Atlanta, Georgia–based collector Kent Kelley is determined to make a difference in the art space. Collectors can do a lot to help further the industry, he explains: “They need to rally alongside their peers to educate new collectors and work in close collaboration with museums and galleries to support the brilliance of Black emerging talent.”
Now the chief financial officer of software company Unanet, Kelley observed artmaking from a young age. He is the son of an artist mother, who died when he was 14. A decade or so later, in the early 2000s, he acquired a few pieces of art, with the sole purpose of decorating his home; among them were works by
and Susan St. James. He started taking collecting more seriously in 2015, and now, artists like
play an integral role in Kelley’s collection. He looks for work with historical significance, though generally, his collecting practice is driven by passion. Kelley buys the work he truly enjoys.
Simultaneously, as a collector, he focuses on the idea of legacy—his own legacy, but also the legacy of urban-influenced art, of the African diaspora, and of individuals who have fought for liberation. Cultural preservation is critical to Kelley’s approach, as is increasing awareness around Black contemporary artists. He emphasizes that he is not in the business to sell his work one day, but to promote the legacies of artists he admires. He hopes to one day pass his works down to future generations, with the goal of ensuring each piece rests in the hands of institutions focused on African American and African diasporic communities.
Collectors, Kelley explains, are tasked with both protecting culture and keeping it accessible, undertakings he intends to continue to pursue. He has an affinity for loaning out and gifting pieces from his collection to institutions, and a desire to draw more Black collectors into the market. Ultimately, Kelley will pursue any avenue that allows him to help support emerging artists. We recently caught up with Kelley to learn more about his collection and what it means to him to be a collector.