Meet our executive director Kemi Ilesanmi, who celebrates her two-year anniversary on the job today. Congratulations, Kemi, and thanks for your incredible leadership. Here’s to many more!
You’ve been involved with The LP in various ways: as an early member of the board, on the Artist & Community Council, and now as first-ever paid, full-time executive director. Congratulations on your two-year anniversary! What excited you the most about taking on this position?
I met (LP founder) Risë Wilson at a mutual friend’s brunch exactly two weeks after I moved to New York City in 2004. A year later, she invited me onto the board, and it’s been a magic love affair ever since! I served on the board for 4 ½ years and then stepped down to focus on graduate school. In every class, I would use The LP as a case study, and I served on the Artists and Community Council as well.
In other words, I drank deeply of The LP kool-aid and wanted to be a part of our ongoing success and growth. The most exciting part about becoming ED was recognizing both how much had already been accomplished by Risë, Petrushka, and others as well as how much more we were poised to do. I wanted to be part of a community that together would support artists as change agents and neighbors, grow creativity and social change tools in everyday folk, shift perspectives on how art fits into positive community development, and other essential journeys.
Formerly, you worked as a curator with the Walker Art Center, and Director of Grants and Services at Creative Capital—both wonderful organizations, yet quite different from The LP. How has your experience at the Walker and Creative Capital informed your work with The LP?
The seeds for doing this kind of work were planted at the Walker in Minneapolis, where I not only curated exhibitions but also ran our artist residency program—working with amazing artists such as Nari Ward, Julie Mehretu, and Sam Durant. For each residency, we connected the artists with local communities—be they Somali immigrants, Native American teens, or Hmong business owners. It was an especially transformative way to learn more about what was then a new city for me, and I learned how powerfully the arts could connect with different kinds of people, and outside the gallery walls.
What’s The LP value that keeps you engaged in our work?
I love all of The LP’s seven values and they ground me in the work everyday; however, the one that really keeps me jazzed is being “propelled by love.” For me, love is the most necessary and the most radical act we can commit every day as human beings. Having a job that values that four-letter word and makes it manifest on the ground and in the work is the. best. thing. ever.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What’s your favorite thing about it?
I live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. I love that it’s a small town in the big city—with trees, lawns, small businesses, and an incredibly diverse mix of neighbors that I’ve gotten to know over the last eight years.
What is your favorite book, film or song about NYC?
Every September 17th, my anniversary of moving to NYC, I post the chorus from “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys. I’ve made this concrete jungle my home and as corny as it sounds, my dreams have come true here in New York City.
What have you been reading lately?
Where do you do your laundry?
In the basement of my building… courtesy of my kind husband.
What’s your favorite food?
Dodo! Also known as fried plantain (for non-Nigerians).