The Marcus Performing Arts Center has been a staple not just for downtown Milwaukee, but for the greater community. Outside of being a venue to see live performances, its outreach and community engagement efforts reach people of all ages.
This mission is in part what drew Kendra Whitlock Ingram to the position of president and CEO of the Marcus Center. She replaces Paul Matthews, who served just over two decades as its leader.
"I am just absolutely thrilled to be at the Marcus Center," says Ingram. "I think it represents what I love about the field. I think their commitment to diversity and engagement was also really a draw for me."
A nationally recognized performing arts leader, Ingram has more than 20 years experience in the backstage world of running performing arts organizations in Nebraska, Maryland, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Michigan.
Ingram originally intended to teach music, but "once I got into the orchestra management field I was like, 'Wow! I really am interested in the multi-disciplinary [arts] work,' and started presenting for orchestras."
Ingram's appointment to the Marcus Center was officially announced in December 2019. She moved to Milwaukee in March — right as the coronavirus pandemic escalated. Within her first week, the rest of the 2019/2020 season was canceled and the building closed.
"It has affected all of us, both in the Marcus Center and the resident companies, deeply and profoundly," says Ingram.
However, like many organizations, Ingram says they are using this time to work toward the future.
"The team and I have really been thinking about how do we want to reemerge and how can we take this time where we have this kind of unplanned downtime in the facility to look at ways to reach more people when we come back — or even in this downtime?" she says.
Compared to other cities, she notes that Milwaukee's arts and performing arts community is "pretty robust."
"There's definitely an appetite here for culture in both performing and visual arts — and for diverse programming, which is pretty exciting," she says. "Milwaukee's got it going on. I think the thing I see that the Marcus Center may be able to fill some gaps in programming is nationally touring artists in dance and jazz."
In addition to adjusting to a pandemic, the Marcus Center also has plans to renovate and will no longer host the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. But Ingram says the symphony's move to its own venue is a great opportunity to have a space dedicated to the symphony's needs and for the Marcus Center to bring more programs to Milwaukee.
"Now with more availability in the space that opens us up to be able to develop new relationships and partnerships, opportunities for commissioning performing artists in our space and around our space, and really build a brand at the Marcus Center that is focused on amplifying artists of color and their voices — particularly artists who are artistic leaders in their field," notes Ingram.
Ingram is also the first female president and CEO to lead the Marcus Center in its 50-year history. She looks forward to not just continuing the organization's work but building upon it.
"I would want my legacy [at] the Marcus Center [to be] really seen as the community's performing arts center," says Ingram. "So we're starting right now — we're not waiting."