“It’s about telling your community’s story and making it visible”

Arts & Culture alumna Charlene Austin shares her story on her business Okra agency
Profile picture of alumna Charlene Austin during Africa day festival

Charlene graduated in 2006 from Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Arts & Culture Studies) and pursued a master in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship. Her international experience in Milan sparked curiosity and a desire for an international career. Charlene: “I discovered I wasn’t afraid of the ‘big scary world’."

Not a straightforward path

Her career took unexpected turns, starting with working as a PR Assistant at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. When she returned to the Netherlands, her path ventured into the advertising world, working for top clients such as Heineken, Albert Heijn and Adidas. Charlene, however, soon realised she was the happiest at the Arts & Design Museum. In 2018, she became Head Marketing & Communications at Soho House Amsterdam. Here she met her current business partner, Keesje Heldoorn, leading to the creation of Okra Agency.


Starting her own business was not something she had planned. Charlene: “When my friend and colleague at Soho House, Keesje, asked if I wanted to help her with a PR assignment it surprised me quite a bit, because I had never thought of starting a project with her. But Keesje knew my passion for the African diaspora artists. This gave me the courage to try entrepreneurship. Because I didn’t have to do it alone.”

Mission of Okra agency

Okra agency is an independent communications agency operating in the fields of art, design, architecture, and cultural enterprise. Charlene and Keesje use their knowledge and experience with established media to create visibility for creatives of color, who would normally not invest in that kind of exposure themselves. “Keesje and I are both POC (person of colour), so it really feels like we’re telling the story of our own community, our own people. That makes the mission of Okra agency an important one to us”, Charlene explains.

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