Kimberly Drew on being light-hearted and stubborn

Kimberly Drew is the Social Media Manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Prior to her role at the Met, Drew worked at The Studio Museum in Harlem, Art Blog Hyperallergic and Lehmann Maupin. Drew has been featured in Glamour, The New Yorker and New York Magazine. She is sincere, creative and incredibly driven. When you hear what she has planned, you’ll discover that she’s just getting started.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
For my entire life, I have always wanted to be Oprah.  I went through the phases of wanting to be a lawyer or veterinarian but ultimately, Oprah has been the most consistent aspirational goal for me.

Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with?
Definitely Rihanna. She has amazing business savvy and an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. I was fortunate enough to meet her once and she was extremely kind.

What single book has had the greatest impact on you?
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s a book about black, female interiority. As a person who is naturally quiet the book constantly reminds me to speak up in the moments when I need to.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I’m not at all consistent like that. I go to bed when it’s time to go to bed and I wake up when I wake up. I have to be at work between 9 and 10, but I’m not one of those career women who wakes up at 5 am. I go to sleep when nothing else is going on and I wake up with urgency somewhere between 7 and 9am.  

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
My first internship within the arts field was at The Studio Museum in Harlem and my time there inspired me to launch my blog Black Contemporary Art, which kick-started my career in a very positive way. I’ve had a lucky hand in terms of career paths because most of the spaces I’ve worked in have been places run by amazing women. 

After The Studio Museum I went back to Smith College and when I was done with school I went to work at Creative Time, which is a public arts organization, at the time directed by Anne Pasternack. She is now the director of the Brooklyn Museum. 

I spent some time working at Hyperallergic, an art blog that tempted me into marketing. I immediately realized I was interested in doing communications. I went back to The Studio Museum and then had an amazing opportunity to work at the Lehmann Maupin gallery. One of the owners of the gallery is a woman named Rachel Lehmann who is an inspiration in terms of thinking about how galleries are built. Between Rachel and her co-owner David Maupin, their vision for the gallery has blossomed. Since founding in 1993 they have been one of, if not the most, international gallery before it was trending to think about having a global roster. They’ve always done that from the very get go.

After Lehmann Maupin I came to the Met and I feel very much at home here.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
The biggest obstacle for me has probably been self-doubt. I was actually journaling the other day about comparing myself to a false other.

I want to be a better version of myself and that means being accountable to myself, but not necessarily this false idea of who I think I should be.

What motivates you?
So many things. Immediately I think of my peers because I have an amazing set of people in my life who are waking up every day and trying to be a better version of themselves too. I’m surrounded by great listeners. 

Also, I am inspired by the unknown. As a person who operates in the social media field, I’m constantly crunching numbers for work. There are a lot of numbers in terms of impressions, but there’s no way to read into how a message can impact someone’s life.

I’m always inspired when I travel, especially when I talk to youth and just learning how things resonate with other people.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I probably would have saved myself from some bad relationships, but otherwise I’ve enjoyed the surprises so I don’t know if I’d want to clue myself in on too many things.

I would have taught myself earlier the value of “no”, but I still think some of my hardheaded yeses were really good too.

What are you most proud of?
I’m super proud of my relationship with my mom. When I was growing up we didn’t know each other very well. I left home to go to boarding school when I was 13 so a lot of those core development years I spent away from home.

Now my mom and I are really close and we have a better understanding of each other. We are so much alike and I credit her for my tenacity.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Probably my light-heartedness. When I was younger I was a very ambitious child but I’ve never been someone who could compromise myself for the goals I wanted to obtain.

I’ve always been a very stubborn person and have wanted to do things my own way. In doing so, I have been able to carve out my own path toward my own version of success.

What is your life motto?
If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My favorite one right now is go where it’s warm. I forget who said it, but it’s the idea that you should go toward opportunities that make you feel warm and make you feel at home. That that’s what sustains a life.

What's your favorite TED Talk?
I don’t generally watch TED talks but at the Met we have a TEDx and Sandra Jackson-Dumont is definitely a favorite.

Sandra Jackson-Dumont: The Fear of Being Found Out

Who do you most admire in business? Why?
Kelis. I just got her cookbook and admire how she’s been so dedicated to pursuing her career in food.

I also admire Professor Deb Willis who is the Head of Photography and Imaging at NYU. Deb is such a role model for many of us in the arts as well as being an amazing mom and incredible support system.

What do you believe is the secret to rising up to the top?
Understanding what the bottom looks like because it’s just so relative.

Are there work ethics and attitudes that you most admire in women?
I love someone who demands fair pay. That’s the coolest thing in this wave of feminism. I also admire people who are coming with their most authentic selves to the work they are doing.

I love Amber Rose and the SlutWalk kind of feminism now that’s all about not having to compromise myself to talk through these very complicated issues and facing them head on with exactly who you are and where you come from.

What's next?
I’m currently working on a book called the Black Futures Project. We don’t have a title yet but I’m working with a writer named Jenna Wortham and we’re hoping to create something between an anthology and yearbook that encapsulates black creativity in this moment and explorations of what futurity looks like through art and culture.


As told to Robin Beck over the phone in New York City on Friday 14th October 2016