If you spend any time in the growing DoReMi arts district in San Francisco (named for the Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and the Mission), you might have seen Catharine Clark ’81’s name on her eponymous art gallery on Utah Street. She opened the space in 1991, and in the 26 years since then, she has exhibited more than 200 shows and written numerous catalogs and books.
Her interest in the arts reaches well back into her time at Burke’s; after winning the humanities award on Pansy Day, teacher Ann Perez gifted her with a book about the French artist Edgar Degas, which Katie still owns. “I keep the book on my library shelf next to my desk at home and think of it as a source of encouragement when I have personal doubts,” Katie says. It was also an appropriate gift because Katie was an accomplished dancer who later performed professionally with Morphe Danza Teatro in Bologna, Italy. Ms. Perez’s influence continues today: “Her detailed and exuberant descriptions of climbing Machu Picchu inspired a profound interest in my desire to visit that mountain, which I intend to do for my 50th birthday later this year,” Katie says. She lives in the Bay Area with her two teenage children.
When you were a student at Burke’s, what did you dream you’d be doing at this point in your life? I dreamed of having a life in many different fields. That may sound as if I were overly ambitious, but I think I felt that way because we were encouraged to believe that we could pursue any career, and (fortunately) I didn’t quite understand how unusual that was until much later in my educational life. Also, because I took ballet after school and was quite serious about becoming a professional dancer, I knew that while I hoped to have a long dancing life, dancer’s careers are often short-lived, so planning for a future beyond being a performer was important.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear “Katherine Delmar Burke School”? The motto that I know is associated with Burke’s now is a wonderfully inspired one, and I have used it as a mantra in my own thinking about what we should be doing in education everywhere and all the time. To my knowledge, it was not the motto associated with the school at the time I was there, but it was certainly expressed in how we were taught. So, I guess educate, empower, and encourage are three words I would associate with the Burke’s school experience. I might add enlighten and engage, but that would make five words!
What would you tell incoming kindergarten families about the journey ahead? To allow the experience to be a journey and to realize that what Burke’s provides is an educational and emotional scaffolding that will support their girls throughout the many adventures and challenges in their lives.
What is your favorite memory from Burke’s? I loved participating in school theater. Ms. Rudo was our music teacher, and at that time, we wrote our eighth-grade musical and performed in it. I got to wear a Big Bird costume and sing “One of These Things (is Not Like the Other”) with my two best friends at the time, both of whom were named Kim. Another great memory is of the Greek Games event, which was held every spring. This event was in the Upper School and involved many different activities. We were divided into teams of Spartans and Athenians and then competed in intramural Olympic games. There was also an amazing food component to the day with goodies like spanakopita and baklava (better than what our bagged lunches or cafeteria fare had on offer) and, best of all, we wore costumes and not our uniforms!
What Burke’s experiences do you attribute to your personal or professional success? Burke’s was a very challenging school, and while at the time I occasionally felt burdened by the homework and the intensity of the classes, the pedagogy facilitated and honed my time management skills, allowing me to get the most from my education and, as a middle school student, to learn how to balance my education and ballet, and later, motherhood and a professional life. As a single mom with two teenagers and my own business, organization, curiosity, and focus are key to success. The values cherished by the school also helped instill inquisitiveness, a love of learning, and perseverance, which are critical in my field as a contemporary art gallerist. In my profession, I often have to research, write, and edit. I know that I developed strong writing skills at Burke’s thanks to Mr. Bell (especially the assignment where we researched, read, and wrote about a single author; in my case, Katherine Anne Porter), and through Ms. Pringle’s history class where we learned to research an historical subject in depth.