Kaelin Keller grew up in the Zachary-Pride community with strong passions for the arts, but with the practical realization that her career path would never involve painting or printmaking. Now that the recent college graduate is in an internship at the famed New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, she has not only broadened her artistic scope, but she now dreams of bringing fine arts engagement back to her home community and rural communities across America.
Keller, a Baton Rouge High Magnet School graduate, credits the parish’s magnet program with exposes her to the arts and sciences. “Growing up in Zachary and in the Pride area, there aren't many institutions around and we weren’t raised with a need to be involved with art when I was a child; even though I was really, really interested in it,” she said. “I went to an academic magnet elementary school that really integrated the arts and sciences; and from there, I kind of dove into it.”
Keller chose Spelman College in Atlanta, but initially chose a science major. “I thought that I wanted to be a doctor so that I can make money,” she said.
She declared a biology major but got to Spelman and never took a biology class. She immediately started looking for a career direction that matched her interests.
“I've always been really interested in community engagements and I also began to think about my experience growing up in an area without access to art,” Keller said. “I really focused my studies on thinking about art institutions like museums, and how they can increase access to art in rural areas. I was thinking about increasing access to art in places where there is not as much access and increasing access to art school to socially, economically disadvantaged students.”
Keller graduated from Spelman in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in studio art and a minor in Spanish, and immediately began to look for opportunities for advancement despite the COVID-19 pandemic. She applied and was accepted into the museum’s first class of fully paid internships. Like many during the pandemic, the interns are remote employees working all over the world with access to the wealth of exhibits and artifacts housed at the museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, commonly known as "the Met," is the largest art museum in the United States. With 6,479,548 visitors to its three locations in 2019, it was the fourth most visited art museum in the world.
Keller is a part of the spring 2021 class of Adrienne Arsht Interns. The internships are named in recognition of Arsht’s gift of $5 million, ensuring that all the museum’s undergraduate and graduate internship positions are now paid.
Throughout the course of the 10-week, part-time program, interns will gain mentorship and professional experience in over 40 departmental areas throughout the Museum, including administration, curatorial, conservation and education. “This first class of fully paid interns represents an important milestone for both the Museum's renowned internship program and our ongoing commitment to creating inclusive and accessible professional opportunities at The Met,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented. “We are deeply grateful to Adrienne Arsht and so many others for making this progress possible. I look forward to welcoming these remarkable interns to the museum. They represent our future and the next generation of museum professionals.”
The virtual internship is fueling Keller’s ambition to give back through the arts. “I was originally applying for a space in development and thinking about fundraising, donor retention, memberships and stuff like that, because I'm interested in opening an art center,” she said. “Based on my application responses, the education department reached out to me. I applied to this program because I was interested in exploring other parts of the art world and museum education.”
Keller’s remote New York internship has influenced her choices for graduate programs, and she said she considered many including NYU and Columbia and is leaning toward the art administration program at Columbia. “I've been able to experience these institutions like I probably would not have before and that has opened up a whole new world of possibilities,” she said. “Now I'm able to see myself in New York, at Columbia, because of the social moment that happened.”
The New York institutions have a strong draw on Keller’s life as a means to an end that she said she still hopes brings her back home as she finds a way to make art engagement more of the norm than a rarity. “I hope to find a way to incorporate the same access to resources that we had at magnet school into regular schools that are in less-fortunate areas or don’t have big budgets,” she said.