This Woman’s Work: Dr. Kim Keith

Published: Wednesday 4th February 2015 7:00AM

Updated: Friday 20th February 2015 7:12AM

We talk Monday meetings, career motivators and making it to the top with some of the hardest working black women…

Dr. Kim Keith, 47, lives in Tacoma Washington D.C., with her mother and is a museum curator and academic. Currently, she is curating Staying Power at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton.

BB: Why this career path?

KK: My love of museums began when I was 6 years old and I would visit the Tacoma Art Museum, which was next door to my mom’s office.  I would go in there and stare at the paintings and wonder why there weren’t other kids in there, it was such a great place. I love working with young people, and I’ve always had an interest in craft practice, printmaking, weaving, felt making, jewellery making. I’m interested in process more so than product, and the interest in process lends itself to teaching.  So my interests and passions add up to lots of things that are relevant to museums and museum education.

BB: What makes you so passionate about developing educational programmes that appeal to such a wide range of people ?
 
KK: I grew up in a low-income area and was part of the free lunch program at school. If it hadn’t been for my mother, who was not only an excellent role model in terms of her work ethic and her outlook and values, but was always keen to get me involved with music and arts as a child, if not I could have been an at-risk youth. 

I got into some trouble at school but it didn’t lead me into juvenile detention, but it could have. So I relate to a lot of different types of people. When I did programs in juvenile detention I could relate to and empathize with the female offenders I worked with, and the same with young people living in public housing, and ethnic minorities. It’s who I am and where I come from. A wide range of people that I create programs for are really just different parts of myself, if that makes sense.  I develop programs that I would want someone to develop for me, and since I am somewhat outside of the museum’s traditional demographic that translates to programs for marginalized and diverse audiences.

CIS:E.108-2012

Normski (1966- ) Cynthia M. Prescod (Mum) at home in Primrose Hill, London, 1986, printed 2012

BB: What qualities are needed to do your job?
 
KK:  You need to be able to “keep your eyes on the prize” – hold on and stay true to your passion, while engaging in critique and dialogue about what you are doing.  Develop a thick skin – which is sometimes hard for me when the personal and the political and the passion get all caught up together.  At those times I take a deep breath, reach out to a trusted friend or colleague to talk about things and gain another point of view, and then get back to it with a fresh perspective.  Cultivate a solid group of friends and be a good friend yourself, those solid reciprocal friendships will be the roadmap for your professional relationships, and being able to give and receive support is the foundation for success.

BB: What is your typical working day like? 

KK:  I work from home so I like to get up at around 9’o’clock, I’m a late riser. I make some decaf coffee – I only drink decaf and then I check my emails on my laptop for about half an hour. I don’t often check my phone first thing, I’m not so much of a phone person, I like email, I like Skype , I like that communication. I’m not naturally a big breakfast person but I’ve tried to be a little bit healthier. Last year I started working with a nutritionist so I’ll get up and I make oatmeal for breakfast or cream of wheat. In the mornings three days a week I go to the gym, I take a Zumba class for an hour. On Mondays and Wednesdays after Zumba I do weight training for about 40 minutes and on Fridays I take Zumba and yoga. But what’s interesting is that I was just watching myself on London Live a few weeks ago and I was looking at myself like ‘Kim it doesn’t look like you’ve ever seen the inside of a gym in your life!’ – but I guess I just gotta keep working at it.

I check my correspondence and then if I’m working on a project like Staying Power I like to review my notes from the previous day. A lot of time its writing intensive: doing work for curating shows. There’s also an aspect of selecting photographs and figuring out how you’re going to lay things out in the gallery and then developing ideas for programmes that relate to the exhibition- a lot of correspondence and planning.

CIS:E.106-2013

Armet Francis, ‘Fashion Shoot, Brixton Market’, 1973. © Armet Francis/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

If I’m not curating a show or working on a project I work with PhD students electronically. I make myself available to Goldsmith’s students: sociology students and media students, they can write me if they have questions about constructing their PhD. I do some work with ESOL (English as a second language) students. Also, if they’re working with somebody who could use an extra boost or a pep talk, or someone who needs editing of their work they’ll refer them to me: we either Skype or we email back and forth and make suggestions.

Around 12:30, I have my lunch. I like making salads or soups or sandwiches it just depends on what I have got on hand. But I really like red peppers and feta so I’d make a salad with that or I really like making lentil soup and so if I make that for an evening meal I’ll have that for my lunch the next day. I might go over to my friend Amy’s, she lives three blocks away from me and we might have a lunch together, she’s a good cook.

I have my lunch while I’m still going over my notes or doing my correspondence. I do that until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then I’ll take a break. I have an English bulldog, her name is Lilly, and I’ll take her for a walk at Wright Park for about 45 minutes. I listen to a podcast called ‘This American Life’ when I walk her. We just clear the cobwebs out.

I do more of the substantial writing in the early evening because that’s when I’m most effective: between 4:30 and 8:30, writing the bulk of a piece. Then I will make an evening meal. A favourite dinner of mine would be roast chicken and mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli – I make chicken with rosemary and garlic and lemon and then I mash the sweet potato with chipotle chillies and adobo sauce so it’s like a smoky chilli sauce.

James Barnor (1929- ) Mike Eghan, Piccadilly Circus, 1967, printed 2011

James Barnor (1929- ) Mike Eghan, Piccadilly Circus, 1967, printed 2011

I volunteer at a place called Oasis in Takoma on Thursday nights and that’s a youth centre for LGBTQ youth aged 14-24 years old. We have great discussions. It’s fantastic. I am a fixed gendered heterosexual person myself, I’m not a lesbian and I’m not gay but I have lots of friends who are gay. I know that’s odd, it sounds kind of like ‘But my best friends are black’. But I love being an ally there with young people who don’t have a lot of straight allies.

After I’ve been working a lot- doing research and really tucked into academic work I like to have a little bit of escapist time. If I’m reading something interesting I’ll get tucked in to a book. I really love reading science fiction -I’m reading Pandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton who is a British sci-fi writer.  I do love Scandal but I’m like ‘What’s up with Fitz?’ She’s gotta move away from Fitz, he’s bad for her and so I get kinda angry. I talk to the TV when Scandal is on! Liking sci-fi and fantasy reading, I of course read all the Game of Thrones books and so I’ve been enjoying watching Game of Thrones. I watch a little bit of the news later in the evening, so Al-Jazeera America usually and then I like to watch the opening monologue of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I try to go to bed by midnight. But then I always take my book with me.

BB: If you weren’t in this field, what would you be doing instead?

KK: I would definitely be a recording engineer/record producer.  I love music, I love process, I love managing things, I love bringing people together – but I have very little talent when it comes to playing instruments or singing.  So definitely behind the scenes contributing to the soundtrack of our lives.

Staying Power is showing at the Black Cultural Archives until 30th June 2015

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