The Artist’s Champion

The Artist’s Champion

Meaghan Kent and daughter Katharine Whittier, Adrienne Rose Giona: “Somewhere I Belong,” Art and Culture Center/Hollywood, February 3-April 21, 2024. [Photo by Khami Auerbach]


Meaghan Kent ’94


In an old 1920s building in South Florida, Meaghan Kent ’94 grins as she describes a short video of a cat roaring. 

“It looks like a beast,” she says. “But really, it’s just a super cute, fancy cat.” 

Meaghan hasn’t been scrolling the depths of YouTube or Instagram. The cat video isn’t your run-of-the-mill social media fodder. Quite the opposite. It’s a film made 20 years ago by an artist, one of many Meaghan has connected with throughout her long career. The artist is lending Meaghan the video to include in the exhibition she’s putting on this summer at the Art and Culture Center Hollywood, where Meaghan serves as curator. 

Nestled in a historic mansion 20 minutes north of Miami, the Art and Culture Center works to engage the community in art and creativity through gallery exhibitions, stage performances and educational opportunities for adults and kids alike. As curator, Meaghan takes exhibitions from the idea stage to opening gala and beyond. The cat video has found a home in this summer’s exhibition, which is all about animals. That’s actually the name of the exhibition—“ANIMALS.” 

Summer means more kids in the museum, and “Animals” has them in mind. “It’s meant to be this fun, engaging, educational exhibition,” Meaghan says. The walls and halls of the gallery will be splashed with art pieces ranging from a historic Peruvian statue of a cat to a massive, 10-by-11 foot painting of Florida’s invasive species—roosters, pythons, lizards, and a depiction of Henry Flagler, the founder of the Florida East Coast Railway. The railway powered rapid land expansion into Florida in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “According to the artist, Christina Pettersson” Meaghan says, “Flagler is the most invasive species of them all.” 

Marina Kappos, still from “Beast,” [Courtesy of the artist]

“ANIMALS” is just one of many exhibitions Meaghan has brought to life at the museum. Last year she curated an exhibition called “Living in Oblivion: An Artistic Examination of Our Times.” The show explored themes of information and misinformation and featured works by artists that conduct research in various fields. “That was a quieter show,” Meaghan says. “That was a little more serious, a little more thoughtful.” 

Often, Meaghan draws inspiration for exhibitions from the world right outside the museum’s doorstep in South Florida. “There are certain issues and things that are happening here, politically and socially,” she says. Climate change, gender discrimination, immigration, and racial issues all find their way into exhibitions Meaghan curates. “I work with a lot of artists that address those issues directly,” she says.

“The Garden of Evil” by Christina Pettersson, 10 x 11′ drawing on wood. [Courtesy of the artist]

While museum-goers might like to think exhibitions pop up out of nowhere to delight and engage them, that, of course, could not be farther from the truth. The purpose of each exhibition varies, but each has a story to tell, and it’s part of Meaghan’s job to identify and sharpen that story in the early stages of planning. Then, she has to source the perfect art pieces to tell it. Meaghan’s decades of work in the art world has given her a mental Rolodex of names—big and small—of artists who could potentially contribute to shows. But selecting art isn’t as easy as knowing the right people. For each piece, Meaghan treads on one big question: “Does this fit?” In other words, how does it contribute to the story we’re telling? And once a mass of art pieces have been collected, Meaghan engages in another tough question: “What am I missing?”

Sometimes, Meaghan will contact artists directly and pay them to create specific works for the museum, which is most common when she wants to highlight an individual artists’ work. Other times, she’ll comb through her Rolodex and ask to borrow specific pieces from artists—like the video of the roaring cat—that will work in tandem with other pieces to bring stories to life. She’s also in charge of putting together extra materials like exhibit

brochures and marketing materials, which go far beyond basic information about the artwork. For a brochure accompanying a past exhibition on the Everglades, she wrote a short essay about color symbolism. The hard work of executing exhibitions pays off, Meaghan says, when she feels like she’s filling a need for audiences, when she can walk through exhibitions she’s created and talk to visitors about them. 

“Oh,” she says, thoughtfully. “I love what I do.” 

“I championed artists”

Meaghan joined the Saints community in ninth grade. And while she eventually found her footing, she remembers her feelings as that school year approached. “I really did not want to go to this all-girls school,” she says, smiling. Her father, a colonel in the Army, was stationed in Egypt during the Persian Gulf War, leaving Meaghan with uncertainty at home and now, uncertainty at school. “It was this very difficult year,” she remembers. “It was very difficult to meet people.” 

She eventually made a few friends, and then the school went coed her sophomore year. After that, she says, she began to thrive. Especially because she’d taken interest in a subject she’d never before been exposed to—art history. In art history classrooms beginning her freshman year, Meaghan found a passion for art and unlocking the stories behind it. She also made art in art classes, but by her own admission, wasn’t very good. “I’m not an artist,” she says. But the stories behind the art—the contexts, historical moments, and emotions the art evoked—drew Meaghan in. 

By junior year, Meaghan says, things were falling into place academically and socially. Her senior year brought an AP art history class with Joanne Kesten and in Meaghan’s words, “that was it.” Ms. Keston’s belief in her placed Meaghan firmly on the path she’s on to this day. “She made me realize I was good at art history,” Meaghan explains. “That I could write about it, and look at it, and interpret it, and I could understand the meanings and the symbolism.” Most importantly, beyond just letting her know that she was good at art history, Ms. Keston made Meaghan aware that she was excited about it. That small difference was key. Meaghan suddenly knew what she wanted to do with her life. 

