Diane Fridley Norman, ad account executive and arts advocate, dies at 71

Jeffrey Meitrodt, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Though she rarely acted on stage after college, Diane Fridley Norman always knew how to put on a show.

Whether she was pitching a new advertising account or trying to bring a touring Guthrie production to a small town, Norman always made sure she left a lasting impression with her audience.

"Diane never went down the middle," said Chuck Kelly, Norman's longtime boss at Kerker Inc., a Minneapolis advertising agency now known as Preston Kelly. "She knew you had to make a statement in a way that was memorable. And Diane could be memorable."

Norman died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on Feb. 4. She was 71.

One of six children, Norman grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind. Her childhood nickname was "Tooie," after a puppet on Kukla, Fran and Ollie, an early children's television show. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in theater from Purdue University in 1967.

After moving to the Twin Cities, she founded D.F. Norman & Associates in 1979. She worked with some of the most prominent arts organizations in the Twin Cities, including the Guthrie Theater, COMPAS and the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

In the early 1980s, when the Guthrie was trying to expand its touring schedule, Norman was tapped to develop a network of volunteers in three small Midwestern communities to bring "The Rainmaker" to town.

"These folks had never taken on anything of this scale or size, but Diane made it sound as simple as pie," recalled Christine Tschida, who coordinated the Guthrie's touring schedule at the time. "She charmed everyone."

A few years later, Norman joined the board of Artspace, which was then a modest advocacy organization that helped struggling artists find temporary studios. Norman and another board member, Catherine Jordan, persuaded the group to think bigger and plunge into the uncertain world of real estate development. Though its first five grant requests were rejected, Artspace eventually raised $5.2 million for its first artists' cooperative in St. Paul, which opened in 1990. Artspace now owns 52 properties in 24 states, providing homes for more than 2,500 artists.

"Artspace would not be what it is without Diane Norman's vision and drive," said Artspace President Kelley Lindquist, who joined the nonprofit organization in 1987 when he was the sole employee. "It has grown into a huge national organization, but it all started because of her."

In 1987, Norman joined the Kerker agency, where she became known for combining smart strategic thinking with clever theatrics in her client pitches. To win the business of a company that makes fishing lures, Norman assembled eight fishing boats, which she placed in a pond below her firm's sixth-floor window. When the client looked out the window, he saw a fleet of fishermen using his tackle, while assistants held up Burma Shave-style signs that told a short story about why Kerker should win the account.

To get the attention of Italian restaurant chain Buca di Beppo, Norman delivered the firm's pitch in the mouth of a suckling pig, which was hauled to the firm's offices in a little red wagon. "They thought it was fun," Kelly said. "They said, 'These are the kind of people we want to work with. They can express their creativity.' "

Norman loved traveling, including annual trips to New York with daughter Amanda Norman Hundley. Jordan said Norman's last trip involved seeing artist David Byrne in "American Utopia." "She said I can die happy now because I've seen David Byrne live," Jordan said.

In addition to Hundley, Norman is survived by daughter Jenny M.O. Norman and son Zachary W.F. Norman. A celebration of her life will be held this summer.

Jeff Meitrodt • 612-673-4132