An Interview with Jade Powers

Global Art, Contemporary Issues and Cultural Diversity Rank High on the Kemper Museum’s New Assistant Curator’s List of Interests

In late summer, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art announced the appointment of Jade Powers as assistant curator.

Powers, the 2017-2018 Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum, brings to the museum a unique combination of experience and education in the areas of art, education and religion.

At the Saint Louis Art Museum, Powers realized a first, with the creation of an interpretative gallery guide highlighting works by African American artists in the museum’s permanent collection.

With a bachelor of arts from DePauw University and a master’s degree from Indiana University, she has also worked at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Shortly after her arrival, Powers agreed to a Q and A with “KC Studio.” We began with an email interview and then met at Kemper East Sept. 10 for a follow-up and some clarifications.

Harold Smith: Who is Jade Powers and where does she fit into the conversation of art in 2018?

Jade Powers: I have degrees in art history and religious studies and have worked for a few museums in the Midwest. My interest is in art from all around the world and aligns well with the conversation of art in 2018 and beyond.

HS: If you were to summarize your philosophy of what it means to curate in a contemporary art setting, what would you say?

JP: I am very audience focused. I like exhibitions that discuss contemporary issues — I think that best represents the world we live in now. Representation is also very important to me, and my philosophy has always been to strive towards highlighting groups that have not always been represented.

HS: Could you tell me the names of some of the artists you admire and some recent exhibits that have impressed you?

JP: Artists would include Glenn Ligon, Mickalene Thomas, Bharti Kher, Wendy Red Star, and Edgar Heap of Birds. As for exhibits, “Blue Black” at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the National Portrait Gallery’s “UnSeen: Our Past in New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar,” both made a strong impression.

HS: Ms. Powers, you have a background in religious studies and art education. How has this background influenced and impacted your curatorial practices?

JP: My experience as an art educator has formed the ways I create interpretive materials to help visitors have a better understanding of works of art. My work in religious studies fuses well with my interest in understanding different people’s backgrounds and experiences.

One of the focuses of Kemper Museum is to represent national and international aesthetic and cultural diversity. My background in religious studies, art history and art education aligns with these goals and with my hopes to bring accessibility to audiences so they can continue to appreciate works of art.

HS: Kansas City, like most urban centers, has a community of local artists. What, if any, plans are there to collaborate with them?

JP: I was invited to curate a wall at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, which was a great introduction to several artists in Kansas City. It also gave me the opportunity to work with several other arts professionals. I am also looking forward to the Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards exhibition that Kemper Museum is hosting in 2019 and the many public programs Kemper Museum consistently organizes that highlight many local artists.

HS: Curatorially speaking, what are you currently working on? When can we experience it?

JP: Right now, I am working on an exhibition of works from Kemper Museum’s permanent collection that will open at the end of this year. Part of a series of “Deconstructing” exhibitions, the works on view will be presented in conversation with paintings by Marcus Jansen (American, born 1950) showing formal, conceptual and biographical ways in which they are connected.

HS: Finally, between Arthur Bryant, LC, or Jack Stack . . . which Kansas City BBQ is your favorite?

JP: My personal favorite is Arthur Bryant! Although I do love LC’s french fries.

Above: Jade Powers, the 2017-18 Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum, has been named assistant curator at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. (photo by Kenny Johnson)

About The Author: Harold Smith

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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