In 1978, Joyce Kulhawik thought she had lost her chance.
Having just quit her job as an English teacher, she had decided to audition for a new show on WBZ-TV called “Evening Magazine”-only to forget her script.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” she said. “I thought I’d blown it.”
But then producer Tom Houghton told her that she might have something that he was looking for. He told her to drop the index cards and just talk. Still, Kulhawik was certain she would never hear from him again.
Three weeks later, however, Houghton called her for lunch.
Today, Kulhawik is best known for her Emmy award-winning work on WBZ-TV, for which she was an arts and entertainment critic between 1981 and 2008. According to Kulhawik, the arts beat became very competitive when she first went on the air.
“At one time there were five or six full-time arts and entertainment reporters in town,” Kulhawik said. As in so many places, though, the arts was one of the first things to take a hit in the face of budgetary problems.
When her career on WBZ-TV came to a close, Kulhawik said that local arts coverage on television became essentially nonexistent. To those who say viewers can find arts coverage elsewhere, Kulhawik feels that they are mistaken-nothing can take the place of regular, local coverage of Boston’s arts scene. When she first went off television, local groups would still call her asking that she attend their events or new conferences just for the reassurance that there would be at least one qualified person present to ask an intelligent question.
“[The arts] should be covered by experienced, knowledgeable people who know something about the beat,” she said. “You wouldn’t put somebody who didn’t know anything about sports on the sports beat.”
After leaving television, Kulhawik knew that she needed to reformat her career in order to continue sharing her expertise, and she started saying yes to whatever she could-hosting events, moderating panel discussions, conducting interviews in front of live audiences, and writing for print news sources.
“The only thing that’s different is my format,” Kulhawik said. “I am still here. I just don’t have television-that one TV station-as my platform. Now I have many platforms.”
One of her most prominent outlets is her website joyceschoices.com, which she launched shortly after she left the air.
“I’m really pretty old school, but I’m open to everything new,” she said, adding that she is aware that online media is the means by which most people will receive their news in the future. She finds her skill set translating online rather well-though she is still working to build the kind of relationship with her online audience that she had with her television audience.
“I was always big on interacting with my audience,” Kulhawik said. Her office was instructed to respond to every piece of mail that was directed to her, and she always tried to take phone calls-even if it was to talk to an audience member that disagreed with her point of view. Kulhawik wants to enter into those conversations online, but said that the sheer number of people in the online world sometimes makes it difficult.
Kulhawik’s efforts to reformat her career, however, appear to have paid off-she seems to be absolutely everywhere. President of the Boston Theater Critics Association and a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, she will soon be live tweeting through the Academy Awards for boston.com. This Sunday, she will interview Marni Nixon, the voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, onstage at Symphony Hall before the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays the score live during a screening of the film.
“I am just very engaged in trying to use myself the best way I know how,” Kulhawik said. “I find it very satisfying to just use what I know and put it out there in the world.”
Her work is not limited to the arts, however. “Women are a subtext for everything I do,” she said, adding that the treatment of women is one of the “watershed issues of the 21st century.” Kulhawik, who is a graduate of Simmons College, will host Hillary Clinton at the Simmons Leadership Conference this spring.
A three-time cancer survivor, Kulhawik serves on the American Cancer Society’s advisory board and has helped raise millions of dollars for the society’s first “Hope Lodge” in Boston.
Currently, Kulhawik said that she is optimistic about a newfound cohesion in the city’s arts community, crediting MassCreative, an organization that works to promote the arts community, with gaining the attention of the political arena.
“Right now it feels like there is a real momentum around organizing the arts community,” she said. “This is really the first time that we’ve had that experience here.”
Kulhawik said that, though she has been offered work in cities like Los Angeles and New York, she has never considered leaving Boston. Her dream, she said, is for Boston to “be acknowledged as the global mecca for arts that it is.”
When Houghton offered Kulhawik her first television job over lunch, she was certain she would not be in it for the long haul. “I thought, ‘Well, this will last six months, and then I’ll get a real job,'” she said. “And it turned into-literally-the rest of my life. Well, almost the rest of my life. Now I’m finding out there’s a whole new chapter.”