Unveiling the Journey: From Passion to Profession in Arts Management, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing

In a candid exploration of personal inspiration and professional evolution, Ryan Gates, a faculty member in the Arts Leadership and Managment (MAALM) program at WSU, shares his journey from familial roots steeped in entrepreneurialism and artistic passion to his status as a leader in his field.Through experiences ranging from his father's corporate success to his ventures in filmmaking and marketing, Gates exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between creativity and commerce. His involvement with PANO Marketing and Wichita State University underscores his commitment to innovation, education, and community empowerment. As an educator and mentor, Gates's profound impact on students and colleagues resonates through his unwavering dedication to fostering critical thinking, professional development, and pursuing excellence in the arts.


Currently, I have had three students work for me professionally after they graduated. Two of them work for me currently. Working with them is the highlight of my career.
Ryan Gates


What inspired you to pursue a career in Arts Management, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing?


My father is a business entrepreneur and marketer, while my mother is an arts entrepreneur and advocate…it was inevitable that entrepreneurship, the arts, and business would be part of my life, being surrounded by so much talent growing up. From an early age, my father (Bud) was my business hero — watching him climb the corporate ladder at Pizza Hut and Rent-a-Center and through his own independent dealings. Meanwhile, my mother (Toni) was my artistic hero — including me in the plays she wrote and directed, supporting me in the arts and challenging me to exploit my own unique talents. My older sister (Lindsey) also really paved the way for me to succeed! She is the most talented actress I have ever seen on stage and someone I have always looked up to.

In my younger life, I wanted to be an actor…just like my big sister. But I soon found the world of film, and it was like everything clicked! I went to Sarah Lawrence College for film & writing, where I developed and sold my first TV show. In my 20s, I moved from the world of directing to producing, where I fell in love with the business side of the arts. My passion for creativity, married with my love of logistics, turned me to marketing as a form of storytelling that exercised all the creative muscles in my brain. It provided me an avenue to exploit all the things that make me happy.

My final hero (so far in this journey) is my wife, Kate Van Steenhuyse. Everything I know about Arts Management I learned from her…and I’m still learning. We co-founded Harvester Arts together with our dearest friend, Kristin Beal. Harvester provided so much insight into the world of arts management, and being able to work alongside two of the greatest art organization managers in the country is an educational experience of its own.

The day I stop learning is the day I die. I never thought I’d work in marketing! I never thought I’d move back to Wichita, KS! I never thought I’d be a teacher! But here I am…and I LOVE what I do, where I live, and who I get to go on this journey with.


Can you share a memorable teaching moment or experience that significantly impacted one or more students?


I’m reaching that phase of teaching where I have had close to 1,000 students I’ve worked with…and I’m still really early to the craft. I can remember students from the very first class I ever taught (I was not good) and every semester since. I remember the ones who struggled. I remember the ones who excelled. I remember the ones who drove me nuts! I remember the ones I wish I could teach again. I LOVE teaching. It brings me so much joy. If I had to pick something out of all of that…I think the students who struggled stood out to me the most. I believe in meeting students where they are, so I probably forged my deepest relationships with those who might not have passed a class had we not found a way to teach/learn in a way that worked for them. I strive to be the teacher who listens, the teacher who makes something “boring” fun, and the teacher who seeks to develop each student’s unique skills and traits.

One of my students was interviewed by WSU after they graduated and asked, “What has been your most helpful learning experience at Wichita State?” They responded by saying, “A course I’d like to highlight is Professional Practices in Business Development with Ryan Gates that I was required to take. The course was quite difficult, and almost every student struggled, but I found the class to be extremely valuable as it made students critically think and plan for their future careers.” Every teacher’s dream is to hear that something you did positively influenced someone’s life in some small way. Sometimes, something we do has a positive influence despite the student hating you or your class…and that’s okay, too.

