My Catawba County

5Q: Clarissa Starnes

5Q: Clarissa Starnes

The art of relationships: not exactly what you’d expect to see at an art museum, but if Clarissa Starnes has a say, it’s definitely what you’ll get at the Hickory Museum of Art (HMA). A longtime HMA employee and advocate, Starnes was named the museum’s executive director earlier this year. Here’s how she answered our Five Questions.

What are the chief responsibilities of your role?
Leadership and staff management, financial management and administration, fundraising, planning and implementation of exhibitions, care and fostering of the museum’s Collection, and seeking growth of the museum’s impact through oversight of intentional programs, education, and community engagement.

What is your vision for the community, and how are you working to achieve it?
My vision is truly the museum’s vision – to bring people together and inspire creativity though the power of art. My hope is that as we move forward, the museum becomes such a large part of the lives of our local community that we remain in lifelong relationship. Through a renewed and increased focus in this regard, we are striving to exhibit artwork, offer programming, and create events that represent the entire community around us. We have even looked internally into our staff structure to create positions focused on exactly what we know matters – relationships.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do, and why?
I am humbled and honored to see people engage with a work of art or an entire exhibition, ponder the medium and the content, question and think deeply, and then leave inspired. I don’t take that experience lightly. It feels like being given a special gift when someone tells you their experience with a work of art and then shares their story with you.

On a personal note, what do you love about living in Catawba County?
The growth of Hickory has been one of my favorite things to watch throughout my lifetime. The same warm, inviting spirit exists as we expand in size and welcome so many new people to the area.

What is the best advice you've been given, and how has it made a difference for you?
That advice would be to listen. Listen. With a period behind it. Seems so simple but we can get caught up in thinking what comes next in our words or actions and miss very important messages. Whether it be with our team, my family, or our community, I strive to listen to those around me. It is the most empathetic thing I can do for those around me and I have also realized the simple act of listening to someone is actually the very best way I can learn.


First job?
Retail Cashier at Revco on Sandy Ridge Road at age 15

Favorite place in Catawba County?
Hickory Museum of Art!


Most-watched movie?
I watch these two every single time they are on so it’s hard to pick one - The Devil Wears Prada and Shawshank Redemption.

What are you currently reading?
What is a Museum? Perspectives from National and International Museums Leaders, edited by Kate Quinn and Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez