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Tech Rehearsal of La Dolce Morte at the MET, 2015

Kevin Kenkel, who graduated in 2011 from Music Industry, has since become the Technical Manager of Production at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In addition to his day job, he recently received a fellowship from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Entitled “Animating Museums,” this fellowship will challenge Kevin over the next two years to lead a project of his design to make art more accessible to new, diverse audiences. After hearing this exciting news, we caught up with Kevin to hear more about the work he’s been doing, and what his future plans with “Animating Museums” might entail.

Tell us about your current position at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. What are some examples of events you’ve worked on?

I am the Technical Manager of Production at the Met. Basically, I am responsible for the technical production and supervision of many of the Met’s concerts and public programming events. I am mostly behind the scenes – but the work that I do is the work you see on stage. I begin working with talent once the contract is signed, and then it becomes my job to figure out how the event will actually fit into the chosen venue of the Museum. I also manage the staffing of a stage crew and sometimes act as a stage manager.

I work closely with artists, curators, producers, and outside production vendors as we determine rehearsal times, load-in and out, rental equipment, lighting design, and so on. Here are some examples of work I’ve produced for the Met: La Dolce Morte, a new commission for composer Suzanne Farrin featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble and Anthony Roth Costanzo, found here – this will also be restaged and return to the MET this December; and Tan Dun’s Symphony of Colors, another new commission for composer Tan Dun featuring the Juilliard School of Music, found here. In addition to the actual concert work, I also manage the video recording and, increasingly, Facebook livestreaming of our events.

How did your degree in Music Industry from Northeastern lead you to your current job?

I have always been fascinated by the production of music and the production of performance on stage. I spent my life making records at home and building PAs and lighting systems for my bands in high school and in college, but I didn’t know how to break into the actual professional world of performing arts production.

My first step was becoming an audio engineer at Northeastern’s AfterHours (and eventually Blackman Auditorium and Fenway Center, two other on-campus venues) as part of my work study job. I was devoted to the work and took every gig I could get. Simultaneously I began to focus more on studying music history and eschewed the typical Music Industry electives for those in the Music Technology track, and became deeply interested in 19th and 20th century music and composition. My last year of college was spent with a directed study working closely with Hilary Poriss (now the Associate Dean of Faculty and Associate Professor in the Music Department) as I researched and wrote a paper tracing and examining the lineage of women in the development of punk rock. After I graduated, I was hired by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to manage the production of public programs and concerts.

I still consider working at the Gardner the greatest opportunity of my life so far – it put me on a track that I thought was completely unreachable. After several years, I’m now at the Met, working on bigger and bigger shows. My knowledge and passion for music and music history has helped me immensely as I continue in art museums.

What can you tell me about the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (MCAD) and its “Animating Museums” fellowship?

The fellowship is designed for art museum workers in the United States who develop inventive or unusual programs in their work. There is an emphasis on group work and mentorship. Museums are constantly faced with reinventing the wheel every so often to bring in new visitors, younger visitors, and more diverse visitors. Most museums want to break the illusion that art is inaccessible to the common person – so I think MCAD is trying to generate new ways of thinking in programming and breaking out of routines. This will also be my first time visiting MCAD and Denver itself. MCAD seems to have a super forward-thinking attitude, and that’s really attractive to me.

What happens next now that you’ve received the fellowship? For example, when does the workshop in Denver take place and what will it entail?

The program lasts two years and is designed to allow each fellow to continue working full time – so I don’t need to leave New York or the Met, luckily. I’ll go to Denver three times for meetings and workshops and whatnot, and then will work with the team remotely via video chat. At the end of July I head to Denver for ten days for the kickoff of the program, and then return for shorter visits later on. The end goal of the program is to develop a large project to take place in Denver. Since it sounds like this project is pretty open-ended, I have no idea what form it will take – it could be anything from a residency to a new educational series.

The fellowship involves creating and developing your own creative project over the course of the next two years – do you have any ideas about what sort of thing you’d like to do?

 I’m really curious to see who else I’ll be working with in Denver and what they’ll bring to the table. My immediate response to creating a project of my choosing is to start a new performance series featuring young experimental musicians, composers, bands, and performance artists. I want to break apart the illusion that the band I saw in some warehouse in Brooklyn has no place on stage at the Met. With enough devotion and a big willingness to take a risk, I think there’s huge value in challenging a public audience. The point of art is to stimulate conversation. I’ve always held that to be true. I take great pleasure in ruffling feathers. I’d love to do that professionally. And I think the earlier talent and creativity is nurtured in someone, the better. Museums are in a unique position to acquire funding to do just that.

How do you feel that the fellowship is going to help you in advancing your career?

This fellowship is well timed as lately I’ve been helping our LiveArts department program an upcoming summer series (and a later residency). I want to move forward in programming and performance curation in Museums. My goal is to lead a performing arts center one day. My technical knowledge, combined with my passion for music, should make me pretty well-rounded to do such a thing. I’ve got a long road to go before I reach my goal, but that’s fine with me. The fellowship is a major step towards filling in some gaps in my professional career. And networking can’t be understated. Really looking forward to meeting people from all over who (presumably) think like I do.

How do you feel that your Northeastern education prepared you for your work – both with your job at the MET as well as your future projects now with the Animating Museums fellowship?

I learned early on that I’d need to take my own initiative to reach my goals at Northeastern. Navigating the Music Industry track on my own and getting exactly what I wanted and needed out of it instilled a great deal of confidence in myself and my abilities. I was never denied taking a class I wanted to take, and I was given the opportunity to do the work I wanted to do. But my biggest thanks, (and please make this bold and underlined) goes to Hilary Poriss for mentoring me through my final years of school. My directed study with her was my first attempt at pursuing a real passion of mine, and it helped me understand the career track I really wanted to be on. I was very intimidated by the immensity of my project and she really broke it down and helped me see it through. I still turn to her for professional guidance now, six years later, as I begin to set my sights on graduate school in historical musicology.