Executive director, Alexandria Museum of Art
Lori Brian Photo
Catherine Pears’ life is a constant reinvention.
The Alexandria native and executive director of the Alexandria Museum of Art earned an undergraduate degree in graphic design, but started her career painting backdrops for theatrical sets. She later worked for newspapers in graphics, and then started a children’s theater nonprofit. Pears has also taught art classes, painted Carnival floats, sold landscape paintings as a studio artist and worked as a curator at the art museum.
At one point, she worked multiple jobs to support her family. “I was going to like, four different locations and living out of my car and raising my teenage girls,” she says.
Then, the executive director position opened up.
“I never thought that was something I’d want to do,” she says, “But I really cared about the arts in our community, and I could see the possibilities that this museum had, and so I threw my name in the hat.”
Four months into her new job, the museum received unsettling news: LSU at Alexandria, the museum’s main source of funding, was slashing its budget. A significant part of the museum’s cash flow was drying up.
Despite the budget crisis, Pears managed to expand the museum’s programs and guide the organization through a four-year reaccreditation process, all while teaching herself to be an executive director.
“I was learning on the job, doing something I really wasn’t trained to do,” she recalls. Pears worked tirelessly to tie the museum to the community, her new source of funding. “A lot of people didn’t even know we had a museum in Alexandria, so we had to put in some programming to appeal to all different audiences.”
Those efforts included starting a second Saturday monthly art market and expanding on events for the public like yoga classes, concert series, and an array of workshops and classes. Pears also instituted a hugely successful fundraising event, the annual Louisiana Dragon Boat Races, which draws inspiration from a Chinese sport that has existed for hundreds of years. The event is held each May on Alexandria’s Red River and draws thousands of onlookers and participants. Teams of 20 paddlers are led by a costumed drummer, who sits in the front of the boat. Last year, nearly 50 teams participated.
Pears’ accomplishments earned her a “Louisiana Museum Professional” Award for museum directors with five to 10 years experience as a museum director. Though funding is a constant struggle for any nonprofit, the Alexandria Museum of Art is once again healthy.
Though she’s thriving at the museum, Pears hasn’t closed the book on her chapter as an artist.
“I like to say I’m an artist that succumbed to administration,” she says. “I said I’ll do it as long as I can possibly stand it. I’m not a good manager of paper. My office is ridiculous.”
Pears draws inspiration from the rivers and forests around her Central Louisiana home. She is an avid hiker, backpacker and kayaker, and she gravitates toward large landscape pieces when she’s in the studio. Places like the Kisatchie National Forest, near Alexandria, feed her creativity. But her life has been full of surprises, and her next move is anyone’s guess.
“When I get back to my artwork, I’m not sure what form it will take because a lot of the things I have done like the theater sets and Mardi Gras floats are sculptural in nature,” Pears says. “You never know where I will go from here.”