Kendra Whitlock Ingram’s quest to take the arts administration world by storm began on a college campus in Pittsburgh.
The Scranton, Pa., native got her bachelor’s degree in music education from Duquesne University before earning a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Ingram’s first internship as a Duquesne undergraduate was with the Pittsburgh Opera, and attending all kinds of performances at venues around the city gave her a deeper appreciation of how ingrained the arts were in Pittsburgh’s cultural identity.
Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced that Ingram will soon be returning to the Steel City as the nonprofit arts organization’s new president and CEO. She’ll be stepping into roles that were previously held by Kevin McMahon, who earlier this year announced his intention to retire in January after 20 years at the Cultural Trust’s helm.
Ingram will begin her tenure as Cultural Trust president and CEO on Feb. 1. She will be the second woman and first BIPOC individual to lead the Cultural Trust since its founding in 1984.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be coming back to a great city and one of the strongest cultural districts and communities in the country,” Ingram told the Union Progress in a Wednesday Zoom interview.
She will be heading back to Pittsburgh after serving as president and CEO of the Marcus Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee. Her 20 years of arts management experience also included stops at the University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, Omaha Performing Arts Center, Shenandoah Conservatory, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and Tulsa Philharmonic.
“Kendra’s boundless enthusiasm and breadth of experience managing a broad range of art forms have made her the No. 1 choice to lead the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at this important time in its history,” Cultural Trust board chair Richard Harshman said in a statement. “There are so many exciting Trust projects launching now and on the horizon for which she is uniquely suited.”
There’s very little Ingram loves more than going to shows and getting “as many people as I can to experience this.” Her professional life has been dedicated to increasing access to the type of performances local arts groups regularly bring to town, which is also more or less “why organizations like the Cultural Trust exist” in the first place, she said.
Two of her biggest takeaways from being immersed in various arts scenes nationwide are the importance of providing an abundance of “community-centered” programming and making sure patrons always feel “welcomed and included” in any art-oriented space.
The Cultural Trust’s dedication to inclusion and community connections helped entice her into taking on these high-profile roles. As a biracial woman, she knows exactly how valuable it is to foster a creative environment full of diverse entertainers and entertainment purveyors.
“It’s important for people to be able to see themselves in every part of your organization, whether it’s the CEO or artists on stage,” she said. “It all means a lot. I want people to be able to see people of color and women in these top jobs.”
Even after Ingram left Pittsburgh, she never stopped hearing about all the nationally recognized theaters here and how crucial the Cultural Trust was to the city’s arts ecosystem. She mentioned that many touring productions would skip Pittsburgh entirely if it wasn’t for the Cultural Trust ensuring they set up shop at the Benedum Center, Heinz Hall or any other Trust-run venue.
Ingram is also keenly aware of the ongoing conversations that have sprung up over the past few years about safety throughout Downtown Pittsburgh — including in the Cultural District.
“I think it’s something that the Trust has really invested in [and] people are feeling safe and confident coming Downtown,” she said. “I feel confident that it’s something we’ll be able to continue to improve and that people should feel confident coming to all the venues in the Cultural District.”
Once Ingram gets started in February, she plans to quickly start exploring how to attract more “immersive experiences” to Cultural Trust venues. She knows McMahon’s shoes won’t be easy to fill, but her plan is to forge her own path forward “and probably pick his brain on occasion” as well.
Most of all, Ingram is thrilled to be “spreading the joy” of theater, music and much more in the city that helped mold her into the arts administrator she is today.
As she put it: “I’m really, really excited to be coming back to Pittsburgh with this great organization.”