CUNY Grad, Kayla G. Coleman ‘11, Fills a Blank Canvas with an Extraordinary Career in the Arts
Queensborough alumna Kayla G. Coleman gives 100% of herself to the Arts, more than 10 years after her start in Queensborough’s Gallery and Museum Studies program and volunteer at the QCC Art Gallery.
The Deputy Director for New York City's Percent for Art program oversees hundreds of site-specific art projects in a variety of media by artists of all backgrounds, whose mindsets reflect the diversity of New York City. New York City's Percent for Art law requires that one percent of the budget for eligible City-funded construction projects is spent on public artwork.
One of her favorite projects is by artist Jim Drain, We are the Bronx River, an installation at PS 46 in the Bronx, located at the top of the school’s grand staircase in front of the auditorium.
“It’s a spectacular handmade ceramic mural celebrating seasonal flora and fauna as well as animals from the Bronx,” said the former educator, born and raised in Harlem.
“I love art as an education tool!”
Project selection at Percent for Art begins with an extensive list of art. Percent for Art starts hosting panels comprised of stakeholders such as school principals and architects. Semi-finalists then create and present their proposals. The finalist enters into a contract with the school authority.
Projects had been paused due of Covid but now Percent for Art is moving forward because so much of the work is based on construction, and construction restrictions have been eased.
“There are many considerations that determine who the finalist will be,” said Coleman. “Materials, technical demands, age (audience) appropriateness, and the space requirements. Is the project of the highest caliber? Does it fit into our sensibilities? Is it durable? We want it to last 100 years.”
Coleman’s remarkable journey started a decade ago at QCC, after she had moved from Harlem to East New York, Brooklyn.
“I called the commute from Brooklyn to Queensborough the bus to the train to the bus routine!”
Though the commute was long, Coleman said she “wanted Queensborough”.
“I am a strategic thinker and wanted to study in the Gallery and Museum Studies program, which had just started,” said Coleman, who was also the first intern at the QCC Art Gallery.
“The Gallery internship changed my life. Lisa [Scandaliato, Assistant to the Artistic Director, Faustino Quintanilla] taught me how to run a space, how to hang a show. These were skills that helped me enormously in my career.”
She continued, “I learned to write copy, edit and conduct research. I worked in the African Art collection and applied that knowledge to research that I later conducted on southern born black artists at the Johnson Collection in South Carolina.”
Coleman mentioned several excellent art professors she studied with, or were acquainted with in the department including Hayes P. Mauro, Anne-Marie Coffey, Jules Allen, and Professor and Chairperson Kathleen Wentrack.
Coleman transferred to Brooklyn College where she graduated cum laude in 2014 with a B.A. in Art History, Criticism and Conservation. Coleman then pursued her Master’s degree at the City College of New York (CUNY) where she was named an Archive Fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She is currently writing her thesis to complete her master’s degree.
Coleman, who worked her way through school, commented, “I’ve worked for 21 years since my first babysitting job when I was 11 years-old. This is the first time in my life that I have had just one job!”
She recalled her experience years ago as an unpaid intern at MOMA.
“My early impression was that the art world is elitist, and not friendly to people of color. I worked with people at MOMA who were always available, while I had another job to go to. Who can work on an unpaid internship for an entire year? Being motivated by realities in life helps me in my long run. That unpaid internship at MOMA was my last.”
Her many career highlights include that of an Administrator at Asymptote Architecture, an international, industry-leading architectural practice; Collector Relations Liaison at the Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn; and Director of BronxArtSpace from January –September, 2019.
She also worked with underrepresented international artists at White Box, a non-profit gallery in Harlem where she was in charge of operations and writing grants.
“I’ve been lucky to secure positons that allowed me to get another step-up. I’m a good writer and fundraiser. If you can cultivate grant writing, it can take you far.”
She added, “Everybody wants to be a curator but a lot goes into that. I took an alternate route in my curatorial practice.”
Coleman has also given back to others so they too may get a step-up.
She was an SAT Prep Instructor for two years (2017-2019) at the New York Historical Society. She remains in contact with several of her former students, some of whom she has helped with college essays.
“Eventually, I walked away from the classroom to focus on art,” said Coleman, who moved back to Harlem this year.
NYC Percent for Art is part of the Department of Cultural Affairs, a national initiative that has 131 projects in process in every borough. These projects will be completed over an extended period of time; anywhere from 2 years to a decade.