Chattanooga graduate Kren the Curator gets lessons in international art business

·5 min read

Sep. 18—At 27, Kreneshia Whiteside-McGee has big dreams for her career as a curator of the arts, and she is determined to pursue them even if it means traveling alone to Venice, Italy, during a pandemic not long after getting married.

After hearing about the School for Curatorial Studies Venice from Sean Clark, an artist whose work she had curated at the Association for Visual Arts, Whiteside-McGee researched the program and decided it was something she wanted to pursue.

That was three years ago and several things conspired to delay her study, but she is close to wrapping up her work in the four-month program that introduces people to the world of art curation on an international level.

"I planned on going in 2019 and that got pushed and we all know what happened in 2020," she said. "And, then I got married, but 2021 was more of a post-pandemic thing at the time and it was almost perfect because far fewer people were traveling."

Whiteside-McGee said she spoke to numerous people about the Venice program before signing up and paying her tuition. She was intrigued by the curriculum that included such topics as how to exhibit works, artist development, marketing, media relations and the history of curation.

"I did two internships prior, but didn't have much hands-on training in some of those areas," she said. "I'm interested in fundraising and dealing with the press and we are learning from art professionals in one of the art capitals of the world."

They also discussed at length how the moral issues of a city, region, country, business, sponsor or artist need to be considered when curating an exhibit.

"You can't just ask anybody to be a sponsor," she said. "You have to do your research."

Hot topics can include human and animal rights issues and even whether a person or institution is pro- or anti-tobacco.

"What seem like little things can actually be big things. Some people say all money is green and those issues don't matter, but they can," she said.

She was the only American to attend this summer with the nine others coming from Mexico, Italy, the Czech Republic and Russia.

The Venice program, which started in 2004, is three months of learning, typically all in Venice and the surrounding area, but because of COVID-19 and her recent marriage to local artist Genesis the Greykid, she chose to take classes virtually in June and August and spent July overseas.

"I was on Italy time getting up at 3 a.m. and taking classes until noon and then I was on normal time," she said.

She did have an advantage as the program was taught in English.

The participants in the program are wrapping up a monthlong project asking visitors online and especially in Venice to share their thoughts on what prosperity means to them. It is called G21 and it was created in response to the G20 summit, which brought heads of state and governments to Rome and which some perceived as a forum just for the elite.

G21 is a public and interactive art exhibition taking place throughout Venice. Visitors to the various participating businesses are asked to leave their own thoughts on the works of about 60 artists. Whiteside-McGee and her colleagues will gather the responses into a book and present them to global leaders.

Whiteside-McGee said the cost of the fellowship is offset by the many discounts and free passes students get to museums, galleries and other art opportunities around the region. Grants and scholarships are also available.

"We pay for the program, airfare, food and lodging, but it works out," she said.

Whiteside-McGee graduated from the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts before getting her degree in anthropology with a minor in art history from East Tennessee State University. While at the Center for Creative Arts, she interned at the Association for Visual Arts, and a chance conversation with then-Executive Director Ricardo Morris led to her being hired as chief curator after graduation.

Morris said Whiteside-McGee had been recommended by the previous curator and that "I actually learned a lot from her about curating art."

"She hit the ground running and was so self-motivated and she was great about getting stuff on the walls in the proper way to make it work."

That's just part of what curators do, Whiteside-McGee said.

"As a curator, we are the middle people between the artist and the public," she said. "We help translate everything from the paperwork to the exhibition, to the artist's statements to labels to colors of the walls. We work on keeping people's attention as they are walking in circles looking at the art.

"I've always wanted to do this."

She is currently an independent curator who works under the name Kren the Curator, and one of her clients is her husband. He has a gallery and workshop off Main Street and has sold works in New York, Los Angeles and London.

"She helped me curate this studio," Genesis the Greykid said from his gallery. "I love it."

Whiteside-McGee said the program opened her eyes to the world of art curation and she wants to pursue having her own gallery. She'd like it to be in Chattanooga, but "I don't want to limit myself. I can work anywhere and I want to work everywhere."

She is also working on a documentary about the racially motivated shootings of three women on M.L. King Boulevard in 1980 in Chattanooga.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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