It didn’t hurt that many of her friends at St. Stephens and St. Agnes were talented visual artists, including Eddie Chu ’93. (Eddie is now a practicing professional artist who has won two Emmys for his design work on “Westworld.”) “I loved being with these creative people,” Meaghan says, remembering when Eddie and another friend, Mike Tramonte, painted a mural in the school hallway while Meaghan looked on. “I was watching them paint and just thinking how talented they were. I knew it was not something I could do, but I understood that they were really good at it,” she says. Surrounding herself with creatives further confirmed Meaghan’s love for artists’ stories and work. “It was just one of those moments that definitely moved me in that direction,” she says. 

These days, Meaghan sees her role as a curator as a sort of a cheerleader to artists. Naturally, she was a cheerleader at St. Stephens and St. Agnes. “I loved being a cheerleader,” she says. “It’s such a huge part of who I am too, because I really championed other people.” As a cheerleader, she championed teammates and others’ athletic endeavors. But as someone with a passion for art? “I championed artists,” she says. 

Tequila bottles and gigantic hanging sculptures

Meaghan’s passion sent her to the mountains of New Mexico, where she got her bachelor’s degree in art history, criticism, and conservation at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. The small city was teeming with the legacies of artists like Georgia O’Keefe and current stars of the art world like Bruce Nauman, an award-winning contemporary artist. “Because Santa Fe was such a small pocket, and because there weren’t too many art history majors there, we got a lot of special attention,” Meaghan remembers. “I was able to be at a dinner party with Bruce Nauman. I mean, how amazing is that for me?” 

Eduardo Sarabia, I-20 Gallery, New York, [Photo by Cary Whittier]

Meaghan’s years in Santa Fe sharpened her passion for contemporary art specifically, thanks to an internship at a contemporary art space. After graduating, Meaghan pursued her master’s degree in art history at George Washington University. In D.C., Meaghan interned at the Phillips Collection and Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, both notable collections of modern and contemporary art.

Graduation with her master’s degree brought Meaghan to one of the country’s foremost hot spots for contemporary art—New York City. There, Meaghan began several years of gallery work. Her job wasn’t simply to sell artists’ work—although she says that was certainly a highlight. “It was great to call the artist and say, guess what?” she says. But gallery work also meant connecting with—and managing the careers of—a growing roster of contemporary artists. 

Managing artists involved connecting with them about pieces they had in progress, getting them into upcoming exhibitions, and helping artists produce long-term projects. Meaghan worked with big names like Mexico-based Eduardo Sarabia, British artist Simon Starling, and Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer, helping them bring their visions to life. She fondly remembers an installation by Edurado involving two thousand empty tequila bottles. “With Eduardo, he would call me up and be like, ‘Meaghan, I’ve got this idea,’ and I’d start taking notes,” she says. “It was just a matter of planning and trying to make his dreams come true. He would give me this vision, and I would work to make it the reality.” Her job was to nail down the answers to questions like, how much are these materials going to cost? Where can we source them from? And what kind of work can you make that we might be able to sell to support the project? 

Eduardo’s tequila project, it turned out, required a lot of logistics. “We had to learn how to import tequila from Mexico,” she says. “And we had to work with a ceramics company on these custom handmade bottles.” (Edurado’s work eventually landed him in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, a survey show highlighting top works from the previous two years across all genres.)

Simon Starling’s project for a temporary public sculpture, “Hiroshima,” installed over the PaperWorks Festival, Museo Tamayo, September 2015 [Photo by Meaghan Kent]

Meaghan also worked with Simon Starling on getting a piece of his, a massive hanging sculpture, installed in the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. Meaghan was contacted by a curator at the museum who was looking to showcase Simon’s work. “I said, well, we have this piece. And I think it would be amazing in your atrium,” Meaghan says. The Tamayo’s multi-story, glass-encased atrium, Meaghan thought, would be the perfect backdrop for Simon’s hanging sculpture. Together, Meaghan and the museum’s curator worked to make it happen, with Meaghan attending to every tiny logistic detail. She made sure Simon’s progress was steady and timely, and then that the sculpture could fit through the Tamayo’s front door. She wrote press releases, interacted with museum attendees, and eventually sold the piece to the museum, where it will remain in the atrium as part of its permanent collection. 

Meaghan loved connecting with artists—some of whom she is still connected to today—and working to help them sell their work. But Meaghan began to discover that her true passion lay outside galleries, and inside museums. “The heart of what I love doing is making exhibitions,” she says, “that are accessible, and that anybody can go to.” 

During her time in New York, Meaghan got a glimpse of her future as a curator. She partnered with a foundation to display carefully curated art pieces aboard a 1932-era steamship parked in Tribeca. Challenges abounded—how does one display priceless art in a place without climate control? “You have to be like, it’s not going to be a perfect space,” she says, laughing. She worked with artists to create a vast array of pieces—photographs, paintings, sculptures, sound pieces, and films. Not only was it fun, Meaghan says, but she enjoyed providing opportunities for artists to present their work. And that’s eventually just what she ended up doing. 

Exhibition view, LILAC, TriBeCa New York [Photo by Cary Whittier]

“How to think”

These days, when Meaghan isn’t preparing for upcoming exhibitions at the Art and Culture Center/Hollywood and connecting with up-and-coming artists, she’s teaching art history at nearby Broward College in Fort Lauderdale. Teaching, she says, has given her a new appreciation for her experience at St. Stephens and St. Agnes. “We were studying art history starting in freshman year of high school,” she says. “And I’m teaching 20-year-old kids who have never had it before.” She credits the school’s thriving art and academic spaces with unleashing the passion for art that she carries to this day. 

“What’s so special about St. Stephens and St. Agnes,” she says, “is that the school really taught you how to think.” Not what to think, but how. And isn’t that what the best art does, too?