Five Questions: Cross-Cultured founder Katie Kruger

(Photo: Courtesy of Katie Kruger)
<p>Katie Kruger, founder of Denver&#039;s Cross-Cultured.</p>

Photo: Katie Kruger of Cross-CulturedKatie Kruger knew little about the classical ballet “Giselle” before attending the Colorado Ballet’s production in October.

Kruger says the social nature of the organization’s Center Stage program – aimed at attracting younger audiences – not only drew her to the performance but in the end also enhanced the entire experience for her.

“It was particularly beautiful, and I learned a lot,” Kruger says. “Having a discourse about art and culture with my peers helps me to feel more engaged.”

The Denver transplant is no stranger to exposing younger people to the city’s cultural offerings. Kruger also serves as board co-chair for the Denver Art Museum’s own young professionals group called CultureHaus.

Now she is spearheading an expanded effort known as Cross-Cultured, a pilot program that gives members who pay a $30 annual fee discounted admission to performances and access to special events hosted by at least 10 cultural institutions. The list includes the Colorado Symphony, Denver Film Society and the Cherry Creek Arts Festival.

While the Crossed-Cultured calendar of events begins July 1, the group will host a launch party at DADA Art Bar on Thursday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

CPR caught up with Kruger in advance of the event.

CPR: How did you come up with the concept for Cross-Cultured? Are there similar organizations in other cities?

Katie Kruger: CultureHaus is one of the oldest existing groups that targets young professionals among the city’s cultural institutions. Many other cultural organizations in Denver are adopting similar models, so they were looking for guidance. PJ Hoberman, co-founder of the Denver Passport, reached out about doing something similar to their program and two-for-one model, but with an event focus. In November, I sent out an email inviting eight organizations to partner, and we’ve grown since then. We had this idea about creating a pass, but other groups wanted to just do events. So we asked: what should this collaboration look like? Cross-Cultured, in its current form, is the result of all those conversations. There are a couple things similar in other places like Arizona and Cleveland. And Philadelphia has Open Arts Philly, but that’s aimed at students, so it’s a different demographic. Denver also has the Mile High Culture Pass, but that is tourist focused. We wanted to differentiate our program by making it more resident focused and by offering an exclusive experience that’s really tailored to the young professionals demographic.

CPR: What do you intend for Cross-Cultured to accomplish?

Katie Kruger: I think there is a huge group of young professionals in Denver that don’t even know these opportunities exist. It’s not just to stir the pot among people who are already aware of us; it’s also a question of how we use our collective voice as megaphone to reach a broader audience. These are people that might be interested in the arts and who are young and culturally curious. We have a goal of demystifying what our cultural institutions have to offer, by offering a "buffet" or "appetizer platter" of what’s available. But we also want to provide a deeper level of engagement, experience and participation. The calendar concept is the tactic we’re using to drive patronage and facilitate their inclusion. Each organization has offered between one to three events. There are 24 offerings on the calendar and more could be added. Some events are free, others have variable pricing. It’s a different model with ticket bundling, event attendance and other offerings built-in. My hope is to get 2,000 people involved and to convert many into longtime supporters who will continue to be engaged culturally with the city as a whole.

CPR: How did you select your 10 cultural partners? Did you target smaller organizations and institutions?

Katie Kruger: A lot of it had to do with whom we know and who has a young professionals group. These events are already happening, so this is a way to spread the word a little more. We’re still learning about who is developing their own content that may be an appropriate fit. This is a pilot program that has never been done before, and we don’t know what kind of response we’re going to get, both on organizational side and the audience side. We’ve set a pretty ambitious sales goal, and we want to make sure our institutions can host and deliver content for large groups of people. We don’t want an event to become inaccessible because of capacity. We are always looking for feedback. Maybe after our pilot, our audience will say they also want smaller organizations and more intimate gatherings.

CPR: Why target young professionals? Can people of any age participate?

Katie Kruger: Institutions feel it’s important because the money that supports their programs comes from individual giving and corporate giving of an older and aging demographic. So it’s about sowing the seeds within our cultural landscape to cultivate the next generation of supporters. Cross-Cultured is not an umbrella organization that was conceived to target young professionals; it’s a stage whereby cultural institutions with young professionals groups can spotlight themselves. Denver is one of the best cities in the country for young professionals. People are coming to Colorado and looking for places to enrich their lives. I also think we have an overreliance on our outdoor culture. And there’s more to our city than how close of a drive is it to Vail. And I think a lot of people want to know about that. At the same time, anybody who’s passionate about the arts and wants to know about the city should join us.

CPR: What do you hope to see happen with Cross-Cultured in the future?

Katie Kruger: We’re really trying to manage our own expectations. After we’ve completed our first pilot, we will have some serious conversations about how it went and what we want to see for the future. We have submitted a grant application to the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, a Denver-based funder of the arts, for our second year. We want to grow to include more events and organizations, maybe some outside of the arts. A lot of people are surprised this came from the organizations and not the City. They are supporting us wholeheartedly, but this is our creation. It’s a committee full of volunteers making decisions based on what’s best for our individual organizations and the entire group. I'd like to get to the point where we have 20 to 30 participating organizations with 50 events in total. Maybe this could be a national model and we’ll see Cross-Cultured in places like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The 2014 Cross-Cultured events calendar runs July 1 – October 31. The group hosts a launch party at DADA Art Bar in Denver at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 29.