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Donna Walker-Kuhne: Helping Arts Organizations Put EDIA Into Their DNA

Donna Walker-Kuhne (photo courtesy of Donna Walker-Kuhne)

Donna Walker-Kuhne is a busy woman. Lately, a regular week for her consists of Zoom calls, workshops, training, keynote addresses for conferences, working on her Arts and Culture Connections blog, and completing her forthcoming book, Champions for the Arts – an apt title for someone whose career spans 40 years with a focus on audience development. This new book will present case studies and tactics for community engagement worldwide, and interviews with “champions for the arts who are creating access to the community in smart, effective ways,” says Walker-Kuhne. 

In 2005, Walker-Kuhne published her first book, Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community, a guide that was inspired by her time as the marketing director for the Public Theater in New York and, before that, at Dance Theatre of Harlem. 

Since then, the focus of Walker-Kuhne’s work has evolved, through her work as Senior Advisor of Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre and her consulting agency Walker International Communications Group, into community engagement. 

Still, in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Walker-Kuhne began building social justice programs and leading EDIA (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access) training. She is currently working with five nonprofit organizations to develop their EDIA initiatives and is also teaching an EDIA course at Columbia University. 

Around the same time that Walker-Kuhne’s focus narrowed, ArtsWestchester’s Board of Directors began examining its own progress in supporting the four pillars of EDIA. The organization formed a subcommittee to work with Walker-Kuhne, who then led a series of workshops to inform the Board on the values and implementation of EDIA. ArtsWestchester had worked with Walker-Kuhne in the past, when it looked at ways to encourage Westchester’s cultural institutions to diversify its audiences.  More than a decade later, it was time for a self-evaluation. 

The workshops were supported by reading materials and discussions on critical topics.  Walker-Kuhne developed the agenda for these workshops in consultation with the organization’s CEO, Janet Langsam. While the work is still ongoing, ArtsWestchester has emerged with a revised mission and vision statement, and reaffirmed its commitment to advancing social justice through several new initiatives.

What is Walker-Kuhne hoping for when she addresses this type of work with organizations? “That they make a commitment to becoming an anti-racist arts organization,” she says. “That they are intentional about uprooting systemic racism and focus on applying the principles of EDIA as part of their DNA. It will take time, but it should be the singular goal.”

A version of this article first appeared in the February issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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