The Pittsburgh Foundation

D.S. Kinsel: Forging creativity and elevating the role of Black artists in Westmoreland County

Artists in residence D.S. Kinsel and Anqwenique Kinsel play the dice game craps at a Feb. 13 event at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Image by Kitoko Chargois.

As told to Tereneh Idia, a freelance writer and artist.

D.S. Kinsel is an artist, art educator and co-founder of BOOM Concepts, a gallery, art and activist hub. BOOM Concepts is, Kinsel explains, “dedicated to the development of artists and creative entrepreneurs representing marginalized communities.” Kinsel and his BOOM family and friends have created a space with a focus on intersectionality beyond representation; a space of caring, celebration and love for under-recognized artists in the Pittsburgh region. BOOM Concepts in Garfield, has received a number of grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation, including awards from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program. The Fisher Fund at the Foundation is also supporting Kinsel’s residency at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, which has a history of funding from The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County (CFWC). Kinsel is also leading a community process to guide the creation of a public art installation in Greensburg. The process was funded by CFWC’s Revitalizing Westmoreland initiative. Kinsel and his wife, Anqwenique Kinsel, who is a singer, producer and teaching artist, are the first resident artists at the Westmoreland Museum.

ARTISTS ARE ELEVATED in some ways, and you know, demonized or forgotten in a lot of other ways. That’s something I always want to remember. It’s really important that people know that artists are your neighbors.

Something that’s really important for me is that people know specifically, Black people know, that being an artist is a job, and there are multiple jobs within the field. Growing up, I didn’t know a single artist that was practicing. So we as artists should just share our gifts in the neighborhood like any other responsible adult would — or I hope they would.

My wife and our families are multigenerational Pennsylvanians [urban and rural]. Westmoreland County is not the rural area where our families lived, but the Westmoreland was the first museum my family visited after our baby was born. So we have some pictures that are really near and dear, and they were just very welcoming at all times. So, our relationship to the Westmoreland is, in a way, on a more personal level. It’s a museum that we trusted.

Westmoreland County was in the national news around the election. When we look at that in relation to my political stances, not my, like, stances on humanity because, man… but my political stances, there was also some fear because of the extremism that we found out there. There’s an artful Trump house on display, like an old barn that has become a national landmark decorated with Trump ephemera designs. So, you know, it’s like, part of me, as an artist, wants to go check that out. But I am also looking for maybe those cultural markers. So there is a barbershop there that I haven’t had a chance to make it to, but I want to go holler at brothers at that shop even though I don’t necessarily need a cut.

Entering in as artists in this part of the Westmoreland Museum, we’ve been able to connect with some individuals that don’t necessarily have strong pre-existing relationships specifically with Black community members. And so, you know, we’re really trying to figure out what’s the best way to translate kind of like our purpose and our intentions to folks.

Ultimately, we’re looking to really find artists and support them and Westmoreland County as well. So, you know, it’s a journey. It’s a challenge. But it’s a core part of our work. I could foresee that being a larger challenge in that area just based on its history of racism, conservative leanings, and when I do walk around, I haven’t seen many Black or Brown people.

So every artist [in residence] will receive space at the museum as a studio, which is really nice. You know, that’s been great for us, specifically having our daughter with us. The residence part of the residency, the housing piece, was like a huge, huge, huge part of this to actively combat some of the racial differences, inequities and isolations that Black artists face. Immersed and maybe isolated in a primarily white environment, that apartment was a key piece of providing respite and care for artists.

Each artist will receive an equitable stipend, and that was really important for us. The museum has stepped up and is showing their care for artists in this program.

The artists can contribute hours to public-facing programming, sharing with the community, sharing with young people. For me, I always want young people to see artists as models. You have to see it to believe it to be it.

The first residency public program was an all-vinyl DJ set. The music was in relation to the extra-beautiful exhibition at the Westmoreland of African American artists.

Entering in as artists in this part of the Westmoreland Museum, we’ve been able to connect with some individuals that don’t necessarily have strong pre-existing relationships specifically with Black community members. And so, you know, we’re really trying to figure out what’s the best way to translate kind of like our purpose and our intentions to folks.
-- D.S. KINSEL, CO-FOUNDER OF BOOM CONCEPTS

Chess is another part of my relationship with Anqwenique, and everyone loves things like the [Netflix TV series] ‘Queen’s Gambit’ right now. So we wanted to have Black folks on the chess board. On Feb. 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, there was a digital chess match we streamed between Anqwenique and me.

The space is really like a mansion. Hmm. So when you even think about that history, and where those funds come from — African American labor — I think it’s really symbolic. Telling your story and being a griot [pronounced “GREE-oh,” a traveling artist practicing oral storytelling in parts of West Africa] as an artist is an indigenous practice to us. It’s important to be heard.


Original story appeared in the Forum Quarterly Spring 2021.