Spotlight on Salem: Kim Varnadoe-Carden, Professor of Art


Q: What made you decide that you wanted to be an artist and an art professor? When you were a child, did you have dreams of being an artist?

A: I was a first generation college student in my family, so I did not have much guidance as to what options were available after high school graduation. However, I always enjoyed drawing all through my childhood and teen years. When I was a child, I would draw on all of the blank pages in my Dr. Seuss books because I thought that’s what the blank pages were for. I took art classes in elementary, middle and high school, but they were typical of school art classes at the time and were usually not particularly stimulating. When I was a Junior in high school we were encouraged to attend college fairs and look through college catalogs to see what options were available by taking the college route after high school. I then learned that you could attend college to major in Art and I was in heaven! I began my art studies with Ms. Stephens at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College in 1979, transferred to the University of South Alabama where I received my BFA in 1983. After a couple of years working in the commercial art world, I decided to go to grad school to complete my Master of Fine Arts and moved to Memphis to attend the University of Memphis. While there, I was offered my first teaching job at Northwest Mississippi Community College where I was lead instructor for the Commercial Art Technology program. I held this full time teaching job for several years while I completed my MFA, which occurred in December of 1991.

Q: When did you first start working at Salem College, and what initially drew you to the position?

A: After I completed my MFA, I decided I wanted to continue teaching at the college level, but I was interested in teaching at the four-year college level or even teach at the graduate school level. So, I began the big job search through the usual channels of checking out the job listings in the College Art Association Careers publication and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I saw this job listing in the CAA Career’s publication that needed someone with an MFA (the terminal degree) that could teach Painting, Printmaking and start up a Graphic Design concentration. I thought the job description had been written just for me! I had a BFA in Painting, an MFA in Printmaking and had been teaching a Graphic Design program for seven years. I applied for the position at Salem College and was hired in the Fall of 1994.

Q: What do you think has been the most significant change to happen to Salem College over the course of your career here? And what do you think is Salem’s biggest hurdle moving forward?

A: The most significant change I notice, particularly related to teaching, is the constant distractions we all seem to have by being over stimulated by digital media. We (students especially) have been working with computers and using cell phones for so long now that it seems to be the only venue many people seek when researching a particular topic, etc. We also find it difficult to disconnect from these devices in order to allow ourselves to slow down a bit and relax without contact “noise” going on all around us. This is not a Salem College concern, this is a concern for everyone in the time. As for changes at Salem during my 23 years at this college, the biggest change I have noticed is in the diverse backgrounds of our student body. The demographics of the student body and the faculty body are much more diverse than is was 20+ years ago. Salem’s biggest hurdle moving forward will be to remain a front-runner in the goal of inclusiveness and shared concerns about human rights and conditions for our Salem Community and beyond. One of the biggest hurdles I face is the attempt to open up student’s minds to situations and concerns that they may not have faced in their lifetime and help students “re-learn” some things that may seem ingrained from past teachings. I believe it is important to delve into topics and concerns that make us uncomfortable so that we can better understand the situation from multiple points of views.


Past alumni that attended the reception for “Kim and Company XX”, a Spring 2016 alumni exhibition for students that had studied under Varnadoe’s tutelage for 20 years.

Q: I have heard that you’ve done a fair bit of traveling. What place that you have visited do you think made the biggest impact on you? And where is the next place you’d like to go?

A: I have had the wonderful opportunity of accompanying students on a number of Jan Term travel abroad trips. Twice to Italy, and once each to Argentina and Ecuador. I have also traveled on my own to Ukraine, Mexico and a number of Caribbean islands. The most memorable trips were the trips to Ukraine and Ecuador, where I was immersed in a world very different from my own and learned that happiness and “being rich” had very little to do with money and everything to do with our relationships and interacting with people of diverse cultures. I prefer to seek out local experiences when I travel, rather than travel as a tourist. As for where I’d like to go next? That is wide open, and I will continue to travel as long and as often as possible! Travel is essential to our understanding of the world and various cultures.

Q: If you could give advice to your younger self when you were an undergraduate student what would you say?

A: That’s a hard one. I was pretty committed as an undergraduate and always attended class diligently and worked hard. I guess I would would have reminded myself that all of this time commitment and working hard with little money and little outside accolades would pay off in the long run as long as I stayed true to my commitments. I was right… It has paid off tremendously. My life has been very fulfilling.

Q: When you’re having a difficult day, what brightens your spirits?

A: The time I get to spend with my students is always uplifting. I also gain much joy from quiet time in the studio working on my own work.

Q: What do you hope for your legacy to be at Salem College?

A: I hope my legacy will be that students remember that I cared for them with a little “tough love” and showed them that they could accomplish much more than they ever thought possible in their art and in their life. Hard work, commitment, and staying true to yourself by following your dreams really does pay off.

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