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Desert Companion

Profile: Kellen Braddock, Deputy Director, Black Mountain Institute

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Kellen Braddock
Photography by Brent Holmes

Kellen Braddock is a new face in the local literary scene, but not one you’re likely to see behind the mic at a poetry reading. She’s an administrator — a special kind of administrator. Braddock humbly describes her role as overseeing “back of house” functions at UNLV’s literary think tank, the Black Mountain Institute, but it’s much more vital than that.

“Artists don’t have time for paperwork, and as a result, the arts sector needs passionate people with business chops,” says Braddock, who has an MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University. Braddock is just such a hybrid, an award-winning poet with a sharp mind for business. “My background in writing allows me to bring a greater level of understanding, patience and gratitude when working with writers. Artists have a very difficult job to do and must ride on hope with very little security.”

(Wait. There’s such a thing as an MFA in arts leadership? Yes. Braddock describes it as “essentially an artsy business management degree.” Before moving to Las Vegas to join BMI, she plied her skills as the business and operations director for Hugo House, Seattle’s acclaimed literary arts center.)

Though Braddock doesn’t pen verse as often as when she was a college undergraduate majoring in creative writing, her experience as an author still informs her arts-administration work. And such behind-the-scenes work can be fulfilling in its own right. “My focus in the last few years has shifted toward arts administration and business,” she says — a choice both career-minded and mission-minded. “While pursuing my undergraduate degree in writing, I wanted to build ‘hard skills’ that would buoy my writing career.” (Third-year creative writing MFAs considering the job market that awaits, take note.)

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Braddock’s thoughts so far on Las Vegas? Like many newcomers to the cultural scene, she’s amazed at what’s been built, but she’s just as excited about the possibilities. “Las Vegas has a handful of incredible cultural institutions, like the Smith Center and Mob Museum. The establishment of a city art museum will be a huge boon for all of us. The Writer’s Block, Las Vegas’ independent bookstore, has been an essential anchor to my wife Leighan and me. The diversity of Las Vegas residents is extremely refreshing to us as well. I want more exposure to the grassroots or underground arts, culture and social-justice scenes in town.” And as far as her excitement about possibilities, she’s already talking big like a Vegas dreamer: “BMI will help turn Las Vegas into one of the most literary cities in the U.S.”

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