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Profiles in Pride: Kim Keene

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the January 2024 edition of OutLife757 Magazine.

Portsmouth native Kim Keene has always been a visual artist in some form or fashion. She earned her degree in fine arts from Virginia Wesleyan and from there worked in a frame shop where she learned the art of framing. She then moved to the Outer Banks and opened her own frame shop in Manteo. 

All these experiences were informing her muse, and she found inspiration in the bright vibrant colors of sea and sky of the Outer Banks.

“I grew up in a house with a father who was extremely OCD, and everything was tan and beige,” she said. “When I got out of there, I knew that my surroundings had to be full of color.”

Her journey also led her to Croatia where she lived for several years as an ambassador’s wife. But even there, her art was never far.

“I had to entertain the other spouses. Everyone was from all over the world, and nobody spoke the same language,” she recalled. “That’s where I pulled on my art expertise, and I hosted paint parties in the basement.” 

When she returned to Norfolk, she opened a frame shop on North Colley Avenue and named it The Starving Artist Café. At the time, it was a place to continue hosting paint parties and serve refreshments, and that later grew into a full-fledged restaurant. Throughout its seven-year existence Kim always displayed works from local artists on the walls.

And then came the breast cancer. 

She was first diagnosed in 2017 and chose to have a double mastectomy. Over the next five years, her scans came back clean, but in May 2022 she began to experience shortness of breath. The cancer had returned, and it had metastasized to her pelvis. 

She spent 11 days in the hospital undergoing treatment and started chemotherapy.

 “When I was sick, and I had such support. It was overwhelming,” she said. “I knew I had people that cared about me, but for them to come and do what they did to me, it was amazing.” 

Meals came in to feed her family while she was hospitalized, and friends with restaurant experience took over operations and later bought the Café, relieving Kim of the stress of running a high-maintenance business.

 “That support really gave me the chance to heal,” she said. “Now I want to pay this forward, and that was how I had the idea for Paint Pink.”

Last July, she and a group of friends formed a non-profit to support cancer patients with goods and services not covered by insurance so they can focus on their health: payment of bills, personal care items, estate planning, yard work, house cleaning and meal delivery.

Paint Pink, Inc. has since held several events to fund the organization, and most of them revolve around art auctions and sales. To date they have funded just under $5,000 in requests. Visit them at paintpinkinc.org.

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