Dr. Callie Johnson is the Director of Communications & Community Engagement at Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She is an award-winning marketing, communications, and nonprofit leadership executive. Dr. Johnson serves in an executive role stewarding the rebranding of America’s sixth oldest art museum, which is in the process of becoming the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. She is the former Executive Vice President of Marketing for Girl Scouts of Western New York and a current member of the Forbes Communications Council, an invitation-only community for executives in communications, marketing, and public relations. She is the winner of two Buffalo Business First awards—40 Under 40 and 30 Under 30 —for making a difference both on the job and in the community. She is a Buffalo-Niagara 360 Spotlight Professional for her career success and her commitment to strengthening the Buffalo Niagara region. She was awarded three Girl Scouts of Western New York Finance Certificates of Accomplishment and a Commitment to Excellence Award. We spoke with Dr. Johnson about her career journey, lessons learned from her previous jobs, and what makes her excited about her role at the AKG Art Museum.
Dr. Callie Johnson volunteering at Buffalo Promise Neighborhood reading to students
Can you tell us more about your career path? What was your journey to your current position at the Albright-Knox?
My journey to the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, was a welcome surprise given that I had been in my former marketing executive role for several years. I began my career in product and advertising sales and shifted to the nonprofit sector. I have spentmore than 15-years as a marketing communications servant leader in multiple areas, including human services, education, the arts, and practically everything in between. I always want the work that I’m a part of to serve as a catalyst for greater positive changes in the lives of people, society, and the world.
What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful in your role now?
Being a mentor and a mentee throughout my career have been excellent ways to both gain valuable lessons from peers or other more seasoned professionals and to pay it forward. I always like to keep building my skill toolkit along the way with the important lessons that I learn from either a process or an interaction. It’s the collection of these lessons and skills that helps to make me a stronger and more effective professional.
What are some of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What do you get excited about in your role as the Director of Communications & Community Engagement?
My biggest motivation and excitement are around knowing that I’ve joined the Buffalo AKG at a historic time, during the rebranding and expansion of the campus. I’m extremely excited about having the Communications and Community Engagement areas under one umbrella to work in tandem and help broaden our visitation, membership, and inclusivity as an institution. We are engaged in extensive groundwork by being out in the community, building new relationships, and strengthening existing relationships that we have treasured for years. We are also using marketing communications mediums as tools to communicate the evolution of the museum and its many offerings.
Albright-Knox is undergoing a massive transformation. From your expertise in community engagement, public relations, and communications, what are some of your goals/strategies for keeping the community informed of this process and how will these goals change when the museum opens?
In order to ensure everyone in our community is aware of the construction and opening of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, we have embarked upon a strategic communications and marketing campaign that represents the most substantial public outreach in the museum’s history. Through owned, earned, and paid media, we are working hard to speak directly to everyone in our community and around the world. At the same time, we are also pursuing extensive community engagement in a way that dovetails with our communications efforts. It is essential that we communicate clearly and consistently both with the thousands of individuals and families who already know and love the museum and with countless others to whom we are introducing ourselves for the first time.
Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?
My 18-year-old self had a fierce determination to be successful. I know at that age, I never would’ve imagined that I would earn a PhD, so that would be a huge shocker moment for 18-year-old Callie.
Can you tell us about where you grew up? (school, family, hometown, etc.) What was it like growing up there?
I grew up on the east side of the great city of Buffalo, NY. The area on the east side where I grew up was challenging, but there was always a steady supply of faith, love, and laughs. I am one of five children and very proud to be a first-generation college graduate.
Since you started last July, are there any particular memories that stand out to you? Any favorite moments while on the job? Is there an achievement that you are most proud of?
I would say that a favorite moment is completing my first year on the job at the Buffalo AKG and successfully transitioning our Publications and Digital Experience Department such that it is now under the umbrella of Communications and Community Engagement. Starting a new role is seldom easy—in fact it can be very scary—and I am proud that I continue to challenge myself in this new space and work through the growing pains to lead my team, be a good colleague, and help us reach our institutional goals. Even though there is a lot more work to be done, I’m proud that we are being more intentional and moving in the right direction to start reaching the communities who have not traditionally visited the museum in the past.
For fun, you have an entire museum to yourself. What do you do?
True to my job, I would have a big community day and activate the whole campus indoors and outdoors with fun activities for 24 hours. I would have six, four-hour blocks of time filled with different amazing and awe-inspiring experiences for people of all ages and abilities.