Amidst the familiar smell of fresh popcorn and a lineup of independent films to check out, Cinemapolis audiences will find a new face greeting them inside the theater. With her diverse background working in arts, education and the nonprofit world, Ithaca local Kate Donohue is the latest executive director at Cinemapolis.
“I applied to the job thinking, you know, I’m not 100% sure if this is the right fit for me, but I’ll give it a shot,” Donohue said. “I got to know more about the community that surrounds Cinemapolis. It became really exciting that I might have the opportunity to become a part of it.”
Donohue, 41, graduated from Penn State University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 with a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. Her experience and expertise are mainly in grant writing, strategic planning and project management. She previously worked as an adjunct instructor and grant project manager at Tompkins Cortland Community College from 2017 to 2021, and also freelanced as an educational and nonprofit consultant from 2016 to 2023.
Donohue is aware that she doesn’t have an extensive background in film. But she has a deep interest in helping connect people to great art and fostering the communities that surround them.
“I think that my style of leadership has a lot to do with processing feedback from other people,” Donohue said. “And trying to think about how I can help the people I work with to allow their own talents and interests to shine within this environment.”
Sue Perlgut, co-chair of the Cinemapolis Board of Directors, co-chaired the search committee for the new executive director. She felt Donohue was the best fit for the job, noting her ability to problem-solve and collaborate with people she’d previously never met.
“It’s terrific to see how she’s handling everything that’s been thrown her way,” Perlgut said. “And trust me, there’s been a lot.”
Donohue believes that celebrating and enjoying creativity with other people is a major part of what makes people happy. Long before entering the independent film scene at Cinemapolis, she’s always loved telling stories and putting on plays. She recalls how people were angry at her for being a perfectionist as a child.
“With our neighborhood plays, I would say, ‘We need to rehearse more,’” Donohue said. “It’s an absurd memory from my childhood, but it was sort of revealing about how I think about the world. It was really important to tell a good story and put on a show.”
Her family emphasized the value of contributing to one’s community.
“I held on to that,” Donohue said. “I’m very grateful I was taught that at a young age.”
Having moved from New York City to Ithaca in 2016, Donohue was excited to discover that she could walk to see movies downtown. She fondly remembers seeing Marcel the Shell with Shoes On with her family at Cinemapolis.
“I loved that so much because it’s such a patient movie,” Donohue said.
After officially stepping into her new role in January, Donohue implemented Masked Tuesdays to increase accessibility and help welcome people back to the movies. She never wants to feel like she’s leaving anyone out.
“I do have a lot of empathy for people who feel most comfortable going to a public event that is fully masked,” Donohue said. “I think we have to be cognizant that people have very different experiences in this process.”
Donohue says being a parent to a 6-year-old daughter during the difficult years of the pandemic helped shape her perspective.
“I feel extremely grateful for the light and joy my child has brought to me,” Donohue said. “Those feelings were intensified by living through COVID.”
Outside of her time working at the theater, Donohue writes poetry and teaches yoga. She has had poems published in American Chordata and Gettysburg Review, as well as having a collection of poems What do you do? published in 2018.
Perlgut said that Donohue’s writing stands out to her, noting how, “She’ll write a letter and I’ll think, ‘Wow, I couldn’t have done that.’”
On top of being a writer, Donohue is grateful to be able to continue teaching yoga even after taking the job at Cinemapolis. She currently teaches at Light Blossom Studio.
“Teaching yoga is sort of a guarantee that I’m still going to do it,” Donohue said. “I need yoga, meditation and exercise to be able to be good at the other things I do. That’s really important to me.”
Brett Bossard, former executive director of Cinemapolis and current executive director of alumni and family engagement at Ithaca College, is looking forward to seeing where Donohue takes Cinemapolis.
“I think she has a great perspective when it comes to the role of the theater as a connection point for a variety of audiences and potential community partners,” Bossard said. “She’s very excited to continue using the theater as a place where the art of film can be used to help improve conditions, both in our community and the wider world.”
Donohue is aware how tough it can be to get a film made. She wants to support efforts for artists to connect their memorable and challenging work with appreciative audiences.
“I really love when people work together to create something new,” Donohue said. “And that brought me to the nonprofit world. I also really love the experience of seeing the world changed by a great story or piece of visual art, and how those transformations can happen in unexpected ways.”
Matt Minton is a junior Writing for Film, Television and Emerging Media major who you can spot watching the newest films at Cinemapolis every weekend. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Julia Young.