Alumni Spotlight: Kelly M. Ward

kelly wardKelly M. Ward (MA in art history 2020) a Brazilian-American art historian and public relations practitioner originally from Shreveport, Louisiana. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a concentration in public relations and a minor in art history as well as a master’s degree in art history from LSU.

Ward is currently the marketing and communications coordinator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. On top of this full-time position, she is also an adjunct instructor of visual arts and art history at Texas Wesleyan University where she holds two in-person lectures a week for 35 students.

With a lifelong interest in the arts, Ward has explored different roles associated with arts and culture. “Since I was 17, I knew that I wanted to work as a museum professional, but I thought I never wanted to be a curator,” she said. “I’ve worked at a non-profit arts council, in museum registration/collections, as a contemporary gallery director, in development, and currently in marketing and academia.”

“I went to a relatively small public high school that required academic testing to attend, had a rigorous curriculum including exceptional art courses such as ceramics and art history, and did not have a football team (many of my peers went to out-of-state, liberal arts colleges and universities). I really enjoyed the opportunities LSU gave me to experience SEC sports and join a sorority that I loved and still have life-long relationships from.”

“The main reason I chose LSU was because it was the best and most well-known in-state public university. With LSU being an in-state university, it made pursuing my credible degrees affordable and having little student loan debt and being relatively close to home has undoubtedly led to my success.”

Ward’s degrees from the Manship School of Mass Communication and the College of Art & Design have been crucial to her success as a young professional, she said. Without my LSU degrees, I would not have been qualified for either of my current positions. While at the university, I was exposed to opportunities through the Manship School of Mass Communication and the LSU School of Art for a public relations internship at a prestigious private firm and a year-long internship at the LSU Museum of Art, respectively. During my undergraduate studies, I even took a specialized capstone course on social media.”

The personal connections she forged with her mentors were the most meaningful part of her academic experience, she said. “The connections I made with my professors are what I valued the most from my time at LSU, especially art history professor Dr. Darius Spieth in the LSU School of Art,” she said. “Dr. Spieth cares for his students and got to know me passed the surface level. Dr. Spieth taught me hard work ethic, pragmaticism, and the skills needed to be a writer and art historian. It means a lot to me that he does not accept lackadaisical efforts and wants his students to present themselves in the highest standard.”

Ward held various art and public relations positions while in Baton Rouge, including working for the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, a small public relations firm, and collections/registration at the LSU Museum of Art, an opportunity through the LSU School of Art.

“When the pandemic hit, I was done with all my master’s degree requirements other than my thesis. I had a semester left to solely focus on this research and writing. I decided to move back to my hometown of Shreveport for two years which ended up being the best decision for me. Much of the research for my thesis was conducted in Shreveport since the artist of the biographical thesis I wrote lived there from 1940-1965. I also got to live at home and spend quality time with my Dad who passed away from cancer in November 2021.”

She finished her thesis in April 2020 and graduated from the LSU School of Art in August 2020. In September 2021, Ward was offered a job to manage a contemporary art gallery a peer’s uncle was opening in downtown Shreveport called Big Sun Studios. She also started teaching visual arts and art history fully remote at Bossier Parish Community College in January 2022 thanks to a connection from a high school friend’s mother.

“Although I had many good opportunities in Louisiana, I knew I had bigger goals and dreams and wanted to work as a professional in a credible museum,” she said.

In August 2022, she started a public relations and marketing internship at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX, as a 26-year-old with a master’s degree. This move and temporary position was possible due to her second income through her remote teaching position at the community college, she shared. Three weeks after her internship ended in December 2022, she was offered a full-time position with benefits at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in membership and development.

“After a few months, I knew this type of work wasn’t my calling and started another intense job search. My current position opened at the Modern during this time and I applied as the perfect fit and was chosen for the role in July 2023.”

Her position at the Modern combines both her skills in communications with her knowledge of art history: she manages digital content coordination such as email marketing and website and social media management. She also has design tasks using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign and practices many traditional public relations and marketing techniques.

“Ultimately—other than my credentials and expertise—taking the risk in moving to Fort Worth in a metroplex with an abundance of museums led me to my current role.” 

What’s next? Perhaps she will pursue a PhD in the years to come. “In the last two years, I’ve realized that I want to continue my education in pursuing a PhD and strive to do curatorial work,” she said. “As I’ve been exposed to the art world in a greater capacity at the Kimbell and the Modern, I am also open to exploring careers in art advisory and working for specific art foundations.”

Ward offers the following wisdom to current and future students: don’t be afraid to network and “put yourself out there,” as it may lead to new opportunities. While living at home and working various jobs during the uncertain times of the pandemic, she reconnected with peers from high school who were also home due to the circumstances, and those connections helped her to find work. Later, she was offered the adjunct position at Texas Wesleyan after being found on LinkedIn and the recruiter having had the same marketing position at the Modern with her current manager five years before.

I want to share with prospective and current students, particularly those coming from high school or undergraduate studies, to embrace your identity and individuality at this age and to always put your mental health first. I struggled in graduate school and heavily leaned on my family, friends, roommate, and Dr. Spieth to get through it,” she shared.

“I’d like to share career advice because I wish I knew more specifics when I was younger:

Find mentors. Research and get involved with professional development opportunities. Do not do the bare minimum—it will lead to an unfulfilled life and lack of opportunity. Pursue internships and expose yourself to job experience. Value networking and do it by putting yourself in professional environments where you can make authentic connections and nurture those connections throughout your career. Go to the university or museum hosted event, be involved in your local arts community, approach someone about their endeavors no matter how uncomfortable you are, direct message the curator on Instagram, update your LinkedIn and ask to connect with strangers you’re inspired by—say YES and put yourself out there. When going through the job search process, cast your net far and wide. Put true effort into your applications despite how little you want to after receiving rejection, and always write a handwritten thank you letter if possible.”

“Take risks, believe in yourself wholeheartedly, and work hard. Know that you deserve a spot at the table.”

Learn more about the LSU School of Art art history program.