Veronica Kessenich Believes Art Transcends Time and Space

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the Next Leading Lady for March 2018 : Veronica Kessenich 

Where do you work and what do you do? 
I proudly work at Atlanta Contemporary as the Executive Director. I also teach as an adjunct instructor at Agnes Scott College.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
For as long as I can remember, the arts have been a part of my life – with ballet classes starting at age 3, to summer art camps, to falling in love with theater in high school – I have always included arts and culture in my life. My parents firmly believe that the arts enrich life and we always attended shows, performances, and gallery openings and on all family trips we ventured through the museums and cultural heritage sights to learn about cities, people, and places. With an undergraduate and graduate degree in Art History, I have been working as a dealer, art historian, and arts administrator for over fifteen years.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
When I was dancing, I had only one dream: to dance at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes. Not being tall enough – and frankly also wanting to have fun as a teenager – I stopped dancing. That’s when my world truly opened up. Mind you, every Macy’s Day Parade, I stop and watch The Rockettes secretly dreaming that I am one of them.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Lunch. With any one woman. Such a good & tough question! (I actually do this exercise with my students when I talk about Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.) But to choose just one? Mary Shelley. The mythic story of how a competition between friends birthed the infamous monster and crisis-torn Doctor Frankenstein is just as much occult legend as the novel itself. I find it compelling how it was out of courtesy for the lady, that Lord Byron, Percy, and their friend let Mary read from her writing first. Shocked, horrified, and dare-I-say, a little awakened and aroused – the men all threw their own manuscripts into the fire and compelled Mary to finish her tale. I would want to talk about her dream – not only of the story but of her dream to be a writer, artist, and 19th century woman.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
It would be wrong of me to say that any one person has been the biggest influence on my life but it would not be wrong to say that women have been the biggest influences in my life. From my mother and grandmothers, to women who taught me at school, to the fact that I went to an all women’s college and currently teach at a women’s college – there’s truth that women are consequential, commanding, intelligent, innovative, dynamic and courageous. The women in my life been the ‘firsts’ in attending college, in raising a million dollars, and in standing up for their beliefs. I realize that it’s unfair to not fully answer and say just one ‘who’ but that would be like selecting a favorite memory – so many feelings, experiences, and truths come from how these women wove the fabric of my life and I would not be who I am today without any one of them being a part of it.

How is art a passion for you?
To quote de Kooning (the artist whose paintings seduced me into becoming an art historian): “Art is a language”. Art transcends time and place. It speaks to any and all of us – even when we’re not listening. It’s what gets me out of bed and what keeps me up at night. It’s something worth sharing with students and protecting through advocacy. It’s that which opens doors and encircles communities.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I believe that all people should be equally represented in any workforce regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, mental or physical abilities, or race.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
The thing that excites me the most is the thing that has always been the case about the arts in Atlanta: if you can dream it, you can do it. You just have to put in the work.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
If I may indulge you in a manifesto of sorts :: I believe in the power of the arts to transform lives. I believe that the arts should be accessible. I believe that art centers and museums should be free (and fully supported by the communities they serve). I believe that ‘I like it’ is just as important as ‘I don’t like it’ – because it’s nougat middle is the sweet spot of conversation. I believe that the people are what make the places (staff, artists, boards, members, patrons, and audiences). And I hope that all of this amounts to the fact that one day – when all of us no longer work at the places where time, talent, treasure and passions hold us currently – that the work we’ve done transcends time and space; that people will pick up the baton and continue on our marathon to increase awareness and capacity for the arts in Atlanta.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?