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New chief curator already has plans for Carnegie Museum of Art

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 6:36 p.m.
Catherine Evans, the new chief curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art
Carnegie Museum of Art
Catherine Evans, the new chief curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art

It's only been two weeks since she started the job as chief curator at Carnegie Museum of Art, but Catherine Evans has already been busy making plans.

“What I would like to see, and I know that it's part of our strategic plan, is to kind of think about the museum and the collection, (as well as) cross departmental collaborations, in meaningful ways and to be holistic about how we see ourselves playing a deeper role in Pittsburgh,” she says.

Evans will work with Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II director of Carnegie Museum of Art, in implementing the museum's newly adopted strategic plan, which involves building a stronger national and international profile while creating an enhanced presence in Pittsburgh.

“It's a wonderful moment in museum life,” Evans says. “The challenge museums face now is how to become more relevant and become more of the fabric of the community — and the international conversation, as well. It's exciting to me. It's a problem and an opportunity, and everyone here is really poised to be thinking about these issues.”

Unlike the past chief curators at the museum, Evans will not be responsible for one particular department or collection. Rather, she will be overseeing all curatorial departments and functions, working with the curators, the director and the exhibition department in developing the exhibition program.

A tall order, but not for a woman who has organized nearly 50 exhibits during the span of her 30-plus-year career, 17 of which were spent at Columbus Museum of Art where, since 2004, she served as chief curator in addition to her role as curator of photography.

For example, in 2001, she spearheaded the successful acquisition of the Photo League collection, a New York City-based group of professional and amateur photographers who used their art to bring about social change from 1936 to 1951. It was the most significant photography acquisition in the Columbus museum's history. The museum is now nationally recognized for its comprehensive holdings in this period.

She also directed the development of major international exhibitions and partnerships such as “Renoir's Women”; “Edgar Degas: the Last Landscape,” which had a second venue in Copenhagen; and “In Monet's Garden: The Lure of Giverny,” which had a second venue in Paris. And she was the principal author and curator of the exhibit “A View From Here: Recent Pictures from Central Europe and the American Midwest,” which toured nationally and internationally.

Pam Edwards, director of visitor services at Columbus Museum of Art, describes Evans as “a fabulous relationship builder.”

After serving as the museum's chief curator, Evans stepped away from that position in 2011 to become the first William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art. It was the first-ever endowed position in the museum's history, thanks to a pivotal gift of $1.5 million the Soters pledged to the Art Matters endowment and capital campaign — something that wouldn't be possible without Evans' “commitment and charisma,” according to Edwards.

Prior to working at the Columbus museum, Evans served as an assistant curator in the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. She graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

“It was a fantastic boot camp and graduate school all rolled into one,” Evans says of her time spent at MOMA and “in the early days with Phyllis Lambert, curator of architectural drawings and photography at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.”

Perhaps one of Evans' most notable moments in her career was in 2012 when she was a TEDx presenter at a Columbus gathering connected to the Internet lecture series.

“I have to say it was about the scariest 18 minutes of my life, to be standing up there in front of hundreds and hundreds of people, and know that presentation will sort of live forever on the Web, or as long as the Web is with us,” Evans says of the experience.

“The theme of the conference that year was ‘the future revealed,' which is quite a weighty topic,” she says. “ I spoke about photography as the medium that has been on the forefront of innovation and technology and how today it has become so much a part of everything we do. It's a medium that has always navigated a social relationship, whether it was in the 19th century or up to today.”

Photography has been a major focus throughout her career, and indeed she has been tapped as a portfolio reviewer for photo competitions as far and wide as Santa Fe, Houston, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.

Having spent a combined seven years as chief curator and photography curator at the Columbus museum, she says, “I feel that some of those skills are very translatable and that I will develop new ones,” in regard to her new position at the Carnegie.

“I love my area, but I know that we have expert curators for every discipline here,” she says. “I really embrace a kind of collaborative working style, empowering people to do their best work. Not that that's not something that's been done here at all, but I think it's something we can really build on.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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