NYCHA Resident Hired to Manage New Arts Program for the Community Fund

This article was posted on the NYCHA website, and I am reposting this to celebrate Kemi joining the Public Housing Community Fund. This is a positive step in the right direction.

Kemi Karim is a dynamic artist and community organizer deeply rooted in the fabric of arts and culture in New York City. As a longtime resident of Bushwick Houses, she brings a fresh perspective on public housing and a passion for storytelling to the newly created role of NYCHA Art Liaison at the Public Housing Community Fund, where she’ll manage a new Connected Communities program, From Roots to Arts: Celebrating NYCHA’s Cultural Heritage

From Roots to Arts is the first artist-in-residence program at NYCHA. Throughout the 20-month program, five artists will collaborate with NYCHA residents to conceive public art programming and installations that celebrate the cultural value at Astoria Houses, Bushwick Houses, Bronx River Houses, King Towers, and Richmond Terrace. Each artist will receive a dedicated program space and budget to create art programming that cultivates a deeper sense of community, redefining how art is created and featured in public housing. Funded by a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, the program is made possible through partnerships between the Public Housing Community Fund, NYCHA, and other City agencies. The NYCHA Art Liaison position was created as part of the new program. 

“My position is completely new, and I love how I’ve made it my own,” Ms. Karim said. “It’s been rewarding to work with the Fund, the NYC Public Design Commission, and community-based organization partners on new ways to connect with residents at each development. I look forward to working closely with the artists and our stakeholder advisory groups to ensure forward and impactful progress throughout the program.” 

Kemi Karim
Photo by Marlon Turner

For Ms. Karim, the position feels like the perfect fit because it creates space for honing her skills in arts organization while contributing to her practice as an artist. As an interdisciplinary artist specializing in film and photography, Ms. Karim’s work explores identity, womanhood, and experiences that form and define community. Her work has been featured in several publications, including The New York Times. In 2023, she participated in her first group show, IN MY BAG with the Cierra Britton Gallery, co-curated by Jewel Ham.   

Ms. Karim’s dedication to community development is exemplified through her creative collective, TRUTHIS Studios, which caters to the wellness and advancement of creatives of color. Through initiatives like the annual summer festival, A GREAT DAY IN BROOKLYN, she has built a platform for NYC artists that contributes to entrepreneurship, the arts, and community. The day is curated to celebrate connection, healing, and planning toward sustainable futures in creative industries. Ms. Karim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, where she majored in public relations and minored in photography. 

As the NYCHA Art Liaison, Ms. Karim has worked diligently to help establish the new program, transitioning From Roots to Arts from concept to reality. Once the artists are selected, she will guide them in planning and executing programming. She is eager to foster collaborative relationships with NYCHA partners, residents, community-based organizations, and City agencies throughout the program’s duration, ensuring alignment of artistic goals, community needs, and City standards.  

Ms. Karim with a NYCHA resident at a community day hosted by the Fund.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kemi Karim as the new NYCHA Art Liaison,” said Public Housing Community Fund Executive Director Alex Zablocki. “Kemi’s deep roots in Bushwick Houses and her passion for the arts and community organizing make her an invaluable addition to our team. Her innovative vision and dedication to storytelling will undoubtedly enrich our program, From Roots to Arts, and help us celebrate NYCHA’s cultural heritage in profound ways. We are honored and lucky to have her join our team.”   

Ms. Karim’s family has lived at Bushwick Houses — one of the participating developments of From Roots to Arts — for more than 60 years. And since starting her new position in February, she has learned a great deal about NYCHA’s history.  

“In my first week of work, I spent quite a bit of time going through the archives at LaGuardia,” Ms. Karim said. “I had no clue how much programming was embedded into daily life at NYCHA before all the funding was redirected. Like, who knew we had symphonies? I saw visual representations of stories my grandmother would tell me about the early days at Bushwick. It shows how communities thrived when similar programming existed, and while it hasn’t happened in a while, we’re turning a new leaf with From Roots to Arts, hoping to bring more joy and self-sufficiency to our communities. We have a unique opportunity to make NYCHA more than just a place to live.” 

Ms. Karim’s excitement about documenting the impact of From Roots to Arts is fueled by her mission to inspire an expansion of the program that reaches all NYCHA residents. She said that people are often surprised to learn she grew up in a NYCHA development, and through this endeavor she intends to “reshape communities and public perception about people from public housing communities.” 

“In a way, I have an agenda to prove to people that we are so much more than what is portrayed in the media,” she said. “What you may see on the news is not a reflection of the vast majority of people living in public housing. This program is coming to our backyards, and it gives me hope for future artists and all residents regardless of age or cultural background.”