Interview with Katherine McAllen
by Ann Fortescue

I had the opportunity to talk with IMAS Trustee Dr. Katherine Moore McAllen about her experiences and perspectives as an art historian, educator, avid museumgoer, and arts and culture supporter. Katherine has served on the IMAS Board of Trustees for nearly six years and actively participates in the museum’s education and exhibit programs.

Katherine’s passion for art and art history was ignited in her final years as an undergraduate student at Trinity University in San Antonio. She was headed toward law school and took an art history course to fulfill a requirement in the curriculum at Trinity that changed her career path completely. Art historian and professor Dr. Carolyn Valone awakened Katherine’s interest in art and Italian art history, challenging her to examine the content and context of art, especially with class visits to the San Antonio Museum of Art. Katherine discovered her passion for art history through Dr. Valone’s class and continued her studies earning a doctorate in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University with a focus on the intersection of Spanish and Indigenous Mexican influences in colonial Latin American art and architecture. Her dissertation provided new insights and evidence through church art and architecture of the dynamic cultural exchange between peoples in the Americas, Spain, and Rome, Italy. Katherine counts herself extremely fortunate that her family, especially her mother Myfe Moore, fully supported her shift from pre-law to immersing herself in art history; it was evident she was on the path that fueled her passion and desire to learn. Katherine carries this support and encouragement with her as a parent to her own three children and her many students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).

Katherine’s experiences as Associate Professor of Art History, Director of the Center for Latin American Arts, and as the newly appointed Maryalice Shary Shivers Endowed Chair of Fine Arts at UTRGV, enables her to ignite her students’ curiosity and creativity through inquiry-based learning the same way Dr. Valone did for her as an undergraduate. Katherine finds it deeply rewarding when she is able to “turn the light bulb on for her students to unlock their creativity, expanding their knowledge especially through museums like IMAS where connections between art and science bring innovation and diverse perspectives to the forefront of learning.”

Katherine reminds us and her students that artistic expression is all around us and honing our skills of observation and close-looking can reveal cultural symbols and identity, like the murals at the Harlingen Airport and the public art on irrigation stand pipes throughout McAllen. She encourages her students to apply what they learn at the university to their everyday experiences, and cites IMAS as an essential cultural asset, contributing to the benefit of the community. She appreciates the museum’s role in providing the context for art and science that is so important in developing the well-rounded, careful-looking and analytical skills we need. She shared as an IMAS Board member, that it is very fulfilling to see the museum’s mission realized, and she is proud of the work the Trustees and staff have accomplished together in the past several years.

I asked Katherine what she’s learned in her role as IMAS Trustee. Without hesitation, she mentioned the progressive growth the museum is experiencing every year in fundraising, improving education and outreach, bringing in quality exhibitions, and reaching new audiences throughout the RGV. Katherine acknowledged the challenges that museums and non-profits

face regarding raising the necessary operating funds from increasingly diverse revenue sources, like grants, memberships, sponsorships, and generous contributions from individuals, foundations, and businesses. The Trustees included “creating an endowment for IMAS” as one of the key objectives in the museum’s strategic plan and as an essential ingredient for sustainability.

While Katherine’s professional work and personal life are deeply rooted in the RGV, I wanted to know what museums outside our region have made the biggest impression on her and why she finds them so compelling. Not surprisingly, two of the museums are in Latin America and two are right here in Texas.

The Museo National De Arte (https://www.munal.mx/es) in Mexico City has outstanding exhibitions from different time periods from the colonial to contemporary and always integrates new technologies, like digital projections that allow audiences to look more closely and access additional information. They incorporate multi-sensory experiences which enable learners at all levels and abilities. She is also drawn to the Museo de Arte de Lima – MALI (https://mali.pe/) in Lima, Peru by how the museum incorporates contemporary art with modern and colonial and precolonial art to create dialogues between periods and experiences.

In Texas, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin has a remarkable collection of contemporary Latin American art displayed alongside colonial and modern art, and they do an amazing job of engaging university students and living artists. The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth captivates Katherine’s dual interests in art and architecture with the original Louis Kahn building and the Renzo Piano Pavilion that complement each other in a timeless way, creating stunning spaces to see art. She enjoys the Kimball’s small but exceptional collection, adhering to the museum’s founding principal that “a single work of outstanding merit and significance is more effective as an educational tool than a larger number of representative examples.” (https://kimbellart.org/)

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Katherine what she likes best about coming home to the RGV. “The people and the culture. Our community comprised of truly generous and authentic people who are kind, humble, and caring; there’s a culture of friendship, serving each other, and thinking of the greater good for our community.” She added strong ties between the RGV, Mexico, and Latin America bring a unique, genuinely international environment that appreciates and celebrates our community’s identity and diverse cultures. Katherine believes it’s our responsibility as trustees and community members to see that our community grows with cultural awareness, appreciation, and identity, and that we share that vision with each other and our visitors.