Arts & Culture / Summer 2018

Talking with DU’s artistic ambassador

Kendra Whitlock Ingram, executive director of DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of the Newman Center

Kendra Whitlock Ingram became executive director of DU’s Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts in November 2016, after serving as vice president of programming and education for Omaha Performing Arts. A big part of Ingram’s job is overseeing Newman Center Presents, the venue’s annual slate of touring artists that this year includes such big names as Kathleen Battle, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves, Camille A. Brown and Michelle Dorrance.


Q: Why did you decide to come to DU? What stood out to you about this opportunity?

A: I was initially struck by the strategic plan [DU IMPACT 2025], which I had read online. I wasn’t as familiar with the university presenter world, but when I read DU’s strategic plan, I thought, “Wow. The commitment to community engagement, serving the public good, inclusive excellence — that’s been in my wheelhouse for my entire career.” To see an organization embracing these values and this culture was a real driver for me and made me want to be a part of that community.


Q: You put your first Newman Center Presents season together in just a few months; what was the best thing about that first year?

A: Some of the programming that would have been considered a little “outside of the box” in the past was really deeply embraced by audiences. Performances by Black Violin and a chamber music concert featuring the music from the video game “Final Fantasy” were nearly sold out. For the “Final Fantasy” concert, I asked the audience, “How many of you are here for the first time?” and nearly the entire audience raised their hand. It was a thrill to have so many new audience members in the venue.


Q: The 2018–19 Newman Center Presents season includes some pretty big names, particularly in dance and jazz. What was your process in putting that together?

A: Dance and jazz are two major programming concentrations for Newman Center Presents, so that’s typically where we begin in the programming process. We’ve had strong support from our audiences for both of those areas — so much so that we have developed two new subscription packages this year specifically for jazz and dance. When it comes to programming, we also consider our venue size and which artists make sense from that perspective. The artist-booking process is always a giant puzzle with many pieces.


Q: Are you looking to improve the visibility of the venue and the programming?

A: We still have opportunity to increase the Newman Center’s visibility. We have major plans to engage in more arts education and community-engagement work over the next few years. Next year, the Newman Center will launch a music education program called Musical Explorers, developed by our colleagues at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall was always known as a premier venue — everyone strives to get on that stage — but the organization wanted to broaden their reach in the community. Through the Musical Explorers program, Carnegie Hall has done an amazing job reaching into all five boroughs, and that’s the kind of impact we want the Newman Center to have in Denver moving forward.


Q: Why is it important to do that community outreach?

A: Community engagement is not only part of our mission at the Newman Center, but it is also a strategic direction of the University of Denver. Serving the public good is part of the DU mission. Reaching out beyond our campus and making sure that we’re connecting with the entire metro area will help us to expand our audiences and also reach people who may not have regular access to the performing arts. This is important from an arts access perspective and also helps the Newman Center continue to grow its audiences.

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