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What Happens When One of Your Favorite Rappers Joins the Board of an Art Museum?

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By Ariel Thilenius, The Woodruff Arts Center
Earlier this month, I opened up my Google Alerts to see that one of my favorite rappers, Killer Mike, had joined the board of directors for Atlanta’s own High Museum of Art. I was surprised (although extremely excited) by this news, and eagerly clicked the link to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on the announcement.
That’s when it hit me: I had extensive knowledge about his work as 1/2 of rap duo Run the Jewels and his advocacy for the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, but knew little to nothing about the man himself—his background and his love for art. I knew I had to piece the puzzle together if I was going to remain a proud former employee of The Woodruff Arts Center and current fan of Killer Mike.

Killer Mike’s 2012 album Rap Music. Album artwork by Fahamu Pecou.

Initially, I thought the addition of Killer Mike (whose real name is Mike Render) to the High’s board of directors was a “celebrity” move—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but was touched to learn that Render has been studying art since he was in high school. From the AJC article: “Art helped Render get his confidence back. ‘I’m a product of the arts programming at the Atlanta public school system,’ he said Tuesday, when it was announced that the rapper will be a new member of the board of directors of the High Museum of Art.”
I also found Render’s relationship with Atlanta artist Dr. Fahamu Pecou to be incredibly meaningful and clearly influential to his own music. In an interview with 11Alive News (featured below), Render mentions that Dr. Pecou created the album artwork for 2012’s Rap Music.
The rapper waxed poetic about the artist (at one point, he called him a “chocolate-covered Dalí”), and it became clear that Render’s passion for art is as ingrained in his background as his passion for music. After weekend classes at the High and working with Pecou, it felt “full circle” to Render to become a part of the board, and he gladly accepted the invitation to join this year.

So what will Killer Mike’s addition to the board mean for the High? For the Atlanta art scene?
I think one thing is certain: his addition will begin a much-needed discussion for how Atlantans of all backgrounds and interests approach art. In the AJC article, Render also stated that he’s “looking forward to seeing more people from [his] part of town, people who look like [him], at the High.” He went on to add, “I think you will see the High Museum in a rap video very soon.”
As the High works to expand the demographics of its visitors, I hope they will continue to incorporate the ideas and opinions of citizens from all walks of life. Whether they’re musicians or athletes, scholars or socialites, great art comes from exploring the lives of multifaceted members of a society.

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