants. We created a calendar of Broadway outings, which included post-performance discussions and dining. The program was made possible by a two year grant from the Theater Subdistrict Council. These students have participated in Broadway productions, social networking and participation in seminars and lectures.
10 years beginning in 2010, Ms. Walker-Kuhne co-curated a program called, Bite the Big Apple, an international, joint venture between Walker International Communications Group and Kape Communications Pty Ltd. All participants were from Australia and committed to spending a week in New York participating in a cultural crawl learning from New York based cultural institutions on the topic of cultural diversity in the arts can be utilized as a viable mechanism for defying bigotry, defusing intolerance and cultivating broader audiences for their organizations. Over 150 representatives from all the six states of Australia have participated.
Donna Walker-Kuhne has completed a national, 32-city tour of Bring in ’da noise, Bring in ‘da Funk as the Public Theater’s National Coordinator for Community Outreach. She effectively increased audiences across the country by more than 20% with her community-based marketing campaigns in over 25 urban markets. During the tour she developed “:Bring in ‘da Kids,” an innovative outreach and educational project that increased attendance by 20,000 children and also involved 33,000 students in a variety of related programs. By increasing the show’s staff with new African American members, a more committed effort was put forth by the company. Also, aided by this simple, yet fundamental staffing increase was a permanent point of entry for communities and a cultural aura around all marketing and promotional efforts.
Other Professional Endeavors:
Prior to her position at The Public, Donna Walker-Kuhne was the Director of Marketing for The Dance Theatre of Harlem (1984-93) where she created and implemented the highly successful public relations and marketing campaign for their unprecedented tour of Johannesburg, South Africa (1992), and also all marketing and audience development for the Company’s tour in Cairo Egypt.
While with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ms. Walker-Kuhne increased box office sales by a remarkable 45% using innovative marketing campaigns and audience development techniques. To aid in this endeavor, she originated and guided the Dance Theatre’s “National Audience Development Task Force.” Then during 1992, her skill in marketing significantly contributed to a successful New York season at Lincoln Center and Brooklyn’s Academy of Music. Ms. Walker-Kuhne’s entry into professional arts administration was for the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, as their Managing Director.
Interestingly, her career began as an Assistant Corporation Council for State of New York prosecuting juveniles while she danced professionally on a part-time basis with the Najwa Dance Corps. She credits her law background for her uncanny ability to carry innovative programs to successful outcomes. A second generation HBCU graduate, Ms. Walker-Kuhne received her Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law, Washington D.C., and Bachelor of Art Degree from Loyola University in Chicago.
Ms. Walker-Kuhne has always had a culturally responsive approach to higher education. Since 1993, Ms. Walker-Kuhne has been an Adjunct Professor at New York University. Since 2008. She has been an adjunct professor at Columbia University and since 2011 at Bank Street College. She is teaching Diversity, Equity and Inclusion courses as well as Audience Development and Community Engagement. She previously served as adjunct professor at Brooklyn College instructing in Marketing the Arts for 13 years. From 1993-96, she developed and led a certificate program at Fordham University in partnership with the Graduate School of Business for arts administrators of color to advance to executive level training and opportunities. It was titled, “Arts Marketing and Program Development for Multicultural Arts Administrators.”
In 2003 she was the first American invited by the Australian Council on the Arts to do a three-city lecturing tour on the topic: Ethnic Diversity for Arts Organizations. She was invited back in 2007 for a six-city lecturing tour on the same topic. and completed her third lecture tour to Australia in August, 2015.
In 2015 she presented a keynote speech for the PIAD VRYSTAAT Arts Festival in Blomfontein, South African and the National Arts Marketing Conference in Salt Lake City. In 2016 She presented a keynote in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the AMA Conference. She has presented three lecture tours and workshops in Russia to theater directors, artists, students and professors on the topic of audience development. This series of lectures was a part of American Seasons, the U.S. Bilateral Presidential Commission. In the fall of 2016, she co-curated a week-long certificate program in Moscow sponsored by the United Nations Cultural Exchange Forum. She has also presented lectures at the University of Berlin, Germany on the topic of audience development. For 13 years she was a lead presenter at the Coming Up Taller later named National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, a program developed by the White House. This program awarded grants to outstanding youth based arts programs from around the country.
Ms. Walker –Kuhne has traveled to five continents, 11 countries, and 49 states sharing her expertise, skills and experiences. She has presented keynote speeches for numerous national and international organizations including Dance USA, Theatre Communications Group, LORT Theater Conference, Broadway League, Opera America, League of American Orchestras, Grants Makers in the Arts, The Wallace Foundation Convening Arts and Business Council. She has presented her strategies at Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, American University, University of South Carolina, Temple University, Northwestern University and the Canada Council for the Arts. Ms. Walker-Kuhne conducts staff development diversity workshops for theater, dance and arts administration programs. She was the 2009 Commencement Speaker for Watkins College of Art and Design.
Authorship, Recognition and Board affiliations:
In the summer of 2005, Ms. Walker-Kuhne’s first book, Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community was published. It has become a top-selling, invaluable resource for today’s non-profit arts’ marketer, producer and student. She has completed her second book, Champions of the Arts; Successful Strategies for Engaging Diverse Audiences. She writes a weekly blog, now in its third year, Arts&Culture Connections that explores cultural efforts to expand and create access for diverse audiences.
Ms. Walker-Kuhne is the recipient of over 50 numerous awards, proclamations and citations including the 2019 League of Professional Theatre Women Rachel Crothers Leadership Award, the 2019 SPAA Award for Community Service from Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration/Newark, the 2018 Support of Dance Award from Carolyn Dorfman Dance, 2015 Community Service Award from Women in Media, 2012 Women of Excellence Award from the National Action Network, Blacks on Broadway from The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, 2008 a recipient of 25 Most Influential Black Women from The Network Journal, 2009 Brooklyn College Managers for the Arts Salute Award and New York University Award for Teaching Excellence. She received the 3Graces Theater Company Amazing Grace 2007 Award. In 2008, she was the recipient of The Network Journal’s as one of the 25 Influential Black Women in Business and the Outstanding Pioneer Award from the 35th Annual Vivian Robinson AUDELCO Recognition Award. She is also a recipient of the SGI-USA Liberty Award. While in the recent past she was acclaimed by Theater Magazine as one of “The Top 50 Faces Who’ll Be Forces in the Theater’s Future,” named one of the “Next 40 – The Urban Architects of Today’s Pop Culture,” by SoulPurpose.com, and presented with the “Keys” to the City of Miami. She was awarded one of the 2002 Dynamic Women Awards by Councilman Nick Perry in Brooklyn, New York
She has received many other impressive acknowledgments, and also devotes time to sitting on committees and boards involved in the arts and culture including Newark Arts Council, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Signature Theater NY, HARLEM WEEK and The Harlem Arts Alliance. Ms. Walker-Kuhne is a volunteer with the SGI-USA, a world wide peace organization serving as Vice Director for Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. .
Ms. Walker-Kuhne has brand identity as a pioneer in the field of audience development and community engagement passionately advocating and leading arts organizations to build a culture of diversity in all aspects of their work. She was a pioneer in diversifying audiences for Broadway shows and has extensive relationships with producers and creatives. She has gained the trust and respect of hundreds of students worldwide who have studied with her and who utilize her strategies. Her book is used worldwide as a primer in building diverse audiences and she continues to advance in the arts now leading with social justice initiatives and equity, diversity and inclusion training.