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Ambassador of Art

Friday, August 7, 2015

At the San Antonio Museum of Art, Moira Allen strives to make the collections accessible to all guests in exciting and innovative ways

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Moira Allen’s office is a gallery. Twenty one galleries to be exact.

From ancient Egyptian artifacts and Chinese ceramics to Latin American church altars and contemporary pieces, Allen ’13 can “take a walk through history” at any moment of her day.

As the public programs and volunteer manager at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Allen is responsible for all adult programming at the museum and oversees a volunteer team of more than 60 individuals. Allen says her goal is for the local community to engage with the collections in unique and exciting ways and to spread the message that art should be accessible to everyone.

“You do not have to be an art aficionado or an art history major to love art. Art is something that makes us human,” Allen says. “It’s an innate part of the human experience.”

Allen is in charge of programs like Trivia Night, a quarterly event where the trivia questions relate to the current special exhibition. Trivia associated with the recent Jamie Wyeth exhibition focused on American history and culture, as Wyeth is a contemporary American realist painter. The upcoming featured exhibition, 28 Chinese, will showcase a collection from 28 contemporary Chinese artists and a trivia bonus round will ask questions about the exhibition.

“Everything always connects back to our collections,” Allen says.

The same is true for Film on the Green, where a movie is screened outdoors on a lawn behind the main building. The recent showing featured Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in response to a collection by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias. A renowned caricaturist, Covarrubias strongly influenced the illustrative style of The New Yorker. He predominantly worked in the 1920s and 30s, capturing the famous era of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic novel.

In addition to Film on the Green and Trivia Night, Allen administers a program called Art Fit: Art + Exercise, where participants listen to a ten minute gallery talk about how a specific piece of art relates to physical fitness before doing communal exercises. Allen has also collaborated with the Ballet Conservatory of South Texas, which performed a dance in response to a painting, and Mobile Om, a local yoga studio that led a session in relation to a Yogini piece.

“Whenever I think of an idea for a program, I think about how it will apply to different groups or if it only pertains to one demographic,” Allen says. “I try to be cognizant of that and to engage as many people as possible.”

Allen is currently developing a new series called Art to Lunch, where visitors are invited to the museum during their lunch hour to take a two-object tour in 30 minutes. Normally, when visitors tour a museum, they only spend 17 seconds looking at a piece of art because they feel as though they need to see everything in one visit. Allen hopes that this series will allow people to relax on their lunch breaks and think about something other than their everyday lives.

For Allen, an essential part of the planning process is considering how an event will stand out in a visitor’s mind as distinctive.

“Every day I am inspired by the people that I work with and the people that I am serving,” Allen says. “If I do not keep those people in mind, I am not going to have a successful program.”

A native San Antonian, Allen says that she has stayed in the Alamo City because of its warm people and the close personal friendships she formed as an undergraduate at Trinity. A double major in art history and anthropology with minors in English and medieval and Renaissance studies, Allen has previously worked as a Mellon Fellow with SA2020 and as a college adviser at Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio through Advise Texas.

Allen says she loves speaking with visitors about artwork and showing them the vast collection of the museum, one of the best encyclopedic institutions in the South. She is also very grateful for the work of her volunteers and their role in instilling a love of art in all San Antonians.

“It’s important not only to see art being made or performed, but to see what has happened in the past and how that has informed current art,” Allen says. “Art is more than just an expression. It’s a requirement as humans.”

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a 2014 Trinity graduate. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.