San Antonio River Foundation Executive Director Kim Abernethy builds community, shops at Costco
photo from the San Antonio River Foundation website
Kim Abernethy is a secret radical. Sure, she may come across as a no-nonsense executive who hobnobs effortlessly with powerful board members and city leaders (to wit, her poised and polished interview with Tanji Patton for KLRN’s “Conversations” series). But on the DL, this Piney Woods native has wrangled City ordinances, organized sensitive artists, managed crazy expectations, and has quietly and constantly pushed for greener and more sustainable choices in our River Re-Development. Kim’s got eco-cred, smarts, and isn’t afraid to ger her hands dirty. I caught up with Ms. Abernethy by phone on Friday.
Kim Abernethy: (Laughing) I’ve got my PR person here with me so if I say anything wrong, she can slap me.
San Antonio Current: Karen [Adams] is with you? What are y’all doing?
KA: We’re shopping together at Costco. We’ve got all the artists coming in [for the opening next week], and we’ve got a bank of rooms at the Trop[icana], and we’re gonna put some snacks in there, stuff like that.
SAC: You don’t have, say, interns to do that?
KA: No! Well, we do, but we like to come to Costco. It’s serious Executive Director stuff (laughs).
SAC: Now that we’re in countdown mode, with the opening just days away, what’s been the biggest surprise to you?
KA: ….How all the art mixes in with the water. We’ve been looking at this channel with no water in it, the artists have been looking at this channel with no water in it, but then when we put the water back in last week, I saw that all their art has just changed for the better with the water, I didn’t realize how much they were all getting it! It’s fabulous to see the interplay between the water, the architecture, the design, and the art. That’s been a real surprise.
SAC: What do you think this is going to mean for the city—art-wise, socially?
KA: I think it’s gonna be huge. We got an inkling of that Wednesday night when we lit the [Donald Lipski fish installation under I-35], we had about 150 people there just by word of mouth, it was unbelievable. It’s really gonna jump-start the whole city of San Antonio thinking about public art.
SAC: Now has this jump-started you into being excited about the Misison Reach? What’s happening next, for you, after this opening?
KA: The Mission Reach, we’re working on it already. I think what we’re doing with the Museum Reach will help us raise funds for the Mission Reach. The Museum reach is 1.4 miles, but we have 8 more miles to go, in the Misison Reach! The possibilities are just endless. We’re already working with the county and with the city in developing parkland, already working on the public art.
SAC: What’s your educational background? I’m curious.
KA: My degree’s in Social Work, and I’ve done that. Been in non-profits for years. I was involved with the Cibolo Nature Center for seven years, that’s where my environmentalism comes in. But until now, I’ve never been immersed in the art world. That has just been fabulous. San Antonio’s art community is wonderful, the people are so warm, and that’s been a wonderful surprise.
SAC: What would you like people to know about the River Re-Development that you think they might not know?
KA: Well, dealing with these 8 artists, there could have been a lot of drama, a lot of competition, a lot of ego, and there just wasn’t. The artists really like and respect each other, and everybody working on this project have developed close relationships. That’s not something that people would know, but I think it comes through in how all the art works together. And the artists are each so great and committed to the projeect; we have a fundraising event on the 30th, and [each artist] wanted to donate a piece to raise funds. We meet people all the time who want to get involved in the project, I’ve been surprised by how excited people are.
SAC: Okay, final question. Is Mike’s hair real?(Author’s note: Mike Addkison, the Architecture and Art Program Director for the SanAntonio River Foundation, has nearly waist-length dreadlocks).
KA: (laughing) Yes! Yes, it’s real. He’s been growing it since he was 18 or 19 years old. When Mike came in to interview with me, I told him, ‘I want you to come back and meet with some board members, but’ —you know how he wears that bandanna on his head?—I said, ‘you can’t wear that rag on your head to meet the board!’ And he said, ‘You know what? I already cut three inches off of my hair for this interview!’ (Laughs.) But yeah, it’s real. I’ve seen him without the kerchief on!