President & CEO, Walker International Communications Group Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Donna Walker-Kuhne (pronounced Kew-n), president and CEO of Walker International Communications Group Inc., wanted to be a ballerina after she saw a performance by Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet. She joined an African-American dance company and worked with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Over the 20 years that she danced, played the piano, modeled, earned a bachelor’s at Loyola University in Chicago and a law degree at Howard University, she knew she belonged in the arts but did not know where. “I felt that another component of the business side of the arts and culture was missing. I realized I didn’t know of any artists who were living comfortably from the proceeds of their work and this was the genesis of my looking beyond the stage,” she says.
Walker-Kuhne and a business partner began to represent such Broadway productions as Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, Whoopi Goldberg in the 2003 production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Hairspray. Today, Walker-Kuhne is a top arts administrator specializing in marketing and audience development. She feels compelled to deliver excellence in every aspect of her work because, as an African-American, she knows she is judged by a different standard, even among Black people, she says. “I believe in protecting the integrity of the art. Sometimes we have crazy clients, but the art deserves the best presentation possible to connect with an audience, despite the packaging it comes to us in. Also, it’s about leading with the heart, with passion and love for the performing and visual arts,” she says.
None of her passions, however, compares to her commitment to her adopted daughter, Theresia, Walker-Kuhne says. A Buddhist, she also is genuinely committed to doing her part to achieve world peace, she says.
Walker-Kuhne lectures at Columbia University, New York University and Brooklyn College and later this month will speak at the University
of Berlin, Germany, on audience development in the United States.