Shaping the local art scene: Katherine Pill at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Pete3rd of 5 in a series about local curators

Facing Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg near The Vinoy sits the Museum of Fine Arts, a jewel among Florida’s creative art spaces showcasing masterpieces from Monet, O’Keeffe, De Kooning, Wiley, and others, plus a sculpture garden, traveling exhibits, and a significant photography collection.

There you’ll find Curator Katherine Pill, a true champion of the arts, who arrived in St. Pete about 8 years ago as Assistant Curator of Art after 1950 before being promoted in 2016 to Curator of Contemporary Art. 
Pill can frequently be seen around town and around the Tampa Bay region at art events and local artist-run gallery spaces that play integral roles in keeping the local art ecosystem thriving. She's known, in particular, for engaging with those in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, such as Tempus Projects, Coco Hunday, Parallelogram, QUAID, and Cunsthaus, an artist collective with a feminist bend.
So whether it’s for work or for leisure, Pill has always been completely immersed in the arts. For instance, she first got into curation in college, where she initially thought she would become a music journalist.
“After taking some art history classes in my second semester, I realized that a career in curation seemed to be well-suited to my strengths and interests, and I pursued it from then on,” Pill explains. “One of the most rewarding things I have done, in terms of getting hands-on experience, was starting an apartment gallery in Chicago during grad school. I was involved in everything from writing press releases to installing artwork and lighting. This experience really allowed me to think comprehensively about art and exhibitions.”

Displaying artwork by lesser known artists
During grad school, she helped in directing two Student Union Galleries as well as co-Directing the Concertina Gallery. She was also involved in projects like penning art criticism or hosting panel discussions and artist talks. Once she graduated with her MA, she moved to Kansas City to serve as Assistant Curator and Curatorial Fellow at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. 

These experiences set the stage for Pill when she came to the MFA in 2013, where there was already a push to increase the museum’s holdings of works by women artists -- something already at the forefront of Pill’s thinking. 
This sparked the impetus for the 2016 exhibition she organized at the MFA, Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists, 1960s to the Present, which shed light on the often-overlooked role women have played in contemporary American printmaking throughout the past 50 years from the museum’s permanent collection.
“We also hosted a lecture by Käthe Kollwitz of the Guerrilla Girls; hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon with Art + Feminism to create more entries for women artists; and exhibited artist Carrie Schneider’s photograph and video series Reading Women, which addresses gender inequities in the literary canon while the exhibition was up,” Pill says. “Marks Made was very important for me to engage with feminist dialogues about gender inequities in the art world and beyond, and we were able to follow it up with Magnetic Fields: Expanding Abstraction, 1960s to Today, organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. That exhibition created channels for us to look more intersectionally at inequities, as it focused on women of color practicing abstraction, many of whom faced racism throughout their careers.”
Among the pressing goals of what she wants to accomplish at the MFA, Pill has shown her commitment to bringing works by emerging artists to the museum’s collection, as well as growing their technological capabilities so they can show more new media and video works -- with their first big foray into this realm with Shana Moulton’s Journeys Out of the Body, which was the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S.
“Katherine has been instrumental in insuring that our collection reflects the richness and diversity of our world,’’ says Dr. Stanton Thomas, Senior Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts St. Pete. “She is drawn to emerging and underrepresented artists, and I think it’s her intellectual curiosity that compels her to find what’s new, important, and fascinating.”

Passion for working with living artists
Though she works in an encyclopedic museum, where she does research for exhibitions on artists who may not have gotten their due acclaim while they were alive, her passion is working with living artists.
“I love working on the Skyway exhibitions; it’s an opportunity to learn more about the artists practicing in the Tampa Bay Area, as well as collaborate directly with curatorial colleagues from different institutions, which is really energizing,’’ Pill says. “I’m also proud of the Spotlight series, as it focused on artists in the area and allowed for exhibitions that engaged directly with current events (like Mickett Stackhouse’s participatory Irma Reflections) and our city’s past (Gregg Perkins’ investigations into EG Barnhill and Florida tourism) for example.”
For now, Pill is busy preparing for premiering Bahamian artist Gio Swaby’s first solo museum exhibition Fresh Up coming in Summer 2022. Co-organized with the Art Institute of Chicago, it will feature Swaby’s signature sewn works that explore Blackness and womanhood through freehand, life-sized portraits of her friends.
“Gio Swaby, an emerging female artist of color, creates works which are incredibly relevant right now. When Pill was given the chance to work with her, she really took the project and ran with it,” Thomas says. “It’s a challenging thing as a curator of contemporary art to look at the vast spectrum of works being produced throughout the world and glean what’s pertinent. Katherine has extraordinary determination and a true commitment to her ideas and ideals; she is relentless in the pursuit of that. I really admire that about her as a colleague and am so grateful to have her on our curatorial team.”
To find out more about exhibitions curated by Katherine Pill, visit the Museum of Fine Arts St. Pete online.

To read about the other curators in this series, follow these links:
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Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”