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Nonprofit Coffee Break: Bess Wallerstein Huff

Nonprofit Coffee Break: Bess Wallerstein Huff



In the Nonprofit Coffee Break video series, Nonprofit Connect sits down with a different nonprofit leader each month to chat about leadership, learning, and life over a cup of coffee. Tune in to each episode to learn from these leaders' experiences and challenges and help us highlight our sector as an important and vibrant part of our city.

Nonprofit Coffee Break is presented by FROST Media Group.

This month, we sit down with Bess Wallerstein Huff, Director of Marketing and Community Outreach for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

In one sentence, please describe who you are and what you do.
I have nearly 20 years of experience in the performing arts industry as an arts administrator, artist, and entrepreneur. I currently oversee the communications, media relations, institutional and programmatic marketing, and outreach programs for the Kauffman Center.
 
How did you get started working in the nonprofit sector?
I started my career as a Presentation Manager with the Kansas City-based organization Theater League, Inc. I worked on the production team that presented touring Broadway performances in performing arts venues across the country. I learned a tremendous amount about the business side of the performing arts specifically producing, and presenting big Broadway shows to various venues across the country. My job allowed me to travel across the country from the coast of California to Greensboro North Carolina connecting performances to audiences. It was a big responsibility for someone fresh out of college, but the experience and education were invaluable.
 
On what day did you feel proudest of your work?
I have had so many memorable days, it is hard to pick just one. But, overall – I am most proud when a performance, festival, or community event brings people together. An audience laughing and applauding is the greatest sound to my ears. Seeing a student matinee audience dancing and singing along during a performance by hip-hop duo Black Violin is electric. Also, seeing over 15,000 attendees celebrate the Kauffman Center’s 5th Anniversary across the venue’s campus is exhilarating – I love when the Kauffman Center is most active with performance activity and visitors. I am most proud and energized when a live arts event is being enjoyed and am grateful for each opportunity to be a part of what makes Kansas City a rich home of cultural experiences.
 
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
The Kauffman Center’s mission is to bring extraordinary performing arts experiences to everyone – which involves a tremendous amount of community outreach efforts. My team is constantly working on projects and initiatives that allow us to invite more of the community to the Kauffman Center. We can always do more of this work, and the biggest challenge is not reaching everyone at once, but instead recognizing the positive impact this work reaps over time. We proactively engage with so many subsets of the community from students to young professionals, community organizations, educators, and audiences – there is always an opportunity to connect with more people.
 
What is a trend you see in the nonprofit community that excites you, or concerns you, and why?
I am seeing more cross-collaboration between nonprofits, and that is extremely exciting. Collaboration brings new ideas, initiatives, programs and ultimately, serves the community more holistically. Plus, nonprofits are frequently managing limited internal resources, and collaboration can be a great way to bring professional development opportunities for staff members – as there is always learning to gain from others. I am inspired by what other nonprofits are doing and value the shared knowledge, expertise, and experience that other nonprofits bring to the table.
 
What is your advice for a new nonprofit professional?
Do not be afraid to initiate a conversation or ask a question. I have found that the generosity of professionals in the non-profit sector knows no limits - especially in our community. I would encourage any emerging nonprofit leader to be proactive in their career to speak up and volunteer to take on projects that excite them or simply ask a leader that inspires you for a coffee meeting. Being curious about your work and the industry will help reveal more opportunities, and you never know where those could lead. Do not wait for a chance to come to you, you must seize it!
 
What is your favorite place in Kansas City to grab a drink (coffee or cocktail)?
The pandemic has paused my ‘grabbing a drink’ anywhere but my own kitchen. During the past year, I have enjoyed getting coffee shipped from Oddly Correct – I am a decaf coffee drinker, and they have the best. For a cocktail, I recommend The Ship. I am looking forward to traveling, so having a drink while feeling at sea sounds ideal.
 
What is your favorite Nonprofit Connect resource?
Nonprofit Connect is such a valuable connector for the community. I try to attend in-person events when I can because of the great information shared, the networking, and topic discussions. I frequently refer emerging leaders and seasoned professionals looking to pivot their careers into the nonprofit sector to Nonprofit Connect. It is an incredible resource for anyone who is looking for jobs, board positions, volunteer positions, training, or resources for starting a nonprofit. Overall, the great content and connection that Nonprofit Connect provides are what I value most.
 
What is your call to action for the viewers?
Please support live arts. The performing arts industry has struggled over the past year due to Covid-19. This prolonged intermission has greatly impacted the health and economics of artists and arts organizations. When it is safe to do so, please make it a priority to buy a ticket and see a performance. The live arts community needs audiences, patrons, donors, volunteers – I would encourage anyone to find a way to support the performing arts by sharing their time, treasure, or talent.

Connect with Bess
Nonprofit Coffee Break is presented by:
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