Person of interest: Kilolo Luckett, Warhol Museum fund-raiser
Share with others:
Kilolo Luckett is the new director of development at The Andy Warhol Museum. She's also something of an alchemist who -- by virtue of her personality, energy, artistic sensibility and business smarts -- has combined disparate ingredients to help create just the right elixir that every city needs: a thriving art scene.
The 40-year-old Harrisburg native who now lives in North Point Breeze was the driving force behind creating free studio and gallery space for artists in the abandoned Duff's Business Institute, Downtown.
"Making a Scene," or MAS, as the initiative was called, made a big splash in October 2001, where artists collaborated to create art, with the involvement of the public. She worked with The Warhol previously for the museum's Homewood Artist Residency program at Westinghouse High School, and she headed a project management and fundraising consulting services company for artists and nonprofits called Designate. She has also worked with The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation to evaluate individual artists and small arts organizations.
In announcing your appointment, The Warhol's director, Eric Shiner, described you as someone with a "strong background in Pittsburgh's arts and philanthropic communities ... a constant presence in our city's social scene and a true entrepreneur by nature." Do you agree?
Well, that's what I've been told (laughs). I usually find myself compelled to get involved with a certain organization or project that requires risk, drive and heart. It makes me a better and stronger person -- although I don't spend all my time going to parties! I'm a morning person, not a night owl.
How did your career in the arts get started?
My first job out of the University of Pittsburgh was at Wood Street Galleries. I'd studied art history and loved art. This was the late '90s, where there really wasn't much going on outside the Cultural District, but then I met Bob Bingham, head of the Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU and Jen Saffron at Pitt Arts and started to build these networks.
You seem to be a natural at networking -- in a good way.
Well, I worked as a waitress -- at Paparazzi on the South Side and the Italian Oven in Shadyside, and it was just amazing how many contacts I made there. And actually, when I was in high school in Harrisburg, I did a lot of babysitting, as it happens, for people who were artists, creative people who became like my family, and introduced me to art. I was born in Mississippi and raised in Harrisburg, but never went to museums. Mary Clare Evans was a wonderful visual artist in Harrisburg, and her brother, Peter Hedges, wrote the screenplays for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "About a Boy," so I was introduced to a whole new world.
How did you ever figure out the business side of art?
After two years at the Wood Street Galleries, I was hired by Don Carter at Urban Design Associates. That job really got me exposed to how policy works on a larger, citywide level. UDA works in a lot of places around the world designing urban spaces and communities. They send teams of people on a project, who work in design, marketing and engineering, and I got to go on some of those trips. That's where I really focused on how a business is run, and how you market your services and collaborate on projects.
Accomplishment you're proudest of?
Making A Scene (MAS), definitely. In 2001, I worked with a creative team of six people to transform a vacant building, owned by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, into a Warhol-inspired Silver Factory for about a month. The Warhol, Mattress Factory, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and CMU either installed works and/or allowed us to do artmaking projects in their space. More than 75 artists created works, collaborated across disciplines and inspired one another. I think it was one of the catalysts for the vibrant arts and culture scene you see Downtown today.
How did you talk people into using that building?
It was a former business school that had been abandoned. I knew Carol Brown [former head of the Cultural Trust] who had recently retired, and through my former relationships with their staff I met with Kevin McMahon [current head] to pitch the idea, and he said, this is great, and helped fund it. I was also one of the first recipients of The Sprout Fund, and then other donations and contributions came along.
Favorite way to spend a weekend:
Well, last weekend I saw Kyle Abraham perform at the Byham Theater. He's a great choreographer and dancer whose work is getting national attention, drawing on his experiences growing up African-American in Pittsburgh. And this weekend I'm going to the Staycee Pearl dance project at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. They are great, multicultural artists.
What needs to be fixed in Pittsburgh?
Speaking as a onetime waitress, we need better service in restaurants! Also, I'd like to see more diversity in the wait staff, more people of color out front, rather than back in the kitchen. I remember when I was working at Paparazzi and Italian Oven, I'd get, "Wow, you're the first black waitress I've ever met." And today, when you go to a museum or a restaurant, you still see minorities mostly in security and custodial positions, rather than as the face of the establishment.
Pittsburgh's best kept secret:
Mary Savage's exquisite gardens in Homewood. in the summertime. On Frankstown Road you'll pass a dilapidated house or vacant lot, then you'll come upon this beautiful jewel situated among all of the debris. The ones I really love are on Murtland Street and Fielding Way just before you get to Westinghouse High School. Ms. Savage does this because she wants the students walking to school to see beauty in their neighborhood.
People would be surprised to learn that ...
In my spare time, I'm working on a biography of the first black supermodel, Naomi Sims. Like me, she was originally from Mississippi, but grew up in Homewood. And there's her connection to Andy Warhol. They became friends when she moved to New York and started her career, and in 1972, she was on the cover of his magazine, Interview.
Most interesting place you've ever visited:
Guadalajara, Mexico. I went there on a volunteer social service project back in the early 1990s. We would help build houses in the late afternoon, and in the morning taught English and arts and science. The people there didn't have much of anything, but they were so happy and full of life.
Most mornings I get up and ...
Play some good dance music to get the day going.
Well, this morning it was "Feel Good Lost" by the group Broken Social Scene (laughs). ... I guess that's pretty ironic given what I've been accused of doing. But it's got a great dance beat.
Best advice you've ever received:
Well, my mother always told me that keeping your integrity is the most important thing. And being yourself, of course!
First Published February 24, 2013 12:00 am