On paper, Gwendolyn Kelly is the American Graduate Community Engagement Coordinator for KET, which means she is actively trying to stop the dropout crisis with our youth. But what she really is is a connector and a facilitator. If there is a community event or anything around town that’s raising awareness of our city’s needs, she is there. Or perhaps you know her as Gwendolyn Kelly, the artist. Her art can be found online, and she still shares her love of teaching art throughout the community. Just being around her inspires you to want to get involved, and today, it’s our honor to introduce her as our FACES feature. Welcome, Gwendolyn!
You have lots of interests and are involved all over town. What would you say your career is?
I’m a facilitator. I facilitate thinking and learning about a range of subjects for a variety of people in many different situations.
Tell us a little about the program you are involved in at KET.
I’m KET’s American Graduate Community Engagement Coordinator. American Graduate is a nationwide public media initiative to find and support community-based solutions to the dropout crisis. In this role, I ask questions, listen a lot, look for and share information about Champions—people who commit their time, skills and resources to helping young people succeed—and share information about KET resources. I’ve been facilitating two art-based workshops, Bracelets & Brainstorming and Encouragement Banners. They’re basically conversations with students where we talk about resilience and what community can do to help them stay in school to complete their programs. While talking, we hand stamp personalized bracelets or create banners with encouraging messages.
Are you an artist first and foremost? Or is your art more of a hobby?
I have a BFA and an MA in fine arts. I’ve always loved making things just to create, and I love gifting objects to people, so the concept of being a “professional” artist—one who makes art to sell—trips me up. I’ve done it, I understand it, but I’m not willing to spend my life doing it.
Tell us about your art.
I’m in transition as an artist. Making objects has always been one of the ways I work towards finding meaning. My oldest work is an exploration of being one individual in a world of billions. It was fiber-based, and I employed labor-intensive women’s work methods like embroidery, piecing and dyeing. The pieces are really meditations on some issue I was trying to understand. Some more recent work explores living around vacant and abandoned houses. I love old houses and traditional neighborhoods, and it hurts me to see so many structures left to rot and then bulldozed. Thinking about the pieces I created and planned around those issues depressed me, so I stopped. I’m more interested in exploring beauty, the future and language than recording or documenting destruction. For now, I’m making notes about possible projects, mainly apps, and making beaded jewelry.
What other ways are you involved with the city?
I’m a board member for River City Housing, an affordable housing developer. I am a member of The West Louisville Women’s Coalition, a group of women dedicated to creating and sustaining artistic, peaceful spaces in Louisville’s West End. I recently joined the board of OneWest, a new, nonprofit community development organization. I’m also a Power40210 Little Free Library steward, a member of the Louisville TimeBank and Leadership Louisville, and a CodeLouisville graduate.
If you could have any other career, what would it be and why?
Novelist. I want to join the ranks of people who envision and share wonderful stories with the world. I have a novel in the works.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m an introvert. Being around more than a few people at a time literally makes me tired.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
Every day is different. I love that. In any week I’ll most likely …
- facilitate a couple of Bracelets & Brainstorming or Encouragement Banner workshops
- attend a few meetings
- spend too much time on Twitter
- maybe cofacilitate a meeting with Center for Neighborhoods
- talk with people about community issues and scheduling workshops
- make art with children at California Community Center
- let the neighbor kids read to me on my porch
- work on one of my many project ideas: most pressing is a Bourbon tourism-focused website called BourbonSmartyPants
- read a book or two
- hang out with my partner Frankie, family and friends
Who are your mentors, and what advice do you treasure?
I try to learn something from everyone I meet. I don’t have any formal mentors, but I have been thinking lately about the benefits of real-person mentoring versus getting the bulk of my advice from books. Advice I treasure: (1) “Every loving thought is true,” from A Course In Miracles. (2) You can do anything. You just can’t do everything.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my:
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
- Every Friday, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., I host The California Neighborhood Jewelry Making Studio at the Brandeis Learning Center as part of The Kentucky Center’s ArtsReach program. It’s free and open to the public.
- I’ve recently started hanging out at The Park, a coworking space in Shelby Park.
- My hobby is being a curious citizen. As such, I enjoy showing up at community events all around the city, so you’re likely to see me anywhere.
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Eat at new restaurants
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Early bird. I read.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Lightning round! Give us your:
- Candy or junk food splurge: french fries
- Guilty pleasure song: “Low” by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain
- Tearjerker movie pick: Up
- Standby nail polish color: Gold with glitter
- Favorite cocktail: Right now, it’s an Old Fashioned. My new project is to test one at all the Urban Bourbon Trail spots.
- Cartoon alter-ego: The Cat In The Hat
To see more of Gwendolyn’s work, visit her Etsy shop here.
Thank you to KentuckyOne Health, our underwriter for FACES of Louisville.
As always, much gratitude to our FACES photographer, Adele Reding, for her fantastic work. Visit her website at adeleredingphotography.com.