An Infusion of Curatorial Energy for KC

Charlotte Street Foundation Names Kimi Kitada As Its Curator in Residence

Kimi Kitada (photo by Miria-Sabina Maciagiewicz)

Kimi Kitada has been named the Charlotte Street Foundation’s new Jedel Family Foundation Curatorial Fellow, a new iteration of its longstanding Curatorial Residency Program. Kitada, who formerly worked as a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, was the co-founder of alt_break in New York City and has been involved in exhibitions as far away as Budapest. We spoke to her to learn about her plans and ideas for her new position in Kansas City, which she assumed in October.

Neil Thrun: What are your goals as Charlotte Street’s new Jedel Family Foundation Curatorial Fellow? Your fellowship lasts two years. How will you spend that time?

Kimi Kitada: My main goal would be realizing exhibitions that are timely, provocative and relevant to Kansas City. I think I’m at a moment in my career where I’ve worked in large-scale museum settings as well as smaller alternative spaces, so I’m ready to apply those experiences and refine my curatorial skills. I hope to develop relationships with Kansas City artists, curators and other cultural producers, with whom I’d be able to work in this local context and for future projects.

NT: You were a co-founder of alt_break. What’s that organization about? What sets it apart?

KK: alt_break (short for “alternative break”) is an ever-evolving project, conceptualized with my co-curators, Audra Lambert and Adam Zucker, who are currently based in New York. We had a grassroots approach, working intentionally with non-profit organizations outside the art world. For example, Upwardly Global is a non-profit that supports recent immigrants to the U.S. with job placements, and they hosted an alt_break artist panel. Through this program, we integrated a more art-centric audience and social justice-oriented audience to facilitate a dialogue between these overlapping groups.

NT: You’ve worked as a curator across the country and globe, but never before in Kansas City. What are your first impressions of KC and its art scene?

KK: I’m completely enthralled by the Kansas City art scene! I had never visited Kansas City before moving here. After months of shelter-in-place in my Los Angeles apartment, I packed up two suitcases and hopped on a three-hour flight to Kansas City. While I was aware of a couple museums in KC, I am discovering a wide diversity of spaces in these incredible warehouses, factory spaces and abandoned churches. The vastness of these spaces is something that I wouldn’t necessarily see in LA or New York, so it has been awe-inspiring for me.

NT: What’s hot in art today? What conversations are animating the art world?

KK: When I was visiting all the new shows in Los Angeles right before COVID-19, I noticed that figurative painting by emerging artists of color was really trending. I saw some stunning paintings in the exhibit “Disembodiment” at UTA Artist Space, a solo show of Calida Rawles at Various Small Fires, and a solo exhibition of Amoako Boafo at Roberts Projects.

It’s a gut-wrenching moment for the art world. The financial strain of COVID-19 on non-profits and museums has caused widespread layoffs, which disproportionately affect BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) staff. Faced with these glaring inequities, museums are turning their conversations to the value of DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion) work. A public series by the Hammer Museum called “Reimagining the Museum” has focused on this urgent call for equity in museums, so I think that series is a fascinating model to unpack these ideas.

NT: Setting aside what is popular, what do you think the purpose of art should be? What do you hope for the future of art?

KK: I see the purpose of art as imagining radical futures for us, for our society. Artists are able to problem-solve in unique ways, not only making significant artworks but also creating positive change for their immediate communities. LA-based artist Lauren Halsey founded a project called the Summaeverythang Community Center, where she distributes boxes of fresh, organic produce to residents of South Los Angeles and Watts, completely free. Halsey’s example of uplifting the community around her exemplifies the power of art and social change — they go hand in hand.

For the future of the art world, I’d love to see more women and people of color as executive directors. Over the last several years, I have observed a bit of a shift, but I keep a running list of women directors of major art museums in the U.S., and I want to see that list continue to grow!

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

  1. Welcome, Ms. Katada, happy to have you here for a spell. You join a distinguished lineage of prescient and insightful curators in our town including Sherry Cromwell-Lacy, Elisabeth Kirsch, Jan Weiner, Dory Gates, Barbara O’Brien, Anne Pearce, Dana Self, Heather Lustfeldt, Melissa Rountree, Jan Schall, Debra Emont Scott, Susan Lawrence, Kate Hackman, Myra Morgan, Raechell Smith, Maria Elena Buszek… and that’s off the top of my head. Hope you enjoy your stay, looking forward to seeing what you decide to do…

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