Profile: Kelsey Hunt
Kelsey Hunt is a diamond. She is hugely perceptive of people’s tastes and interests and uses her eye for fashion and design in the most thoughtful and awesome ways. She is all in for her family and friends. She’s first to offer to help organize a party, makes handmade cards, and can perfectly tailor recommendations for what to read and what to wear to the subtle quirks of her nearest and dearest. In her day job, Kelsey is an Optician at Moss Optical in downtown Minneapolis. She also serves on the Advisory Board of BOLD & GOLD, which uses the wilderness as a classroom to develop youth leaders. Her connection to this cause begins with her own coming-of-age story.
We grabbed dinner at Mucci’s in St. Paul after taking in the local flavors at the amazingly divey, wood-paneled Spot Bar (no website!). We talked about the need for inclusivity in the outdoor community, fashion icon Eva Chen and learning to lead in your own way. Here is an account of our conversation:
What IS BOLD & GOLD?
BOLD & GOLD stands for Boys and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development. It’s an organization that gives kids the opportunity to get out into the wilderness to develop leadership skills and their main focus is to provide a program that is specifically designed for inclusivity and diversity so whether that is economic, social, ethnic, cultural. Anyone can be a part of it and have access to the program to give kids access to the wilderness and develop those skills.
Why is BOLD & GOLD important to you?
It’s important to have inclusivity in the outdoor community.
In general, the outdoor community is a more white, upper-middle class experience that people who have time or money or access can do. I feel like there’s a lot of rules and social morays about how you go out into the wilderness and how you go camping or backpacking or canoeing that aren’t familiar to people who haven’t had that experience, whether it’s because their friends and family aren’t doing it or it’s not always a welcoming place. Nature is shared by everybody in the world, but it’s not something that feels like you can just go out and do it. A specific example would be that when you’re hiking there’s all these rules about who goes first or who yields to who and if you don’t know those rules it can be frustrating and intimidating and probably not a great experience. It’s important that people have access.
I was pretty shy and not very confident when I was in high school and I think Widji gave me access to learning how to develop leadership skills and be the head of a group and even if I wasn’t leading on the level that I had thought about how leaders lead. I think that was so important to who I am as a person and how I’ve grown from those experiences that I think BOLD & GOLD gives people who don’t have an obvious path into learning those leadership roles an outlet for it and a program that’s helping them attain their goals.
How did you join the BOLD & GOLD Advisory Council?
My friend Kurt is the program director and he offered me a spot when he was first starting out and founding the program. I worked at Widji for six years, which was pretty formative for me, and is how I got connected to the BOLD & GOLD program.
What’s one thing you learned as a Y-kid about leadership?
The biggest lesson that I learned was that that everyone has a role in leadership. It doesn’t always have to look the way that you generally think of a leader, which is out loud and ahead of the group and steering the dialogue or whatever. I learned a lot about the nuance about how a group or an organization or a community works together. You can be a leader in so many different ways. As a kid that was the most eye-opening thing.
What did You learn at camp about relationships?
At camp you’re thrown together with a small group of people that you normally wouldn’t be with, so I learned to appreciate people on a level I wouldn’t have otherwise. You’re forced to live and survive in a lot of ways with a small group of people you haven’t chosen, and I’m a fairly empathetic person and I always have been, but I think I really learned how to tap into that. You learn how to be a friend to people you probably wouldn’t have a reason to talk to in your normal day.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about BOLD & GOLD?
I guess that it exists! It’s so new here. It’s national. It started in Seattle and it’s pretty well-established there but many Y branches across the country are developing BOLD/GOLD programs (note: Rosemary Saal, who led the first all-Black exhibition teams on Denali and Kilimanjaro got her start rock climbing with BOLD & GOLD). I think in the culture today it’s important to have BOLD & GOLD as an access point for more people to get involved.
One thing I’ve currently been thinking about is that Widji is mostly boys and girls trips and there’s no space currently for someone who identifies as transgender or somewhere along that gender-fluid scale. I think it will be more important in the next few years to have a program that can absorb some of that without having to change the structure of the program and provide an opportunity for anyone.
