Apprenticeship in Objecthood: Annie Kennedy

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For the new Salt Lake Art Center's Curator of Education, Annie Kennedy, the role of art, specifically that of the contemporary mode, is to encourage the re-evaluation of one's self in relation to one's environment–to initiate the sort of survey that opens us up to wider realms of perception. While contemporary art's unabashed originality may induce feelings of alienation and intimidation in some, Annie insists on the importance of an interaction with its rich objects in order to foster an educational discourse. "Art can be an intimidating subject if you think you need to know something about it, but [people] just need to feel like they are allowed to [have an honest opinion about Art]." The Salt Lake Art Center provides the perfect medium from which Annie is able to facilitate the meeting between contemporary art and those who stand to gain from exposure to its horizon-broadening effects. "I'm excited to be at the Salt Lake Arts Center because they're really dedicated to contemporary artwork and their exhibitions can be really challenging. These are my favorite things to educate people about. That's where the meat is."

Not only does Annie bring an impressive formal art education, a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Masters in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design, but perhaps even more important to her mission of bridging the gap between object and individual is her unique perspective as an artist herself. Raised in an LDS household, Kennedy brings that rich cultural heritage into her artwork, combining traditional Mormon themes such as quilting and food storage into pieces of art– in this case an emergency preparedness kit- replete with matches, a flashlight, and at least thirty other emergency items–all vacuum sealed in a seven by ten foot plastic quilt. Her dual position as artist and art mediator allow Annie a special skill-set when attempting to foster a discussion between an individual and a piece of art. Though she has formal requisites in art history, she understands these avenues of information are only one way of connecting with the art, an area which, for many people, has inherent limitations. "I think art history is really important but I think a lot of times people read the text panel and think they have to know all that stuff to really understand the objects. As an artist I really feel like you should be able to have a genuine experience with the object. I approach art education the same way."

This informal art mediation is just one of many ways Annie and the Salt Lake Art Center bring art into the lives of people who otherwise might never experience it. The Arts Center designs and facilitates programs such as ACE (Art & Creative Expression), an outreach program that goes into the Salt Lake County Metro Jail to facilitate artistic therapy for the jail's inmates. Another is KidsmART, an after-school art program attempting to compensate for the ever-diminishing funding and attention paid to the arts in public schools. The latter is especially relevant to Annie, who would have remained in the artist's Mecca of New York City did she not feel the need to introduce art into the lives of Salt Lake's youth in the same way that she was introduced to it as a student at West High School; she might have become a lawyer were it not for the mentoring of Steve Case, an exceptional high school educator whose personal tutelage fueled Annie's now insatiable interest in art. "I feel like art really saved me and gave me a lot of direction in my life. That's part of why I'm excited about building and expanding on the high school programs–because I feel particularly dedicated to that demographic."

As Annie recognizes, this dedication to the youth is only increasingly relevant with the necessity of being able to command a well-rounded media repertoire in the 21st century. The written word's position of supremacy is threatened as exponential advances in technology diversify methods of communication and demand other skill sets in addition to writing in order to function. Annie hopes the artwork contained in the exhibits hosted by the Arts Center can engender a familiarity with these visual modes that will prove invaluable to those who gain by them. "It's incredibly important to teach kids to be visually literate, especially in this media generation. The more we give people the tools to think critically about the visual world around them, the more prepared they'll be to deal with the inundation of visual media they are being bombarded with."