Currently, I have had three students work for me professionally after they graduated. Two of them work for me currently. Working with them is the highlight of my career. As we ascend the mountain, we must realize that we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before. It is now our job to let others stand on our shoulders and rise to meet their goals. Seeing previous students come to the office each day and wow me is everything. The mentorship continues…and now I am learning from them.


How do you manage to stay current in your rapidly evolving field and then bring that knowledge into the classroom?


Here’s the dirty little secret: Teaching makes me better at my job.

If I teach something, I better be practicing it as well…right? So I do (or have done) everything I teach. That causes me to have to evolve as my industry changes, which in turn causes me to update what I teach. This cycle happens every semester!

Teaching makes me better in business. Business makes me better at teaching. A true win/win!


What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in Arts Leadership, specifically Marketing?


Get an MA in Arts Leadership & Management from Wichita State University and take my course! Haha…but seriously, it’s a great program.

Marketing itself is an art. An education in the arts is an education in critical thinking and creative problem-solving, so if you have experience in the arts, you probably already have an amazing foundation for marketing. Marketing for arts organizations is a unique beast because we are not selling a product…we’re selling the experience with the product. This is great because we are living in an experience economy more and more.

Learning about Arts Marketing will make you a better leader in the arts, especially if what you are working on is a commoditized art. The main issues we tend to face are attracting an audience, creating engagement, and fostering unique experiences. Well, my friend…that is Marketing 101.


Outside of teaching and creative research, what hobbies or activities do you enjoy?


I play tennis, pickleball, and golf whenever I can. I play and record music, in fact I have a Christmas song that plays on the radio each year (“Christmas in Kansas”). I love LEGO and have quite the growing collection at my office and home. I’m a die-hard WSU Basketball fan and KC Chiefs fan. I love to travel, especially road trips with my family, and I go home to Upstate NY with them every summer. I love finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants, drinking fine wine, and collecting rare whiskeys/bourbons. Mostly, I like spending time with my family. My wife is my best friend and we have an 11-year old and 13-year old that are delightful to hang out with. Life is better when you can share it with people, so I just like to find things to do with my friends and family.


What do you want the public to know about your work at PANO, WSU, and in the non-profit sector? 


PANO Marketing is a pretty cool concept…and an interesting business model. I went back to school at the end of my 30’s and got an Executive MBA. I knew finance was my weakest skill, so I bit the bullet and dug in. For my capstone project, I proposed a startup process for a business that could be done with zero debt. My teacher praised it and said I should do it. So when I sold my previous business venture…I did just that. Four years later, PANO has exceeded the business plan and continues to grow (debt free). Why? I wish I could tell you it was because of some brilliant thing I invented…but it isn’t. It’s the amalgamation of everything I’ve learned over the years, the good and the bad. That, and a really niche market.

PANO Marketing provides outsourced marketing department services with a focus on serving nonprofit healthcare, the arts, and government agencies. Long-term contracts? I don’t do them. You should work with us because you want to, and we are getting you results. Proprietary information? Don’t have any. Everything we do is transparent because it’s your marketing we’re helping execute.

Gotta be careful with this question, I’m a marketer…I’m starting to do a pitch!

I’ll wrap up by talking about WSU. I did not go to WSU. I went to Sarah Lawrence College. My connection to WSU was always the basketball team since my dad started taking me in the early 80’s. However, I’m all in on WSU as a whole now. Having lived in Wichita for 14 years now as an adult, I’ve been amazed by everything this school does and how it constantly is seeking to meet students where they are. When Justin Rorabaugh asked me to teach undergrad at the School of Digital Arts, it was a life-changing event. I was not prepared for how much I was going to love teaching! Much of the success of PANO Marketing also comes from Justin’s willingness to give us access to Shocker Studios as a resource. When Andréa Banke asked me to teach on the graduate side, I was so incredibly humbled. I get to do what I love! And I get to do it at an institution that has accepted me with open arms and made me one of their own. I wish I had a degree from Wichita State. Well…I’m only 44…there’s still time.

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