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Kim Shaw

Program Director, Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

In her new role at the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Kim Shaw wants to create opportunities for new, diverse local artists so that “everyone can see themselves in those spaces” where art is displayed or performed.

Shaw, a 48-year-old artist originally from Livonia, took over as the program director of the Arts Council in December. Having been trained in restorative justice, Shaw says she wants to improve the organization’s diversity and inclusion by including artists from all backgrounds in exhibitions and events and help aspiring artists find opportunities and grants by offering one-on-one guidance.

“I have an opportunity to help people who are making something and connect them to venues, which could lead into collaborations and other things,” says Shaw. “I feel so inspired, and that’s why I’m here.”

How did you end up in Kalamazoo?

It feels like three lifetimes ago. I grew up in Livonia, in the greater Detroit area. When I was 19, my best friend moved to Kalamazoo to go to school. She fell in love with it and stayed here. I would come and visit, and then years down the road I went through a divorce and I was looking to go someplace else and decided to come here because I had a connection with my friend, but also because it’s such a supportive arts community.

What did you do when you first got here?

When I got here, I was a single parent for a while. I worked at Martini’s Restaurant for the first five years. I loved it, and it was a great way to meet people, because everybody would go there. I went back to school and got an illustration degree and an art education degree. I taught at the Kazoo School for seven years, I also taught with Education for the Arts and Kalamazoo Valley Community College and now I’m here. It’s exciting. I get to be an art nerd every day and talk to lots of creative people and help them to put on shows and find them grant opportunities.

Why did this job appeal to you?

When I was teaching, creative safety was a big thing for me, like helping students to be open with their work and find confidence, because it can be vulnerable to create art. We’ve all grown up in a society where people say, ‘If you’re not like this, you’re no good.’ It became really important to me to help people to open themselves up and find their thing. I worked with students that had a variety of needs and found that there was always some sort of art making that could support them. That just sort of grew into working with adults. I feel very passionate about helping people to make their work and show their work, and not just visual arts but all of art.

How would you describe your job?

There are about five programs that I am in charge of. Art Hops happen on the first Friday of every other month. For that, I help artists find venues and vice versa. I’m also in charge of Summertime Live! which are musical performances that happen from May through September all through the county. This year we have 12 venues and 85 performances. Right now I am collecting demos and having meetings with venues and artists so we can get everybody that wants to participate before places are booked up.

What does a regular day look like for you?

Every day is different, and I love that. Well, except for the part where I make coffee and come here at 8 in the morning. I work 8 to 6 Tuesday through Friday, and sometimes I work in the evenings as well when we have receptions for shows or something like that. I also help with Creative Cafe, which is a radio podcast that airs Saturday mornings. I sit in my office and answer lots and lots of emails about programs and inquiries or go out of the office to meet an artist who has an idea about a show. They may not have done a show before, so I sit and talk through what it looks like. I’ll write letters to get permits to use a stage or find a sound person and align those for events.

Who has had the greatest impact on your career?

There are two people. Frida Kahlo’s story has been very influential. I know it’s cool to love Frida Kahlo, but I’ve loved her before it was cool. Knowing all that she overcame with her accident and the surgeries, that bravery is inspiring to me. Also, her struggle between the line of non-binary or bisexual. As somebody that came out later in life, that connection that I could be myself even when I couldn’t really be myself was inspiring.

The other person is my best friend. We’ve been friends since we were 7 years old, and it’s like our relationship has grown to this place of not really being a category. No matter what I’ve been through or who I’ve been, she’s stuck by my side. I can’t imagine being at this place in my life if it weren’t for her.

— Interview by Kalloli Bhatt, edited for length and clarity

Kalloli Bhatt

Kalloli is a Western Michigan University student majoring in journalism and a former Encore intern.

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