Kendra Whitlock Ingram was just two weeks into her new role as president and chief executive officer of the Marcus Performing Arts Center when restrictions on public gatherings went into effect under the state’s “Safer at Home” order. The cancellation of performances throughout the spring, summer and fall, and continued capacity limits have led to a 75% decrease in revenue at the Marcus Center. Meanwhile, work is underway on a multi-phased renovation of the downtown campus, including new seating with more aisles in Uihlein Hall, a new outdoor public space and livestreaming technology in all performance venues. Whitlock Ingram recently spoke with BizTimes associate editor Lauren Anderson about the center’s recently launched $9 million fundraising campaign to help it weather the challenges of the pandemic and upgrade its facilities for when audiences return.
Reprioritizing the center’s campus master plan projects
“The redo of the seating and renovation of Uihlein Hall was something that was planned for much farther into the future. In the original plan, we envisioned that hall renovation three or four years from now. … As we talked to our resident companies and asked what are the priorities for you and your patrons, the idea of continental seating – that’s seating with no center aisle – post-COVID seemed unimaginable to a lot of us. The other piece was that a project like that takes a long time to do. It’s a five- to six-month project. So, we thought, when would we have an opportunity to even take the venue offline for that long? And here we are in a situation where the venue would be offline for that long.”
The return of live performances
“We’re actually looking at doing some physically distant events as soon as the winter. (But) the recent uptick in positive cases in our area has made us think about that. So, we’re really kind of keeping an eye on that, and probably will be making the decision a little bit closer to those performances.”
Gauging philanthropic giving
“I think donors are being pulled in a lot of different directions. They want to be sensitive to some of the social service type issues, making sure people have enough to eat and have a roof over their head. … But I feel like donors have been very supportive of arts and culture and our place in a thriving community. … Overall, the philanthropic community has been really great and I hope through the campaign we can expand our donor base as well, and really make connections with people beyond just this crisis.”
What’s next on the list of capital projects?
“We want to be thoughtful of our operating budget as well as our capital budget and we really want to think about, when looking at the next phase, where are the projects that will have the most impact right now? … We have an opportunity to look at that list of projects and say what’s the next step in broadening our community reach and ensuring we’re accessible, that there’s no barriers to entry from a physical standpoint, making it welcome?”