Interview: Kimberly Drew of Black Contemporary Art

by Grace Bonney

One of my favorite parts of working on our new book this summer was being introduced to some incredible new people, publications and websites. One of my favorites is the Tumblr site, Black Contemporary Art, run by Kimberly Drew. A graduate of Smith College, Kim studied Art History and African-American Studies, with a special concentration in Museum Studies. In 2011, while she was still at Smith, Kim decided to start a Tumblr site devoted to art by and about people of African descent. That site, Black Contemporary Art, has become one of the most celebrated and widely read art sites on the web. With her passion for communication, background in social media (Kim is also an online community producer for The Museum of Metropolitan Art) and knowledge of not just art history, but the contemporary art scene, Kim has become a trusted go-to for anyone interested in what’s new, notable and exciting in the world of black contemporary art. I’m so happy to have Kim here with us today to tell us what inspired her site, what motivates her and what’s coming next. xo, grace

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, How to Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette for the Lumpenproletariat), 2014

Why did you decide to start your own business/website, versus work for someone else?

In 2011, when I started building Black Contemporary Art, there were no other blogs like it. Now I enjoy following arts criticism sites like Arts.Black, Contemporary&, Culture Type, and Black Artist News. I’ve continued running my own blog because I think presenting images without text is a great way to provide an easily accessible primary encounter to new artworks and artists.

Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?

My career path has been totally guided by how I was raised. Throughout my life, family gatherings have always involved art in some way. It wasn’t until I got to Smith College and later interned at The Studio Museum in Harlem that I realized that working in the arts would be a viable career path for me. I love the dynamic environment of the museum space.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Not exactly advice, but in a moment of doubt Jessica Nicoll, Director of the Smith College Museum of Art, assured me that I’d get a job after college. Her belief in me meant the world to me.

Samuel Levi Jones, Trolley (after Robert Frank) : 2, 2014, Mixed Media on Canvas

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running your site so far?

I’ve learned the power of taking yourself seriously. As a young person it’s so easy to doubt the feasibility of new projects you’d like to begin. But, if you respect yourself and the importance of your goals, anything is possible.

If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?

I’d spend them talking to my mom.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your website?

When I began working on my blog, I was still an undergraduate. I dedicated hours to working on the blog that I could have spent on coursework. I am so happy that I’ve turned the blog into a career, or I may have had a lot of regrets about time management.

Juliana Huxtable, UNTITLED (FOR STEWART), 2012

Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?

I’m very proud of how I’ve learned to manage social spaces. Living and working in New York can be stressful and on any given day you can meet thirty or more new people. I believe that meeting new people and marketing yourself is all about self confidence and positivity. Positivity is paramount to marketing yourself in business settings.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative website of their own?

I don’t think that there’s a catchall resource for aspiring art bloggers, but I always encourage people to visit libraries. Visits to the Fales Library at NYU and the Costume Institute Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have taught me so much about the history of art, design, and creativity.

Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.

Learning how to say no is very hard when you’re on the make. Though it feels like failing or quitting, I have been working to find good ways to dedicate my energy properly. You can’t write every article, attend every talk, and have time to treat yourself well. Limiting your commitments doesn’t make you weak – it means that you’re aware of what is best for you.

Gary Simmons, Black Chalkboard (Four Mouths), from the series Erasure, 1993, chalk and fixative on Masonite

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own website or publication?

First, think about your time. You should be conscious of how much time you can commit to your projects, and also be mindful of what your time is worth. Second, your wellness has to be a priority. Be kind to yourself. Starting new projects is stressful, but if the anxiety is too much, give yourself time to be human. Third, your network is your best asset. Keep people abreast of your projects and seek help when you need it.

Jennie C. Jones, Song Containers, aluminum sculptures, 2011

What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

I always check my email after hitting snooze a few times. The first app I open is the Sunrise Calendar to strategize the day ahead.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious? 

Tax season is a nightmare! Whenever I take on a freelance project, I try to save a third of my earnings so that I’m prepared. That saving model is the best financial advice I’ve ever received.

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  • Grace,
    Wonderful interview.
    I LOVE that fine/contemporary art and more diversity have been more prevalent this month. Keep it coming :))

  • I’ve noticed an increased effort on your part to feature more artists and designers of color. Thank you so much for taking strides to represent diversity in art and culture. Most fields in the US, from scientist to baker to graphic designer, are completely white washed, an minorities get pushed further into the background. Your recent work has inspired me to make a concerted effort to step outside of my own zone!

  • Great reflection Kim. The Smith College Museum of Art was a critical incubator and support system for me as well. I also love the emphasis you give to self-care in this interview.

  • I never read these interviews, but I love contemporary art and read this one. I thought her responses the questions were so down to earth and thoughtful. I wish I would have been half that mature at her age…her mom must be proud.

  • Great interview! Awesome that you helped to shine a light on other blogs and sites too.