Tidewater Women’s Leia Safshekan-Bishop met with Chicago native Kimberli Gant, who was recently appointed curator of modern and contemporary art at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. Kimberli holds an M.A. in art history from Columbia University and is pursuing her doctorate.
G: Osmosis. My parents collected art [and] took me to museums. I found out that my paternal grandmother was an illustrator.
G: Maybe. Art was around. It was on the walls at my house. It was on the walls at my friend’s house.
G: No. A [humanities] professor put a lot of art into the class and it interested me. I was like “This is it!”—much to my parent’s chagrin.
G: No. I worked in marketing and advertising for several years. I bartended, too.
G: I emailed the director for six months. We finally met for dinner, and there was a job opening. I said, “I’ll take the job!” I needed to be in that environment.
G: It was an incredible learning experience. I learned the art of the art hustle. When you don’t have huge institutional support, you learn to find people who can help you. I learned to reach out others. I called curators and asked many questions. It was definitely a trial by fire, but it was the best thing. I learned so much—I became a jack-of-all-trades.
G: I learned to think from the perspective of the other departments to understand their point of view. At a smaller institution, you don’t have the luxury of not communicating.
G: I think the art world, unfortunately, is cloaked in mystery. No one really knows what a curator does.
G: “Curator” has a pop culture, skewed image…
G: Universities are not pushing grads into museums. It’s not considered a successful position.
TW: I think we do a poor job of teaching kids about the jobs that are available in art.
G: You can do so many “traditional” positions in a creative environment and stay within that world. We have accountants and administrators. You can have a “practical” job and still be in an art space.
G: Yeah, like you can fail, too.
G: The Ancient Worlds gallery. I’m very drawn to that.
G: It can be people quilting.
G: So many exchanges spanning the globe are related, and we need to understand—to bring them to the forefront. We need to highlight these stories and conversations that you may not read in a history book.
G: Bring them early. Let them see all the beautiful forms of expression in the world. Then teach them to support it.
Leia Safshekan is a writer, military spouse, and mother, raising her family in Va. Beach. A California native, Leia likes reading and exploring nature with her family and dogs. Leia was awarded the Dickseski Prize for Fiction and is a student at ODU.