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‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Kristen A. Shepherd, Museum of Fine Arts

Bill DeYoung



Kristen A. Shepherd grew up in Clearwater, and four years ago she became the executive director of the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, which had, right around then, just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Under her stewardship, the MFA has gone from “that old art museum that’s always been there by the bay” to a sort of artistic ground zero, a cultural destination that’s second in numbers only to the Dali Museum. And even that’s open for debate sometimes.

She’s done it using energy, focus and an infusion of great, motivated curatorial talent. The exhibitions are exciting, they’re interesting and best of all, they’re not what you’d expect.

Kristen Shepherd has transformed the now 55-year-old bayfront fixture into a 21st century art museum.

“An encyclopedic collection like ours requires a lot of care,” Shepherd said Thursday on The Catalyst Sessions. “There’s a lot to do, there’s a lot of expertise to marshal in order to put together a great program.

“I think some of the biggest challenges have been challenges of perception more than anything else.”

Shepherd detailed the role each member of the curatorial staff plays, the essential role played by a burning passion for art, and her transition from an art historian to administrative chief – and how those jobs are inexorably entwined.

As for the immediate future: “I’m not motivated by politics; I’m not motivated by anything other than my desire to serve the community to the best of our ability.

“And we won’t put our community or our staff in any jeopardy while we think there’s any risk. So we are committed to staying closed until we have seen a diminishment of new cases in St. Petersburg for at least two weeks.”

Conversely, she outlined the MFA From Home virtual programming series.

And she happily talked about her March 20 wedding on the steps of City Hall – officiated by Mayor Rick Kriseman, with all participants save the bride and groom properly socially distanced.

Today on The Catalyst Sessions: Former (30 years!) WFLA news anchor Bob Hite.

Streaming live weekdays at 7 p.m. on the Catalyst Facebook page.




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