Jade Powers (photo by Kenny Johnson)
In an interview with Harold Smith, the former Kemper Museum assistant curator reflects on her time in KC and new challenges
Harold Smith: Ms. Powers, congratulations on your new position at the Harn Museum of Art. How is this post different from your position at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art?
Jade Powers: The Harn’s collection includes African, Asian, modern and contemporary art as well as photography, with significant representation of Ancient American and Oceanic Art. I am looking forward, in my role as curator of contemporary art, to adding context for contemporary artists that look to historical references for inspiration. Working with curators of non-contemporary art collections will be an interesting challenge and one I am looking forward to.
HS: What are the highlights of your time at Kemper Museum?
JP: I really enjoyed the celebration of Kemper Museum’s 25th anniversary, including the artist dinner series with artists Virginia Jaramillo, Hung Liu, Hew Locke and Angel Otero. There have been so many exhibitions I enjoyed working on. “Joiri Minaya: Divergences” allowed me to work with and learn more about the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, the Quindaro Ruins and the Underground Railroad Museum. Exhibitions like “Elias Sime: Tightrope” and “Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Topology” allowed me to connect with Ethiopian and Mexican immigrant services in Kansas City. I am honored to have worked with the curatorial team to curate the first 10-year museum survey of Dyani White Hawk’s work and help in the collection of the museum’s first work by a Native artist since 1995.
HS: Before you came to Kemper Museum, you were the Romare Bearden Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Your career trajectory is moving fast and upward. How does it all feel?
JP: It feels amazing because I enjoy talking with living artists about what interests them and working together to create an exhibition and programs that engage their interests as well as highlighting contemporary topics. I am looking forward to the increased responsibilities and am truly grateful to my colleagues and mentors along the way. I am excited to lead the charge of collecting and exhibiting work by contemporary artists at the Harn Museum of Art.
HS: What are the biggest career lessons or takeaways from your time at Kemper Museum?
JP: I have had some really thought-provoking conversations about the role of museums during my time at Kemper Museum, mostly related to COVID-19 and racial unrest highlighted by the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others. This included conversations about the importance of voices and perspectives of both artists and team members and how to create a space where everyone can contribute.
HS: What will you be doing at the Harn Museum?
JP: Similar to what I did at Kemper Museum, I will develop exhibitions that showcase narratives that have been silenced throughout history. The Harn has a permanent collection, and I plan to re-contextualize artworks that haven’t been on view in a while. I will also work to engage in programs that will bring important topics to life in a visual way.
HS: What will you miss most about Kansas City?
JP: I will miss how welcoming and art-centered the people are. I moved here not knowing many people, and I am leaving with so many dear friends and colleagues. I also enjoy how there is always an arts opening to attend and interesting gallery shows in the area. I will miss the constant conversations about BBQ and needing to “try” different restaurants. I am pretty partial to the Crossroads and the River Market; I enjoyed many of the restaurants and galleries in the area and loved taking the streetcar to the River Market.