How can the Power of 100 community support BOLD & GOLD?
Yes! It’s so new in the Cities and it grew quickly on the backs of already successful programs at Camp Menogyn, Camp Widjiwagan and Camp St. Croix. Since it grew so quickly, our advisory council had a hard time keeping up with that growth and anticipating what the program was going to need. I think in the next year or two there will be more volunteer opportunities, but for the last couple years we’ve been focusing on fundraising.
What does the program need to be successful?
Awareness. Money is still a huge deal. One hundred percent of money donated goes directly to participant scholarships because the program is running off the backs of these already established camps that have been able to absorb a lot of the operational costs for BOLD & GOLD. Unlike a lot of things you give money to, it goes directly to the kids.
Do you have a favorite camp memory?
That’s so hard. Can you name a year? Okay let’s go with the first time I met you. That was a really great year. There were only three of us. Do you remember that I think it was our first meal in the Beartooths we made chicken and dumplings and Annie didn’t realize they’d changed the boullioun recipe so it was like 1,000% sodium and we could not eat it, but I think we did? We ate a lot of it and we packed a lot of it out, which meant that we carried it for 14 days. They were dense flour balls then to counteract that meal we ate a bag of Swedish Fish and Marshmallows and I’m pretty sure I threw up. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to be honest, except Alaska. Alaska was stunning. It was a magical place.
What's your favorite place to be the outdoors IN the Cities?
100% the Stone Arch Bridge is my favorite place in the Twin Cities. It’s not hiking but a nice stroll with a coffee.
How about in greater Minnesota?
Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore or the North Shore in general.
What’s one thing you’ll pack on your next outdoor adventure?
There are these things called spring floats. It’s a mesh piece of fabric with an inflatable rim and you blow up the inflatable rim and around the edge there’s this metal coil and it figure eights itself as a little flat disc and then springs open and it’s a body size floatation device. I think they’ll fit perfectly down the front of a Duluth pack.
What do your friends come to you for advice on?
Fashion and design. I don’t feel like I’m that well-travelled but people come to me when they are going to new cities they’ve never been to and I’m like, “I went there once and here are the 5 things that I did.”
Where does your aesthetic come from?
It just comes to me. I think I’m just the ideal consumer is what I’ll say. I’ll see something and subliminally it will stick into my mind and then two days later, I’m like “must buy that thing”. It’s like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep goes, “Oh, you thought that was just a blue belt but it’s a specific shade of cerulean that I planted for you four years ago.”
Who is your fashion icon?
There’s this woman editor. Her name is Eva Chen. She used to be the Editor for Lucky Magazine, which was this short-lived but a very fantastic magazine if you want to be a consumer because it was mostly about what to buy. It was very specific. It doesn’t exist anymore. The woman is Asian-American. She was just a badass boss lady in the 90’s before anybody else. She had this magazine. She’s my #1 guru. I feel like I relate to her on a lot of levels. She’s now Director of Fashion for Instagram. In everything, in every aspect of life, I feel like I relate to her as a human being. Enough so that I wish we were friends.
Locally there’s a group of women who have this shop called the There There Collective and they make jewelry and everything is on point. I really like the woman who runs Foundry Home Goods. I also want to be her best friend and I generally feel like I’ve made some good strides to be in her good graces. She gave me tea when I had a cold to feel better and then one night I was in there by myself and she offered me port while I was walking around the store and I was like I’m in [laughs]. Probably everyone has this experience.
Have you always been into fashion?
Yea. My aunt worked in fashion and I always was like, “That’s a fab lifestyle.” I remember my friends in High School -- this is gross, maybe I don’t want to tell you this -- would quiz me. They would open up a fashion magazine and ask me to name the designers. Why did I know that when I was 13?! So I guess it’s innate. I’ve always liked art and design. My mom will tell stories about how when I was little I’d say, “That chair is terrible! I’m not putting that in my room!” I’d have a specific idea of a chair I wanted and I’d describe it and we’d find it and I’d be like, “Yes, this is the chair!” There are some pretty terrible pictures of me and I’ll ask my mom, “Why did you let me wear that?” And she’ll say, “Because it was not worth fighting you on it!” There’s this picture of me in these terrible 80’s or 90’s style slouchy heeled boots that I would dress up in on a regular basis. I would put an outfit together and strut around the house at age six or seven.
