Meet Development Director, Zooey Kim-Conner

Interview with Development Director,
Zooey Kim-Conner

By Asaad Miller

I sat down with Zooey this week to learn about how they came to The Yard, their art practices, and what they’re looking forward to at The Yard.

The Steel Yard (SY): What’re your name, title, and pronouns?

Zooey Kim-Conner (ZKC): My name is Zooey, I use they/them pronouns, and I am the Development Director.

SY: When or how did you learn about The Steel Yard?

ZKC: I grew up in PVD, so The Steel Yard has had a presence in my life for a long time. There’s actually photos of me volunteering at an iron pour when I was 16 that I will dredge up at some point. So I can’t pinpoint exactly when that awareness started, but its definitely been a while.

SY: Was there anything about The Yard and its reputation or work that especially encouraged you to get involved?

ZKC: I was gifted a welding workshop a year ago, and it was something I only did because it was gifted – welding sounds scary: there’s fire, its really hot, but my stepdad, who is similar to me in thinking it sounded scary, took a weekend workshop and said it was the most amazing thing he’d ever done. “It was like holding the sun in my hands…you should do this!”

SY: That’s very poetic!

ZKC: He’s a writer, so there you go. He gifted my partner and I a paid class, and I took a queer welding class that was amazing–shoutout to my instructor Amy…

SY: We love Amy.

ZKC: …Absolutely! The workshop took this initially intimidating thing and made it feel so approachable. I liked it enough that I decided to take a BIPOC jewelry class with Emilia! Experiences in those classes were a bunch of green flags for me.

The idea of making the intimidating approachable both for the inexperienced, but also the queer and BIPOC communities, was really important to me– I wanted in on that. Additionally, having the additionally layer of organizing this past year’s QTZ fest here at The Yard, such a specific event that centers queer and trans small press– that was also a good sign. 

SY: What does your position as Development Director entail?

ZKC: I think of it as making sure that the programs we offer have the resources they need to run smoothly, whether that’s grant funding, individual donations– I am making sure that we have those streams of resources by cultivating the relationships with funders and donors, in addition to taking care of the nitty gritty admin work. There’s the technical aspect, but also the relationship building aspect to this position. When the administration systems are in a good place, then you have the capacity to do the interpersonal things that a computer can’t do!

SY: What are you most excited about in your new role?

ZKC: I am coming from a role that had me managing relationships with residencies and artists all over the country, specifically regranting programs that help those relationships. I’m excited to be focused more locally, and more intentional community building– again, I was born in PVD, raised here. I am STILL here, and I’m excited to feel more directly connected to the community and have less of that juggling relationships with people and programs that are elsewhere. The local focus really appeals to me, and feels like it connects the work I do here with the community organizing I do outside of work. 

SY: Did you have any industrial/ arts experience before coming to the Yard?

ZKC: I have a lot of arts experience, both as an artist and administrator, but no industrial arts experience– partly because of the intimidation I mentioned earlier, but also, the cost to access the industrial arts felt out of reach. You can teach yourself to crochet at home for like $20, but you couldn’t necessarily teach yourself how to weld in your own home. My entry point to the fire arts being queer welding was probably the only way I was going to get in the door!

SY: Are you currently working on any projects outside of work? 

ZKC: I’m wrapping up a project that was funded by Interlace, where Im quilting garments that talk about Korean-American identity and our relationship to inheritance. Theres also a zine that will be accompanying that project. 

SY: What fills your time when you’re not in the office? 

ZKC: Ive been on a crochet-kick lately, and that’s mostly due to Adam being on a knit-kick, and we’ve just mind melding into the fiber-arts world now. They inspired me to finish a project that’s been sitting in my half-finished basket for a long time. I’m also over at Binch Press, printing whenever I can– I’m just in a constant state of printing more copies of the Shrek zine. 

SY: A lot of the creative output that you do is project oriented– is your fiber arts exploration/ revival rooted in the thinking of “I’m exploring this because it feels good to explore/ not tied to a larger deadline/ larger project”?

ZKC: This is a bit of a silly distinction, but its one that I draw in my brain: crochet is the one thing that i dont monetize. Its really important to me to have at least one creative outlet that I’m not looking to sell. It’s a separate stream from the stuff that’s more public facing or tied to Output.

I know other artists who are so constantly on the grind of producing, that there’s this outlook that there is no room for practices that aren’t “serving a purpose”. That’s why I force myself to make that distinction– making something that’s not going on instagram is a totally different experience than the inverse. Maybe it does go on instagram if i especially like it, but I’m not making it with an audience in mind. It allows for less stress and more curiosity and freedom to explore what that art form looks like.

Aside from making things, I’m mostly hanging out with my dog Clover. She’s a tiny, silly little mutt, I’ll include a photo– she’s not photogenic, but she is great. Mostly, when I have free time, it is spent on those creative projects or community projects that I mentioned. Also meetings– stuck in a state of perpetual meetings. Additionally, with the season being what it is, I’m in hibernation mode, and all I want is to make and eat soup.

SY: We’re both QTZ organizers, and the wheels are already starting to turn in regards to what 2024’s event will look like. What are you looking forward to this year for the fest? What changes are you hoping to see?

ZKC: I think this past year went really well all things considered, but I want to take some intentional steps to making the space even more accessible– its something we’re already good at thinking about, but some of the most common feedback we got was that it was overwhelming. People would come through for an hour, then need to lay down for 24 hours. Thinking about how it can be accessible, both physically, but also sensorially.

Im also thinking intentionally about our capacities, as we largely expanded the fest this past year. I’m trying to find the sweet spot for the “right amount” of tablers, so that if someone is visiting and tabling, you can see everyone and it’s not too intense of an experience.

As a team, we’re really good at being mindful of each others capacities. We’re all looking out for each other, but it’s hard to look out for yourself sometimes- so it’s great that all the QTZ organizers are so intentional about looking out for each other.

SY: Is there anything that you are most looking forward to this year?

ZKC: Im looking forward to it all, to be honest. I dont even really know what to attach my excitement to because everything is so new. I was at this year’s iron pour, and it really got me excited to be here because cool things happen around here, and Im excited to dig more into that. 

SY: I thought this was funny when I wrote it, but…enough about you. If I were a type of lighting, what would I be and why?

ZKC: This was a hard question because I dont know enough about lighting, but my first thought was this tall floor lamp that I have that has a purple light in it for our plants. That was my first thought. Something about the vibe just seems right. 

SY: *Lots of emphatic nodding and humming* Is it a tall lamp?

ZKC: Yes its a tall lamp.

Authors Note: I am 6’4″.

SY: Do you have any questions for me?

ZKC: Hmm…if I were a type of lighting, what would I be?

SY: Hmmmm…you would be the light that comes from light box for drawing. Is that influenced by a lot of your illustrative work? Yes it is. With that being said, I think the light that comes off a tracing box is the right amount of light, and it communicates whatever a gentle sigh communicates.

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