Stephanie Harper Head Brewer and  Distiller - A man standing next to a painting - Painting
Photography: Doug Finger

Carmen Kelley is, and has been, an integral part of the school and art scenes in the Upper Keys. She has taught science, art, math, drawing and ceramic classes at the local high school. Her professional art career started on weekends where she rented space at the flea market. Today, Kelley owns and operates the Key Largo Art Gallery where she has hosted 30 award-winning artists.

What do you enjoy most being an artist and a teacher? The teacher and artist in me are one… Which came first?

Who are your role models for leadership? My parents and grandparents were my first role models. We were Cuban refugees in 1961. Both were doctors and they showed me they could overcome any barrier if you worked hard enough. They were able to earn their degrees again by working night shifts and studying during the day. I learned about hard work, and that I needed to be in charge of who I wanted to become and what I wanted to do.

What do you think is the secret to success and sanity? What sanity! I just mentioned my job ethics. But … knowing there are people you can depend on after a long day.

While you are an independent woman, we know it takes a village. Who is in your village? My husband is my partner and has been my supporter through all of my what we now joke as “ideas.” This refers to when I’d say I have an idea; everyone leaves the room because they know there’s a “new project.” I don’t have many close friends, but those I do have become a combination of friends and family; or as we refer to them — “framily.” And, giving back to this community where I live is being a part of this village.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting your journey? You will learn along the way who to trust, who to choose as a friend and never give up. Experiencing that you are not always going to be the best or reach your goal is a good lesson, too. It makes you try harder the next time. I see my younger self in my daughters and now my granddaughter.  Surround yourself with positive people and learn to move forward with their support.

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