Second Acts

Retirement. It’s a word with a wonderful ring, bringing images of afternoons on the golf course or lazy days puttering in the garden. It’s a word that speaks of long stretches of time spent as one pleases, with children, grandchildren and significant others — or of taking those trips always promised and always put off.

And then there are those who take to retirement not as if it were a well-deserved rest, but more of a career second act. Diverse magazine has been talking to people whom we’ve grown to know well over the course of their high-profile careers in higher education, at associations and in the museum world. Hearing that they have stepped down from those positions, we’re eager to know what’s next for them? What is their second act?

Dr. N. Joyce Payne and Kimberly Camp gave us the answers to those questions for this special report on careers. Their answers were so interesting, we plan to make this an ongoing, occasional feature, so please stay tuned.

N. Joyce Payne: Another Level of Awareness

For 25 years, anyone looking for Dr. N. Joyce Payne around the beginning of the annual congressional session would have known exactly where to start: somewhere between her suite of offices on Washington, D.C.’s New York Avenue and Capitol Hill. As director and eventually vice president of the office for the advancement of public Black colleges at the National Association of State Universities and Land- Grant Colleges (NASULGC), Payne’s was a face familiar to the aides and lobbyists working on issues of biotechnology, energy and sustainable agriculture.

As the face of the “1890 institutions,” the Black land-grant universities established under the second Morrill Act in 1890, Payne also worked in close coordination with an alphabet soup of advocacy organizations including NAFEO and UNCF, as well as with a cadre of enlightened leaders of historically Black colleges and universities, especially the late Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr., president of Alcorn State University.

“He was so dedicated and such a visionary,” Payne says, adding that his loss was “simply devastating” and was, indeed, one of many factors, including her long years of service, that made her begin to consider retiring.

“Whenever you start upon a journey, you don’t necessarily know where the path will end,” Payne says. “When I started upon my journey at NASULGC, I had certain goals that I wanted to reach that I thought would take me about five years to accomplish, and then, I assumed, I would go on to something else. I had no idea that I would be doing this for 25 years.”

Payne had a dream. She wanted to be a part of founding what she calls “another power center for Black colleges,” an autonomous organization that could find a way to leverage corporate, federal and private dollars to assist Black colleges. The surprise came in learning she could realize that dream right in her own backyard, in a manner of speaking, at NASULGC. The vehicle was the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, co-founded by Payne in 1987, which “really does represent the goals I had 20 years ago.” Payne says she has amassed some $60 million in scholarship support, capacity building and leadership programming dollars for public Black colleges and universities.

So it was with a sense of accomplishment that Payne, 66, stepped down from her post last spring. But in contrast with many at her life stage, Payne stepped down — and kept on walking.

Though nominally retired, she’s still working on a pet project with the TMCF: the establishment of a group of preparatory high schools at Winston-Salem State University, Coppin State University and several others. Payne sees the program as a return to roots for many Black colleges and also as a way for Black researchers to intervene in the national conversation about transforming K-12 schools.

But that’s just one project. Payne is also working with the Gallup poll, which is supporting the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals with a “Gallup World Poll,” an effort to survey 95 percent of the world’s population. Payne has been called in as a senior researcher to work on a special project related to women’s health issues in 26 sub-Saharan African countries.

And finally, she is the part-time executive director of a new project, the National Endowment for the Public Trust, which is working to shift the public consciousness around public institutions.

She laughs when told that this does not sound like retirement at all.

“This was not my plan. I thought that I would go to Senegal for about six months and that I would retire there.” As things are, she jokes, the only things that have changed are that she has more flexibility in structuring her time, including time to jog, and that it takes her longer to get to the airport.

That’s because Payne’s one concession to her changed status was a decision to move from Washington to rural North Carolina.

“I wanted to see a different moon and different stars. I had not seen stars in Washington for years. Now, I can step on my patio and see wild rabbits running in the yard, and at night it’s the moon, not the streetlights, lighting up my bedroom. I’ve gained such an appreciation for exactly how magnificent this world of ours is,” she says.

One of her favorite thinkers, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, has a saying that’s never been more relevant to her, she adds. It is, “that one’s goal should be to seek evermore- perfect eyes in a world in which there is always more to see. I feel that so strongly right now. I feel the work I’m doing is giving me so much more to see, bringing me to another level of awareness.”

Kimberly Camp: Making Art When

Kimberly Camp, veteran administrator of the Smithsonian’s Experimental Gallery and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, arrived at the Barnes Foundation in 1998, she did not realize that what seemed like a dream opportunity, the chance to act as steward of a world-renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings, would devolve into a nightmare of bickering, fingerpointing, bad press and appearances in court.

“The last two years of my time at the Barnes were spent in court,” Camp says, “and they’re still at it. They were in court two days ago with 50 people yelling and screaming.”

Camp walked away from the Barnes Foundation in 2005, having shepherded the organization through a series of moves to stabilize its finances as well as a series of court cases aimed at removing most — though apparently not all — of the obstacles to its relocation to a new site in central Philadelphia.

