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Renowned Art Curator Naima J. Keith Brings Her Magic Touch to LACMA
By Nadine Matthews
Published July 12, 2019

Naima J. Keith (Courtesy photo)

Big, big things are happening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and one of the biggest is the recent addition of Naima J. Keith as its Vice President of Education and Public Programs.

As high profile art lovers and art collectors such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Diddy, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, and others show us, the appreciation of fine art has always been part of the Black community though not always highlighted.

Now, museums and cultural institutions all over the world are finally waking up to this fact and attempting to diversify their staffs and key positions. The Los Angeles County Museum joins that fray with the hiring of Keith.

A Los Angeles native and longtime respected figure in the art world, Keith is coming off a successful run as the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the California African American Museum (CAAM) where she brought Brooklyn Museum show “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85”, among other renowned exhibitions. Because of bold and visionary steps such as that, visitorship to CAAM also doubled during her tenure there.

Now, Keith is gearing up to help facilitate the changes already taking place at LACMA and spearheading new ones. The Spelman graduate says, “I’m looking forward to the new building. The tearing down of the old building has been one of the top conversations here. I’m also thinking about the new education space and how many more people we’ll be welcoming, with the opening of the Academy Museum next door. And also the satellite location at Magic Johnson Park.”

Ironically, it was her proximity to the education department at CAAM that helped her make the decision to take the opportunity when LACMA came along. “I oversaw the education department at CAAM and doing that work made me realize there are so many people who want to go to museums but don’t feel comfortable in that space, who don’t feel like museums are meeting them halfway. I feel education is my opportunity to do that.”

Beyond these sort of existential reasons, Keith sees it as exciting, from a pragmatic standpoint to have the new LACMA outposts. “The campus in South LA,” she says, “is a great opportunity to kind of engage families that can’t come all the way to Wilshire Blvd. It’s a substantial drive and even longer bus ride so the idea that LACMA will be able to provide  ongoing activities, not just kind of a one off workshop on Saturday morning, but to build upon the existing work that we’ve already been doing in Compton, East LA and other neighborhoods, and offering more regular arts activities is really exciting for me.”

In keeping with her style of pushing boundaries in order to bring intriguing modes of engagement for museum attendees, Keith plans to take new LACMA experiences beyond its four walls. With her moderate staccato voice hinting at all the ideas percolating in her head, she says, “The types of activities we want to offer kids here, there’ll be an amazing education space but also plenty of outdoor space to do outdoor activities with families.”

Some of these programs are already underway. “We offer art camp, which is for kids who are like six to thirteen. It’s everyday from 10-3 pm and kids can focus on art all day everyday. And scholarships are available!”

LACMA doesn’t limit itself to just fine arts. Keith explains, “We also have jazz  which is kind of our staple program, on Friday evenings. I’ve seen families come and singles looking for their partners or whatever. I’m pleased to know that it’s become a staple here in LA, and that people really enjoy it all.”

LACMA has traditionally taken the initiative to go out and be part of the community, something Keith indicates it will continue to do. “LACMA usually has  a table at the major summer festivals. The Central Avenue Jazz Festival we’ll have  atbel there and I’m sure we’ll be doing something at the Watts festival because of our commitment to that community. Seeing LACMA throughout the county and city is something I’m really excited about”.

For those cultivating an interest in art, she believes LACMA is a logical first step. “LACMA affords you the opportunity to see a range of artwork. It’s a museum that has so many different types of shows at one time. It allows you in one visit to see a range of artwork so you can start developing your eye.” She also suggests “Simultaneously, take a peek at some of the younger art spaces in the city because that supports emerging artists.”

Keith described her feelings about the Black art scene in Los Angeles. “The art scene here in LA is supportive. I often see the same collectors at art openings. Not that New York or Oakland for example aren’t supportive, but what I find so heartwarming here is that the collectors are very supportive of one another and generous. They invite each other to their homes, share information. They’re very willing to talk to young collector about the art scene. The Black collectors are also very supportive of curators of color. I’ve even seen collectors step up and host dinners for artists new to LA because they want to make sure artists of color feel welcome.”

Categories: Education | Lifestyle
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