Person of interest: Sarah Minnaert of the Carnegie Museum of Art


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As director of exhibitions for Carnegie Museum of Art, Sarah Minnaert serves as mission control, coordinating all aspects of temporary and touring exhibitions plus installations of the permanent collection. The museum typically has 14 to 16 exhibitions annually.

This is a busy year for the California native because the Carnegie International opens in October. The exhibition showcases the work of 35 contemporary artists or groups from 19 countries.

Ms. Minnaert moved from California to Pittsburgh in 2010. Previously she was employed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she worked closely with Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II director of Carnegie Museum of Art.


Q. Play is one of the themes of this Carnegie International. There's a colorful tubular structure called a "lozziwurm" at the museum's front entrance. It's the work of Yvan Pestalozzi and children will be able to play on it by the end of this month. What did you think when you first saw it?

A. To be honest, it's hard for me to remember the first time I saw it. We've been working on this project for nearly two years now -- once I got over the fact that I was going to learn how to build a play structure and park, it's pretty much become ingrained in my (and my family's) day-to-day conversations and thoughts ever since.

What are some of your favorite ways to play?

I have an almost 4-year-old (she turns 4 at the end of April), so play is a daily thing for us. We are all looking forward to warmer weather and being outside to play with neighbors and explore in our yard. We're big fans of sidewalk chalk, hopscotch, playing music, dancing and being silly.

In 2004, you attended the J. Paul Getty Museum Leadership Institute in Los Angeles to participate in a program called "Museum Leaders: The Next Generation." What did you learn that has helped you?

I thought I'd be attending Next Gen to gain a collection of new tools to help me manage the exhibition process. Instead, I was thrown into a weeklong self-exploration and discovery process to understand who I was, what I wanted to do, and why working in a museum, and for museums, mattered to me. I realized the importance of what museums do to make us and our world a better place, and how my work contributes to that greater good.

In 1997, you earned a bachelor's in anthropology at California State University in Chico, Calif. What attracted you to the study of anthropology?

It was pure scheduling, actually. My dad was an artist and I grew up in museums and galleries. When I went to college, I thought I'd major in art history. I worked while going to school, and for three semesters in a row, the prerequisite art history course offerings got rescheduled after I'd already set my work schedule. And then I found a museum studies course -- offered through the department of anthropology -- which fit within my schedule. My museum studies adviser actually tried to talk me out if it. He said I'd never look at museums the same way again (which is completely true), but one thing led to another, and I was hooked. I was coming into the field of cultural/social anthropology at a particularly interesting time when there was a lot of postmodern and feminist theory being applied to how we "study" and "present" the other. The combination of cultural analysis and museum studies was a perfect melding of interests for me.

Who hangs the photographs and art in your home ... I do. And I'm also responsible for figuring out storage for all the things I can't fit on the walls.

My emergency dinner consists of ... Whatever I can find in the refrigerator and cupboard that doesn't require any prep time. Fortunately, my husband is the cook in our family, so I'm rarely left to fend for myself.

My perfect weekend is ... Sleeping in until 7:30 a.m. Being outside, gardening, visiting with neighbors. And a nap in the afternoon, too.

I'm surprisingly good at ... Hearing dogs approaching. I've been scared of dogs since an incident when I was 5, so I've had a lot of time to develop a heightened sense of sound for the pad of their walk, jangle of their collars, etc.

On my last vacation ... In January I made a quick trip to Los Angeles to celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday with family.

Pet peeve about Pittsburgh ... Perhaps especially since we moved here from Los Angeles, I'd have to say that it's a tie between the "Pittsburgh left" and regulations about when and where to buy beer and wine.

One of my favorite spots in Pittsburgh ... The inclines. They are amazing feats of engineering and afford the most incredible views of the city.

My biggest surprise about Pittsburgh was ... How much I love the seasons! Don't get me wrong, spring can't get here soon enough, but the weather here is far more interesting and dramatic than Los Angeles. The same temperature day-in and day-out really does get boring after a while.

Can't live without ... My family, coffee, and naps.

When I was a kid, I used to love ... Going to the hardware store. Both my dad and my grandfather had incredible tool collections to make a multitude of things. I loved going with them in search of new tools and supplies. The smell of the hardware store is inextricably linked with my childhood memories.

Nothing clears my head like ... Yoga.

In my daydreams, I imagine myself ... As a full-time gardener. (Not that I'm any good at it, however.)

The best advice I've ever gotten ... The only person you can change or control is yourself.

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