Art & Community


Belinda Tate
Executive Director
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
314 South Park Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Where did you move from?
Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was Director of The Diggs Gallery of Winston-Salem State University. Before that I was a corporate banker for five years, managing the northern Virginia and Washington D.C. territory for Wachovia.

What attracted you to Kalamazoo?
From my background and experience, I understand the impact the arts have on a person’s life. The arts enrich your experience and nurture our humanity. From a social service perspective, I wanted to use the arts as a way of adding something positive and beautiful and fulfilling and thought-provoking to people’s lives. I wanted to be able to do that in a way that made it accessible for everybody. The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) is such a place that really engages people from all sectors of the community.

What should people know about the KIA?
The KIA’s collection is incredible. People come here from all over the world who are just astounded to see the exquisite collection that we have. We do an incredible job with our temporary programs, our exhibitions. The other thing we have is this phenomenal Kirk Newman Art School where people are really able to attain a high level of mastery in the arts. We take people at all levels. No experience required. We have an incredible level of professional instruction. Our faculty is amazing. And so are our students! Any university would be proud to tout the accomplishments of the kinds of students we produce here.

Why did you move downtown?
I was really impressed with the town of Kalamazoo itself. It’s an incredible city … an amazing international crossroads because our corporate sector has ties to every corner of the world. People are well-traveled. They’re well-educated. They bring so many great ideas back to our community. I really love this very open international flair that’s a part of a smaller city.

Favorite restaurants?
My new favorite place is Principle Food & Drink. I’m a foodie. I love to eat and Kalamazoo has great places to eat. I love Food Dance as well. Saffron too. They’re my three favorite places.

Favorite Southwest Michigan places?
The Krasl Art Center is lovely and right on the beach in St. Joseph so you can get art and the beach at the same time in one day. Fourth of July in Battle Creek with Goguac Lake’s boat parade and hot air balloons from the air show is a sight experience.

You’ve been around the world?
Rwanda. Zanzibar is very nice. Canada and Mexico. South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal. Singapore was really fantastic. The United Kingdom, France, Russia, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Greece, Italy, Spain. That might be it.

How can our region compare?
Comfort. Kalamazoo is a very comfortable place to live. You can let your guard down and feel completely at ease with your lifestyle here. It’s not a place where you have to live on the edge and be overly concerned with the safety issues. In terms of getting around, it’s so easy to get around town. No traffic jams.

What’s different here?
This region has all of the amenities that you would be looking for in a big city just because so many people here who lived in major cities around the world. Regardless of what you are interested in, I think people will find there’s something here for them.

If you’re an outdoors person, there are great hiking trails. I like to walk and I go to Celery Flats a lot. For winter sports, there are lots of places to ski and snowboard. If you like opera, if you like the symphony, if you like theater … all of those options are here. People might think that a city our size might have one great theater. No, there are multiple venues where you can experience theater. You have the opportunity to experience major acts here. Anyone who might perform at New York or Chicago is often also performing at Miller Auditorium or with our symphony. I went to see Sixto Rodriguez at the State Theater. Sitting there, I pinched myself thinking, “Wow, I’m in Kalamazoo, listening to Sixto. This is pretty cool.”

You’re helping to recruit to our region?
I started a post-baccalaureate residency program in the arts at the KIA. It’s a seven-month intensive residency for folks who have graduated from college within the last three years with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. We give them an opportunity to come, spend time at our school, and seek mentors among our faculty. They have access to studios and they’re able to figure out the next step for their careers.

When you have a degree in the arts, it’s not like going into the corporate world where there are a lot of formal internships or apprenticeships. You need some landing space to find the right opportunity for yourself. You’re at a point in your career where you’re still mastering your craft. We give them that opportunity to come here and do that.

Currently, we have five program participants from Eastern Illinois University, Kendall College of Art and Design and Western Michigan University. The program started back in September and runs through March. One moved here, found a job in Grand Rapids, and is working in our school one day a week. Two secured Kalamazoo studio space and time. Two were hired as Kirk Newman Art School instructors.

Final words of wisdom for someone looking to move here?
Don’t hesitate! People here are really accessible. It’s really easy to meet people and make new friends. They’re very welcoming of others. That’s been one of the most impressive things about Kalamazoo to me: When you arrive as a newcomer, people are so glad that you’re here. They’ll go out of their way to help you get established and make this your home.

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