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New face at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art making her mark

| Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, 9:10 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Ligonier Valley site coordinator Emma Noonan stands for a portrait on Jan. 6, 2016.

Emma Noonan of Ligonier became site coordinator of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art on Sept. 8, just two days after she turned 24. The Johnstown native and Penn State art history grad came to the museum after a year with AmeriCorps as activities director at Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown.

Question: Your career arc is very impressive...

Answer: I have to credit AmeriCorps for my rapid career advancement. It's kind of a boot camp for leadership. I got so much working experience at Bottle Works. When I applied to SAMA and got the job, I don't want to say I lucked out because I worked really hard for it. For most jobs like this, you need a master's degree. But I feel like the year at AmeriCorps was kind of equivalent to grad school.

Q: What's been your greatest challenge at SAMA?

A: Overcoming a lot of self doubt, in a way. Working at SAMA with its 40-year history, with such a legacy, it's easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself. Everyone has been supportive and my predecessor has been so helpful, and it's a blessing to have that path laid out for you. It's sort of saying, “OK, Emma, you can do this.”

Q: What's been most rewarding?

A: Actually, the (Nov. 20) opening for the SPCA juried exhibition — that's the first time I ever designed a show and had it hung. That was a huge responsibility. A lot of people had heard there was a new person here but didn't know who it was. It was cool to walk around and hear people say, “The new person, Emma, we don't know who she is, but she did a great job.” It was awesome to hear all the positive feedback, even if it's selfish.

Q: Are you planning any new programs?

A: On Jan. 27, we're starting a series of guided painting events with Natalie Cheek of StudioPM (of Johnstown). They're also called “paint and sip” or “painting with a twist,” and they're popular with the young professional crowd. There's appeal for older people, as well. I would like to make it a monthly thing.

Another colleague and I are trying to start a concert series, but that is very much in the incubation phase. It's something I would like to have under way by the end of 2016, maybe concerts in the garden.

Q: Are you an artist yourself?

A: I'm not an artist. That's why I'm so drawn to art, because I'm physically not creative. I love art and music, but I'm useless at the physical execution of it.

Q: Do you have a favorite artist or genre?

A: My favorite art genre changes about every month. There are aspects of Post-Impressionism that I love. Right now, I'm really into Middle Eastern art and architecture, which is such a hot topic. With the current (world) situation, I think we're going to keep seeing more of an influence from that area, especially as people's stories are told.

Q: Who has inspired you most?

A: Angela Rizzo, the executive director at Bottle Works. She was such a great example of a young woman blazing a trail in the professional world and doing it all on her own. Her whole life was the Bottle Works, but then she was mother to a 6-year-old daughter. She was doing it all. She was an excellent guide for what I want to do.

Q: What is your career goal?

A: Right now, I'm in my dream job. I would one day love to be the executive director of SAMA, but I'm not going after (executive director) Gary Moyer or anything! I'm so happy were I am, and it's so rare to come out of college and do exactly what you want to do. But 20 years from now, I'd like to be at the very top.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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