This spring, Marcus Performing Arts Center President and CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram helped launch BIPOC’s Executive Leadership Program in the Arts. It is the first of its kind — designed to accelerate the development of leadership skills for BIPOC’s mid-career arts professionals, change the culture of arts organizations and diversify their leadership.
The Marcus Performing Arts Center, part of the Live Arts Center of North America (LACNA), helped host a Fellow for the program, arranging a meeting with several Milwaukee-area Black CEOs and executives who run organizations that have historically been run by white people.
“We were looking at how we could best advance racial equity in our own area…and we noticed that our leadership didn’t always reflect the diversity of the community we served. So this program really started to see more people of color in some of these key decision-making roles that are typically underrepresented, namely CEO, COO, and Director of Advancement/Development,” says Whitlock Ingram.
She notes that the program focuses on people who are already experienced and ready for the job, but who might need additional resources, more networking and the ability to see themselves in new leadership roles.
Dacquiri Baptiste is the vice president and chief operating officer of Orpheum Theater Group in Memphis, Tennessee, and is one of the program’s first six fellows who recently visited Milwaukee. She says one of the main elements of this scholarship for her is networking and preparing for growth, which in turn builds confidence.
“You want to find spaces where you can meet like-minded people when you come together to grow,” Baptiste notes. “That’s why this fellowship has been so successful and I’ve enjoyed being a part of it because there’s this camaraderie. “
The structures that have been in place in the performing arts have traditionally been led by white men, but Baptiste believes “times are changing”, with more and more people in these leadership positions retiring.
“If there was no time, now is the time to start making this change – to empower people who have had these mid-level jobs who want to move up but have never been able to figure out how to break the ceiling of glass because they’ve been owned by certain people for so long,” she said.
While visiting Milwaukee for the scholarship, Baptiste says she was able to meet with Mayor Cavalier Johnson, President Marcelia Nicholson, County Executive David Crowley and Raven Jemison of the Milwaukee Bucks, among others.
“Kendra made sure I was seated with Milwaukee people of color who are now taking on roles in historically white-run institutions,” Baptiste notes. “…We’re taking on service roles, we’re taking on roles where we didn’t exist before and now we’re in it, and it can be done. It’s great to see it.”
Whitlock Ingram notes that the program’s goal is to see 30% of C-suite positions at LACNA performing arts centers reflect people of color. She says that after the success of this first year, this goal is achievable.
“Just seeing this class of fellows and knowing the level of talent, expertise and forward-thinking strategic mindset of these women is really very encouraging for the future of the field,” says Whitlock Ingram. .