Will K. Wilkins became the director of Real Art Ways in 1990, at a moment when the organization was in crisis and government funding for arts was a focus of political debate.
In late spring of that year, when four artists had award recommendations abruptly vetoed by the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Wilkins invited each of the four performers to come to Hartford. It was the first in a series of events that Real Art Ways presented in the context of the culture wars, and a foreshadowing of Wilkins’ demonstrated commitment to supporting artists and taking risks to present meaningful programming.
Linking art and ideas with community has been central to his work. More than 30 commissioned public art works, located throughout Hartford, have been completed during his tenure, including notable projects by Pepón Osorio and Sofia Maldonado. He oversaw Real Art Ways’ sponsorship of a design competition, with neighborhood residents as jurors, to design neighborhood gateways, commissioned artists’ residencies with the neighborhood senior center, and developed free arts programming for neighborhood children.
Real Art Ways’ dedication to presenting innovative music has been proven during Wilkins’ tenure, with performances including Trilok Gurtu, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Vinicius Cantuaria, Mark Dresser, Burnt Sugar, Faust with Keiji Haino and Thurston Moore, Debo Band with Fendika, Cecil Taylor, William Parker, and many more. Improvisations, a monthly concert series curated by Joe Morris and Stephen Haynes, is a one-of-a-kind event in the Greater Hartford area that has drawn world-class musicians and international attention.
Before taking the helm at Real Art Ways, Wilkins worked in community arts in Brattleboro, Vermont, and at Central Park SummerStage and WBAI in New York City. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he studied with Chinua Achebe and Joseph Brodsky.