“I always appreciated the arts, but they never once occurred to me as a career choice.” Yet after 20 years in corporate communications, Kathy Dhaemers found herself associate director of sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary. As such, she oversees the sacred arts activities at the Basilica (not including the Basilica Block Party).
Each year, Dhaemers manages more than 25 concerts of sacred music hosted by the Basilica, as well as 10 art exhibits. “We define sacred art broadly,” she noted. For instance, a recent exhibit, Home Sweet Home, featured art that reflected the artists’ conceptions of home and homelessness. Exhibits also may bridge faith traditions; an icon festival in November 2004 was arranged in conjunction with members of the Orthodox community.
The sacred arts program has expanded under Dhaemers’ management. She has focused her first five years on strengthening the program and is excited about the new exhibit space in the building. Now she envisions expanding people’s access to sacred art, connecting with local arts organizations and connecting more with other groups within the Basilica.
In addition to her duties related to sacred arts, Dhaemers leads the communications team at the Basilica. The team meets weekly and works to develop consistent, key messages for all of the communication that comes from the Basilica. Dhaemers also helped create the Basilica’s new store, Lux Eterna. Since the Basilica frequently offered items for sale in connection with art exhibits, it made sense to develop a full-fledged store to handle the sale of sacred art and devotional materials.
Dhaemers’ concern with the Basilica’s brand, her ability to manage teams of volunteers and to promote concerts and exhibits, her consideration of efficiencies when planning, all come from her corporate experience. Dhaemers’ undergraduate background was in business, computer science and economics. When she graduated, she took a job working with computers for Prudential, where she had a “great boss” who frequently matched people with opportunities. While Dhaemers pursued her M.B.A. in marketing at St. Thomas, her supervisor arranged for her to move to a marketing position within Prudential. She worked in marketing communications for some time and eventually left Prudential for consulting work with companies such as 3M and Blue Cross Blue Shield, where she was able to observe different work cultures.
During this time, Dhaemers began attending worship services at the Basilica, where she became increasingly involved as a volunteer in arts programs. After a few years, a position in sacred arts opened up. She took the position believing she would just “fill in” for a while, but she fell in love with the work, and it became permanent. Her openness to such a new direction was inspired in part by Johann van Parys, director of liturgy and the sacred arts. “His vision for the arts made me want to help other people understand the sacred arts,”Dhaemers said.
The “why” of her job is an important key to Dhaemers’ career change. “I learn with each exhibit, and I love seeing the impact the exhibits have on people,” she said. Dhaemers sees art as essential, not added – an important communication tool that can teach people about faith. She has seen people respond to the arts in a way that they may not respond to theological language in discussions of faith. “Sacred art is really an important part of many religions,” she noted. “It is a glimpse into the divine, an insight into the mystery of God, from whom all creative processes flow.”