Inside the Exhibition

Inside the Exhibition

Nicole Watson returns to St. Kate’s as director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.
By Kristen Wunderlich

Q: What’s it like to be back on campus?

I love it! I attended Montessori school here, and I graduated from St. Thomas in 2001 but majored in art at St. Kate’s through the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities partnership program. I’ve always felt like an honorary Katie, and my mom (Patricia Wolff Sirek ’77) is very proud I’m back here — I am, too.

Q: What has your first year looked like?

My main objective was to strengthen our online presence. We created a new website ( and launched our social media profiles on Facebook and Instagram. I am also working towards a paperless communications system that will inform people about the gallery’s events and exhibitions, and support the University’s spirit of social responsibility to the environment.

Q: How does the gallery reflect the values of St. Kate’s?

The most significant representation of St. Kate’s values is through our examination of women’s perspectives through art. Two thirds of our shows are by women artists. We want to write them into the history of art and offer a lens that illustrates how women interpret social issues such as race, gender identity, socio-economic politics, etc.

Q: What role does it play in the community?

For students, I think of the gallery as an extension of the classroom. The gallery is an excellent opportunity for them to expand their education and perspectives, regardless of their area of study. They get to see how artists tackle challenging issues, including social justice and activism, through visual mediums. For emerging women artists, we bring exposure to their work; their exhibitions provide our visitors with context for women’s contributions to art.

Our reputation for museum-quality exhibitions is also a huge draw for our neighbors and the larger Twin Cities community. Our ability to offer them engaging exhibitions and events is a great way to give back.

Q: Who is the gallery’s namesake?

Catherine G. Murphy was a student of French and art at St. Kate’s in the late 1920s. Her aunt left her an inheritance after passing away in 1978 and, the following year, Murphy used that money to establish an endowment for the gallery, which was later renamed in her honor. The ongoing support of that endowment has allowed us to become the powerful artistic voice we are today.

Q: Speaking of Katies, your mother was a graduate — did she help foster your love of art?

My mom studied English and journalism while she was at St. Kate’s. She is a writer and my dad is a carpenter, so reading, writing and creative work was always a part of my upbringing, and that definitely contributed to my lifetime love of art.

Q: What are your future plans for the gallery?

I’m grateful to follow in the footsteps of Kathleen Daniels ’73, who led the gallery for over 20 years and established its reputation as a space that highlights women-centered visual arts. I want to continue this work by featuring artists who reflect our wonderfully diverse student body and who investigate current cultural, political and social themes that engage our viewers intellectually and emotionally. Art can be a pathway to knowledge, understanding, tolerance, empathy, beauty and empowerment; I’d like to see the gallery remain a leader in its exploration of these ideas within our community.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Seeing our students engage with the art in the gallery, either through discussion within a class visit or when they wander through quietly on their own, is very rewarding. We also have a lot of regulars from the general public who attend every show. It’s nice to get that kind of community support for the work we do.

Nicole Watson in the gallery. Photo by Rebecca Slater '10, by Rebecca Studios.

Nicole Watson in the gallery. Photo by Rebecca Slater '10, by Rebecca Studios.

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