Kimberly Drew is wholeheartedly committed to black art. And she doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.
The 28-year-old officially embarked on this mission as an art history major at Smith College when she did an internship at The Studio Museum in Harlem and went on to create the Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art in 2011. Through her blog, she began curating various works from black artists, both well-known and lesser-known, and educating her followers on the expansiveness of black art.
After spending three years as the social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Drew has become a freelancer to shift her focus to her writing. Her current project is The Black Futures Project, an anthology about what it means to be black and alive in the digital age that she is editing with Jenna Wortham of The New York Times. Meanwhile, she’s continuing her ongoing efforts to make art more accessible and expansive for black folks, though she realizes she may not see the fruits of that work in her lifetime. But that didn’t stop her ancestors, so that damn sure isn’t going to stop her pursuit.
For “We Built This,” Drew discusses inaccessibility for black people in the art space, expanding opportunities for us and her forthcoming anthology, The Black Futures Project.
What have you built?
I have built, kinda surprisingly, a few things. It’s interesting to think about it in the context of especially building, but I have built many opportunities for people to learn more about black art and black artists. That I know for sure. I have built the possibility that people can [have] more imagination around what black people do in creative fields. And I think in some ways, I built more possibilities for young black women to imagine themselves in creative fields.
What was your first introduction into art?
My first introduction ― there’s many ways I would say that I got introduced to art at a young age. I think for many of us, there’s so many opportunities to get exposed to art if we are in a position to be able to recognize them as such. I think from my upbringing, I was really lucky to be a part of a family that really loved art and culture. And so, I could recognize these, architecture, or items that I collected as things of value. But I would say, throughout my adolescence, I was exposed to art and museums and things that my family and I would collect and really revere as powerful objects.
What made you fall in love with black art?
I would say that more than fall in love with, I committed myself to black art probably like 10ish years ago really specifically. Because I kinda developed this romance with awareness around it. It wasn’t like a specific object that did it. What I really have always been invested in is that people know much more about black art and black artists. I didn’t wanna say like, “Oh. This is the one to know.” Or, “Oh. You know.” Trying to direct people in any way. I just wanted to really be aware of how many of us there are that are making work. So that when time looks back, that no one says we weren’t. Like that’s always been my guiding force. That no one could ever say that a black art history doesn’t exist.
Where do you find inspiration when you are creating your art and when you are writing?
Inspiration is a hard one, ’cause I wouldn’t consider myself as a person who, like, the spark goes off and then I hit the ground running. I think, as a writer, what inspires me the most is when I fall in love with an idea. It’s like, if I can be in a position where I’m so comfortable, or so bored that I think that the thing that I think is important enough to share, I run with it. I always wanted to be a person who would write at 5 a.m. or whatever. But, sometimes you’re on a plane, and you have to just whip the notes tab out and get that idea down, because you’ve thought it, rethought it, and it still sounds good. For me, the thing is, it’s so much more about a feeling. And when I can really be as confident, especially in trusting of myself, as possible, I try to snatch that.
Who are the black history makers who inspire you to continue to do that work?
I’m lucky because I know so many historians. I know people who quite literally wedged things into history. Which is dope. I would say the person who I’ve had so much on my mind, especially within this last week, is Lowery Stokes Sims. She was the first, I mean, she has many firsts in her list of lists. But she’s an incredibly powerful curator and motivator and support system for many people who are in the art world. She is a diva, par excellence. And a person that I wish everybody knew the name of. And I think a lot of, not to say that she needs me to shout her out, ’cause she’s poppin’. But, I think that she’s a person who, in her steadfastness and her scholarship, has really done incredible work.
Similarly, Kelly Jones is another art historian who has done incredible work wedging so many stories into history. Dr. Deb Willis ― another scholar who [has done] incredible work as an art historian. And all three of those women, I think, are educators as well. So, paying it forward. And so, I would say those are the three that come top of mind. But, there’s so many more.