Art Critic Kimberly Drew—aka @MuseumMammy—on Saying “Yes” to New York
It all started with a Tumblr blog. Here’s how one New Yorker’s love affair with the city helped turn her digital platform into a flourishing career in its notoriously exclusive art world.
While it’d be easy to label Brooklyn’s Kimberly Drew a multi-hyphenate, the term doesn’t quite cover the enormity of her passions—or the way she’s flawlessly shaped the way they intersect into a flourishing career that’s perhaps best described as a modern-day renaissance woman. Curator, model, art critic, writer, author, and social media manager are all roles that the 31-year-old New Jersey native has had at one time or another and that she continues to slip in and out of at different moments.
“I do so many things right now. I would say that the thing I do that kind of circles all of them together is that I give very discerning ‘yeses’ to opportunities that feel aligned with any particular moment,” she explains. In February, alignment came in the form of an Associate Director role at the esteemed Pace gallery. For Drew, also notably known as social media’s @museummammy, it’s all part of how her interests fuse together into an overarching personal mission—one that’s only sharpened in focus since she started calling New York City her home.
Her relationship with the city started early in her life. And those memories remain etched in her mind, including regular trips with her family and dad’s best friend, who was a local resident, to see the Puerto Rican day parade in the Bronx starting as a youngster. “NYC parades and block parties are amazing opportunities for intergenerational celebrations of identity and neighborhoods,” she says. “I’ve never really thought about it as a guiding force for my move to the city, but summertime is definitely the season that reminds me how special New York can be when you make space for celebration.” And her first cultural excursions stand out too, including Broadway shows like In The Heights and walking through museums.
This marked the beginning of a life-long love for art and its infinite possibilities, a love nurtured by two aunts, one who was an artist and another who frequently took her to museums. “Growing up in what we call a tristate area, you have so much access to culture, so even if you’re not actively engaging, your cultural awareness is so high because that’s just the tenor of this city.”
Having grown up in the city of Orange, some sort of relationship with NYC was inevitable. “There is a kind of divide that happens, especially when you’re from Jersey. Either you’re obsessed with the city, or you never step foot [there].” Surprisingly, the art critic found herself in the latter party. Growing up around love, encouragement, and support for the arts could, unfortunately, not outweigh the reality of the family’s financial situation, “It came down to money and we just didn’t have it.”
When a paid fellowship at The Studio Museum in Harlem presented itself after her time at Smith College Museum of Art, it was a no-brainer for Drew. “I really fell in love with the cultural fabric [in New York City] and felt a lot of upward mobility because New York is so special. You can really get a return on the work that you do,” she adds, with a caveat around the difficulties of breaking out in the city.
“It just kept making sense,” she says as she mulls over where the journey that her personal and professional spheres have taken her. “I can really chart chronologically each of these steps and the progress.” Those moves include joining the illustrious Metropolitan Museum of Art as their Associate Online Community Producer in 2015, co-editing the Black Futures anthology with culture writer Jenna Wortham across five years, and publishing her first book, This Is What I Know About Art, in June 2020, all of which followed her successful Tumblr Black Contemporary Art that she started in 2011. “I have mentees, people who have come after me doing similar work, and at 31, it’s like, something’s working.”
For someone who could not have foreseen New York taking such a substantial role in her life, Drew has embraced the city with open arms. And more importantly, having lived in NYC for a decade, it tenderly squeezes her back. The evidence can be found in the ease through which she moves through the city, the Black queer communities she has found a home in and the way in which New York proudly claims Kimberly Drew as one of its own.