Kate Ledbetter in the main gallery during the “Only Once in the Light” exhibition by Leigh Sabisch and Allison Koch; the former Redux board member, now executive director, says she’s working to grow the visual art center’s membership and programming to “represent all the people of Charleston.”
Redux Contemporary Art Center
Ensuring space and support for emerging talents
Kate Ledbetter had only been on the job as executive director of Redux Contemporary Art Center for a month when the first shows under her leadership opened on the same night in September 2022. “We don’t ever know exactly what the artists are going to show up with,” she says. And the three exhibitions debuting that evening could not have been more disparate: In the main gallery, seasoned textile artists Mikki Blackman and Deborah Donovan Rice collaborated on an installation and brought in an improv jazz group for ambience. Nick Kawczynski and Jillian Thorvaldson, a couple of young emerging artists fresh from Redux’s Lightning Residency program, were pouring margaritas in the back gallery to complement a series of ink drawings of tequila bottles. And Daisy McClellan showed a collection of her textile work in the middle space entitled “Art Before Dishes” (a mantra that particularly resonates with Ledbetter, a mother of two young boys).
Turns out it all just clicked. “When I tell you it was a party, I felt like I was in a club,” says Carson Carroll, Redux’s education and outreach director. At one point in the evening, Ledbetter allowed herself to soak it all in. “The work wasn’t speaking to each other, and the crowds were totally different. But they were all moving and supporting and seeing each other. That was really powerful,” she recalls. “It was like, ‘Man, this is good! These are all the things I love, and they’re happening!’”
Ledbetter has a knack for making magic happen. It’s been a through line in a career that started after she graduated in 2004 from College of Charleston, where she studied historic preservation and, coincidentally, lived across the street from Redux when it was on St. Philip Street. (It moved to the North Central neighborhood five years ago.) Her first job out of school was at Drayton Hall, where she spent six years, including a summer fellowship at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I feel like I really started to understand the nonprofit world and how that played into preservation but also the larger spectrum of the arts and conservation efforts,” Ledbetter says.
Subsequent gigs have included working in development at the South Carolina Aquarium and, most recently, at her children’s school Charleston Collegiate. Fundraising is something she feels called to do. “People tend to shy away from development,” she says. “I know what it takes to ensure the programming continues and the lights stay on. I’m willing to do it, so y’all can just create.”
Art, meanwhile, is another constant in Ledbetter’s life. She grew up on Hilton Head in a household that placed a premium on creativity—her parents had an extensive collection of Leroy Neiman prints, and her grandmother was a prolific painter. “I don’t think until recently that I knew what a big impact that had. I love to create, but I don’t have formal practice,” she says.
Charleston Charter School for Math & Science students participated in a printing workshop in February.
Ledbetter and her husband, Brian, a musician, are intent on making art a part of their children’s lives (see “Art Before Dishes”). One of their first dates, in fact, was a screen-printing course at the old Redux. More recently, she channeled her creativity as host of her own show on Ohm Radio, which evolved into her becoming the station’s programming chair and serving on the board.
That her passions eventually collided last year when she took the reins at Redux (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary), surprised no one except her. “It’s a dream having ended up here,” she says. “I mean, these are my people, this is the place I wanted to be, this is the kind of work I want to do. It’s incredible.”
Since stepping into the role, Ledbetter has been focusing on creating a cohesive development plan that includes growing programming and membership. She’s particularly intent on showcasing more diverse voices in the studio and on the board. “A huge goal of mine is continuing to serve the community and growing that in a really effective way to represent all the people of Charleston.”
Perhaps most of all, she’s excited about carrying on Redux’s mission to create space for artists, emerging or established, to be in community and get exposure through the annual auction and shows—like that first one. Now, she says, “That kind of magic happens daily.” —Margaret Loftus
Through May 20:
“Interwoven,” a solo show by Jordan Sheridan
“Unfolding,” an installation by Jenifer Padilla
“Salvage,” a collaborative exhibit by Lightning Residency artists Caroline Herring and Nathan McClements
Thursday, 5-8 p.m.
1056 King St., reduxstudios.org
Photographs by (portrait) Aleece Sophia & (workshop) Kate Ledbetter