Camp’s relations with the Barnes board have remained cordial as she served as a consultant to help the new president “get situated” for a year and a half after her departure. But the years of battle with Lincoln University over its control of board appointments, with neighbors and officials in Lower Merion Township over alleged traffic and noise and their adamant opposition to the facility’s expansion plan; with factions of students, friends and supporters who felt that they, too, owned the collection and deserved a say in its direction had taken their toll.

Camp knew she wasn’t ready, indeed, at 51 she was too young to retire, but she also felt she couldn’t take on another high-profile museum job without first exorcising the demons of those years of conflict by making a radical departure from them.

So she returned to her first love. She gave up stewarding the art of others in order to make her own.

Indeed, Camp’s professional identity has long been that of an arts administrator. She got her start working as a program administrator first for the City of Camden and then for the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts before rising to a series of increasingly high-profile positions. But art world cognoscenti also know Camp has a dual identity and that she’s a respected artist, too. Since the early 1980s, she’s had a number of exhibitions of her paintings and “soft sculptures” (dolls, to the rest of us), including important public art commissions for the cities of Pittsburgh and Cape Coast, Ghana.

“I got my studio set up and got into the discipline of going into my studio every day to work,” Camp notes, and immediately things started falling into place. She got a letter from the sponsor of an invitation- only artist fellowship at Arcadia National Park, right on the shore next to Bar Harbor, Maine. She produced five paintings that ended up in a show in Egypt. She got offered a solo exhibition of her dolls at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas.

Even events that appeared to be setbacks — for example, a car accident that left her with recurring numbness in her fingers, threatening to derail her ability to produce work for the show in Dallas — ended up being blessings in disguise.

“I could only work for about 20 minutes before I’d have to stop and rest,” Camp explains, but the result was work that was a marked departure from what she had produced before. It was, she says, “much more controlled, much more thoughtful in a way. But also, with the paintings, what I was creating was very much a product of all those years at the Barnes,” where she was surrounded by treasures of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Early Modernist art — Cezanne and Matisse especially influenced her approach to color and composition.

For the first year or so of her second act, Camp alternated work with whimsy.

“I painted, I traveled. I spoke at a lot of conferences, especially about the Barnes,” she says. “I have a lecture I call ‘Enough! The Real Story of the Barnes Collection,’ because I got so tired of the misrepresentations.”

She was having “a lot of fun,” but while at those 2006 shows in Dallas and at Philadelphia’s Art Around Gallery, Camp discovered that somehow, imperceptibly, the bruises of the Barnes had healed. She began applying for jobs. She put her house on the market. And she settled in to wait for the right position.

She admits it was a nerve-wracking wait, but it was amid a whirlwind of house showings, finalist negotiations in four cities, including in Washington, D.C., and Miami, as well as speaking engagements in three others, that Camp found herself inexplicably drawn to an offer from a museum and interpretive center that didn’t officially exist: the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, being planned for a site at the confluence of the Columbia and the Yakima rivers.

The Hanford Reach search committee invited Camp out for an interview with the other finalists, followed by an unusual request to her: “They wanted to come visit me,” she says.

Despite the fact that it had been two years since Camp worked at the foundation, “the Barnes couldn’t have been more gracious,” she says; the Barnes staff threw the door open for Hanford staff. At the same time, movers and shakers from Philadelphia and from the wider artistic community with whom Camp had worked for years, including Barnes board members and students, people from the media, the odd bank president or two and the director of Sotheby’s, gathered to show their support at a reception at Camp’s home.

On the day Camp accepted the job offer from Hanford Reach, “I got three offers on my house,” she says with a laugh. Within 30 days of accepting “the cleanest, simplest offer,” Camp had packed up her mother and her cats and moved to Kennewick, Wash.

“I found an entry in my journal that described the kind of life I wanted to have” just before the reception in Philadelphia, Camp says, explaining her radical move. “It said that I wanted to live someplace where I could have a beautiful studio inside my house. Someplace with no freaky storms, where the air was fresh, the food was fresh, where the cost of living wouldn’t be a financial strain.”

Now, Camp says, “I have each and every one of those things. I can see the Columbia River from my deck. There are 310 days of sunshine and nine inches of rain a year. We’re in the center of the Washington wine country. My mom is happy with her place, and the cats are cool with watching the quail walk across the lawn from the window.”

As for the center, it poses exactly the kind of challenge Camp enjoys. “We’re supposed to break ground in 2008 and open in 2010,” Camp says.

About $22 million of its $40 million cost is currently pledged or in hand, meaning that Camp’s first duty will be to build the support network to raise the rest. Not only is that work that she’s skilled at, but the omens are also looking good.

Her heart is warmed by the fact that the family that owned the house she just bought, with its view of the river and the studio and the marvelous south-facing light, was named Barnes.

-Kendra Hamilton

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