Geva Theatre Center recently honored Debora McDell-Hernandez for her contribution to diversity in the community and in the arts with the Essie Calhoun Diversity in the Arts Award at a performance of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
“This unique award personifies its namesake, Essie Calhoun-McDavid,” said Mark Cuddy, artistic director at Geva Theatre Center. “Each year we are honored to present it to someone who has made a significant contribution in our community to engaging diverse participants in the arts, and Debora has done that. Her work at the Memorial Art Gallery is outstanding, and we are proud to present this award to someone in the visual arts for the first time.”
McDell-Hernandez, of Rochester, has over 20 years of professional and volunteer experience supporting initiatives in education, arts and human services. She currently serves as curator of engagement at MAG, where she assists with the creation of innovative programs to deepen the participation of diverse audiences in museum activities and increase the community’s appreciation of art.
She manages programs that appeal to existing, underrepresented and underserved audiences. These programs include Family Days, MAGconnect, Hidden Passions and artist talks. She also develops affinity programs that appeal to millennials and Gen Xers to attract new audiences and generate revenue.
McDell-Hernandez started her career at Memorial Art Gallery in 2001 as membership manager. She implemented strategies to increase member acquisition and retention and encouraged increased giving among members. She was later hired in MAG’s education department as coordinator of community programs and outreach to develop programs to extend MAG’s mission of connecting people to art through programming, collaborations and cultural diversity initiatives.
McDell-Hernandez worked at Chase Manhattan Bank for nine years before working at MAG. While at Chase, she worked in corporate communications to enhance the corporation’s image through initiatives in philanthropy, volunteerism, employee recognition and customer entertainment. She later worked in retail sales to expand banking relationships through the sale of personal products and services to existing corporate customers and their base of employees.
She holds an Master of Science in human development with a concentration in family studies and a Bachelor of Science in international studies. She is a 2015 graduate of the Leadership Coaching Certification program sponsored by UR’s Warner School and McArdle Burkhardt.
McDell-Hernandez said her higher education and community volunteerism equipped her with an enhanced understanding of the impact that race, culture, age, gender and socioeconomics can have on individual perspectives.
The award was created in 2011 in honor of Essie Calhoun-McDavid to honor a person or organization that promotes and encourages diversity in the arts. The physical award, a multicolored pyramid of glass, was designed by local artist Nancy Gong.