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Marcus Center Sets Goals To Bring More Diversity To The Theater

Ed Bierman
The Marcus Performing Arts Center's Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force has created a set of goals in hopes of inviting more Milwaukeeans to the arts hub.

Kendra Whitlock Ingram was announced as the president and CEO of the Marcus Performing Arts Center in December 2019. Since taking over one of Milwaukee’s premiere downtown arts hub, she has worked to promote racial equity and inclusion through the Marcus Center and make sure that the theater is an inviting space for all Milwaukeeans.

Courtesy of the Marcus Performing Arts Center
After taking over the leadership of the Marcus Center a week before the coronavirus pandemic began cancelling shows, president and CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram is working to re-open the performance center in a way that is inclusive to more parts of the Milwaukee community.

This led to the creation of the Marcus Center’s Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Task Force, which as a part of their work sought input from the community about their feelings towards the theater. This lead to comments like someone asking what actually goes on in the theater or saying that the Marcus Center is just where white people go — answers that Ingram says surprised her.

“I think we have an internal perception that we are very inclusive, and it was a welcoming place, and I think the biggest blind spot is that. That maybe that perception is not universally felt,” she says.

To achieve a more universal inclusion, the task force created three pillars — representation, inclusion and investment — around which strategic plans have been created to include more of Milwaukee in the theater.

When it comes to representation, Ingram says that the volunteer force at the theater is one area they are looking to diversify. She says the majority of volunteers are currently white and over the age of 60, so as the theater reopens after COVID-related shutdown, they are working to attract more people of color and younger people.

“We’re going to spend the summer, you know, where are the places and who are the influencers who can help us bring more people into the fold,” she says.

Ingram says they are also working on finding ways to better and more actively communicate what is happening at the Marcus Center. From performances and events like the Cesar Chavez celebration, Ingram says the center is doing a lot but needs to tell more people about what’s going on.

“The biggest thing for an organization like the Marcus Center, which has a lot of programming and we have a lot of things happening over the course of a season, is consistency. It’s not enough to have an e-newsletter once a month,” she says.

The REDI task force goals are not meant to change things overnight. The plans are looking anywhere from one to seven years into the future in order to make the change the Marcus Center thinks is necessary to achieve more inclusivity.

“Some of this stuff takes time to evolve and to have it permeate, I think, in the community,” says Ingram.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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