I get a very visceral reaction to things that I think are beautiful. Art is that. Fashion is that. Nature is that. I react to those things in a way that -- this is so cheesy -- but makes my soul sing.
Do you track on local artists?
I try. It’s a lot easier to find jewelry than art in the high art form. It’s not accessible as we learned at the MCAD Art Sale and couldn’t afford anything. That was a very telling moment of: you can enjoy it, but you can’t own it.
You’re my inside source for MSP Culture, Food & BookS. Who’s your inside source?
Amazon has really got me dialed in! [Laughs] Eva Chen is my spirit animal so I really listen to her even though she likes YA and watches The Bachelor. Elle Magazine is pretty good with TV and book recs. They cut through the crap. I recently joined Book of the Month Club, it’s made for our generation, and once a month they chose a series of new release books with a judge who is an author or cultural aficionado and they select something like six books and when you sign up, you tell them your tastes. I love it because it’s brand new books and they are hard cover. And it is somewhere between $7.99-10 dollars for a book delivered to your door. A lot of the books I’ve loved most within the last year are from Book of the Month Club, like Exit West.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
I really like Underground Railroad. I came back and re-read a section about Charleston after visiting Charleston. It seemed to corroborate the experience I had in Charleston.
What’s your favorite creative outlet?
Watercolor. I dabble. I like to make little cards and very little pictures. It’s something to do while you’re vegging on the couch at night.
What’s something you’d like to take time to learn if you could?
If I had unlimited time and space, I would get back into woodworking. The reason I would like to do it is because I would like to make a dining room table and it would seat between 4-20 people.
That or being a person who goes to museums in general and has taken some art history, I’ve been craving being in an art history class again. Just somebody telling you all the cultural context and all the historical context. I took StrengthsFinder right around along the same time as the Presidential election happened and it was the only way I could make sense of the election. My reaction was like, “Oh that makes sense that this is who I am and I’m having a hard time right now and these are the things that I’m focusing on. One of mine was “Historical Context”. I was like, “There have been worse times in the world!” My other #1 was “Empathy”.
Where’s the next place you’ll eat out?
I would really like to go back to Hai Hai. Because it’s tropical and feels like vacation. You know one thing I really want to do is explore St. Paul more because I feel like there are a lot of restaurants I haven’t been to because I think they are far away, but they are really not. There’s a market in St. Paul that has seafood called Octo Fish Bar. That’s on my hit list.
What is the best thing about MSP?
The community I have here and the connection to family. There are a lot of places I could live but I like the attachment to the community and my family.
What would you change about MSP if you were in a position to do so?
On a selfish level, everyone gets married here very early. There’s no culture for single ladies here. But I also wish we were closer to an ocean. I love swimming. When I was in college I had a goal of swimming in Lake Superior every month of the year. I missed January and March. I made most of the months and I was like how much better would it have been if I lived in Hawaii.
Who else should we interview?
Maggie Schmidt is an awesome woman who works at 106 Group. Her career is in exhibit design for museums and non profits and state parks and she is probably the best in the country at it. She just won a job at the Monterey Aquarium for exhibit design. She’s just all around a phenomenal lady. She’s a teller of stories and boils everything down and designs it in a way that is approachable and easy to digest. And she’s an artist and a humanitarian.
Kate Hunt, my cousin, is also great. She's a Paleo-Oncologist and is passionate about leaving her mark on the world.
Favorite Book: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid + Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Favorite SHOP: There There Collective + Foundry Home Goods
Favorite Restaurant: Hai Hai
Favorite Magazine: Elle Magazine
Favorite Fashion Icon: Eva Chen
Favorite Non profit: YMCA’s BOLD & GOLD
BOLD & GOLD is a national YMCA youth leadership development program designed to develop cultural competency and leadership skills in young men and women through challenging outdoor activities. For more information about the Twin Cities YMCA program, check out their website.
Images by Gwen Cox of G. Photographie for Power of 100 MSP.