Alumni Spotlight: Kelsey Dillow

This month we got to talk to artist and Ohio University alumna Kelsey Dillow. Since Kelsey graduated in 2016, she has taken her skills to a variety of intriguing jobs. From managing a gallery to co-founding a farm and maker space, she has proficiently cultivated her practice since leaving Athens.

Headshot, Kelsey Dillow, 2021, Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow

First, please introduce yourself and give us some background information on who you are and what you do. 

My name is Kelsey Dillow, I’m from Huntington, West Virginia. I received a BFA in Photography & Integrated Media as well as certificates in Museum Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies in 2016 at Ohio University. I worked in gallery spaces throughout college and made it a career for many years after leaving OU, most recently at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts as their Gallery Manager. I left Arrowmont in July of 2021 to pursue my own studio practice, which utilizes traditional and alternative photographic processes. In 2020, I became a co-founder/co-conspirator of Whistlepig Farms, a six-acre collective of makers raising gardens, plants and creating communal studio spaces for artists located in the hollers outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. I have a darkroom there where I practice silver gelatin printing, wet plate collodion (tintypes specifically) and other alternative processes.

When did you work at the Kennedy and what did you do during your time here? What was your area of study at the university and when did you graduate? 

I worked at the Kennedy Museum from 2014-2016 under Jeff Carr. I did anything Jeff needed doing, mostly in terms of the gallery and collection. Exhibition installations, framing, collections care and acquisitions, photographing artworks  and general mischief. I studied fine art in school and got a BFA in Photography & Integrated Media, graduating in 2016.  I also participated in the Museum Studies program.

What experiences have you had with the Kennedy Museum of Art? Do you have any favorite memories from your time at the museum? 

The best thing about working at the Kennedy Museum was the amazing group of folks I got to work alongside of. My team at the time consisted of Michael France and Stephen Deffet, and we had a blast working together. I really enjoyed working for Jeff Carr, we are still good friends to this day. I always made a point to make that man laugh at least once a day, and usually succeeded. Plus, the ability to walk into a building with so much history and energy everyday was a real treat.

(Left) Kelsey Dillow, Tintype, Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow. (Right) Kelsey Dillow, Tintype, Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow.

How would you describe your creative process? Alternatively, how would you describe your professional activities.  

My creative process varies depending on what I’m doing. If I’m working in the darkroom on silver gelatin prints, my mind is very methodical and follows a specific set of steps and rules. It’s also a solitary practice for me. Working with a process like wet plate collodion is a little more guttural and intuitive, and allows me more connection with other people, which is new for me and something I’m really enjoying.

Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow.

Who/What inspires you? 

I’m constantly inspired by other artists, makers and creative folks. Working in gallery spaces exposes you to a lot of artists and the vastly different approaches they have to their practices. It’s an incredible thing to witness, and has really filled my cup so to speak.

Has living through a pandemic changed your career, creative processes or education? 

Almost completely. Like many other folks, the pandemic gave me the ability to evaluate my priorities and really think about where I wanted to put my time and energy. This resulted in moving onto a  farm with my friends and carving out a space for ourselves. Whistlepig Farms was born with a collective goal of growing food, learning from relationships to each other and the land, communal studio spaces, and hopefully an artist residency in the future. The pandemic also pushed me to take a chance on myself and pursue my studio practice and Whistlepig Farms full time. I’m very privileged in these ways, and count all these things as serious blessings. 

Kelsey Dillow, Tintype, Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow

In your experience what roles do museums play in their communities? How do you think the community benefits from the museum? 

In my experience, museums can act as a place for communities to congregate and engage in the challenges that face us, as well as to celebrate their  successes. They can be a place to lift up creative work in their direct communities, and to introduce ideas from outside of their areas. Museums can also act as gatekeepers to these things if they aren’t careful.

How have your experiences of working either with one or multiple academic museums helped you give back to your community?  

Working in museums and galleries have helped me connect to my community in some ways . When I was growing up, my family never really went to museums. I don’t know if it was the sort of “high class” intimidation of spaces like museums that kept us away, but I think museums can still face the same problems of class access, and overlooking their local community in favor of a more national or international reputation.

In East Tennessee, I’ve been able to connect to my local community through long standing gallery and art programs that have served to directly benefit the folks living here. After leaving the gallery sphere, those connections have stood strong and I’ve been able to meet and connect with folks in more meaningful ways, and I’m so thankful for that.

What is your favorite object that is a part of a museum’s collection? Feel free to pick one from the Kennedy’s collection, a different collection, or both. Why?

The paintings in the collection by Bernarda Bryson Shahn still haunt me in the best way! 

(Left) Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Reflection, 20th Century. Oil Painting. KMA 2006.04.09. (Right) Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Passage, 1978. Oil Painting. KMA 2006.04.03.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

I’m very thankful for the education and experiences that I gained from working at the Kennedy Museum and going through the Museum Studies program. I learned the importance of considering every choice made when designing an exhibition, which has translated into so many other aspects of my studio practice and life in general. 

Kelsey Dillow, 2021. Silver Gelatin. Image courtesy of Kelsey Dillow.

To learn more about the Kennedy Art Museum please check out our website at Here you can check out our collection and current exhibitions. To check out other blog posts go to Finally, feel free to follow us on Instagram at @KennedyMuseumArtEdu or our Facebook page  .

Tristen Luken, Academic Programs Assistant