Stage design, thick skin and project management are all skills Dominique Luster finds helpful in her career.
There’s no such thing as a bad workday at a museum, because you get to work with art every day.
Dominique Luster learned a similar lesson during her days in the world of theater — no matter what goes wrong, in the end, you get to come in and tell stories every day.
Luster has stepped into the recently created role of Charles “Teenie” Harris archivist at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. She will manage the work of the iconic photographer who chronicled Pittsburgh’s African-American community from the 1930s through the 1970s.
It’s a position that fits many of her interests. She has a master’s in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh. Before that, she studied theater design and technology at the University of Kentucky.
“I did a co-op my senior year of high school. I went to one class and interned at the Actors Theatre of Louisville,” Luster says. “When there wasn’t a production, I worked in the school library. So I was meant to be a librarian.”
Stage design has been a long-standing passion. The Kentucky native was drawn to the art of lighting because “It’s probably the closest thing to magic we have,” she says. “The lighting drives emotions, conceptualizes ideas and enhances audience reaction.”
Theater, as a whole, is “an extraordinarily useful major,” she says. “I am always hesitant to say that because I think a lot of parents out there would rather their kids be engineers or doctors or lawyers.”
She took classes on diction, speech and vocal production and learned how to “stand in an empty space by yourself and command a room.”
And she has time and project management down.
“A show will open when it’s scheduled to open. It’s planned years in advance. So, if the show is opening on July 20, you better be done with the set on July 15,” Luster says. “Those are good skills to have — being able to juggle 15 things at once and still focus.”
Theater also prepares you to be OK with people disagreeing with you.
“You’re taught to have tough skin because your art isn’t always going to be for everyone, and you have to learn how to accept that,” Luster says.
Now, handling the Teenie Harris collection, she is not only helping to preserve his work but also bringing those images to new audiences. The collection contains a little under 80,000 negatives, and many of them haven’t been showcased, Luster noted.
“You see the same images over and over because they resonate with people, but there are others that people have never seen,” Luster says. “And there’s an audience for that art.
“What’s amazing about the Teenie Harris collection is it looks at African-American urban life, much of which was in Pittsburgh, but that culture is similar to what was happening in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago,” she says. “So a transplant from, say, Chicago who is working here can see those images and find a connection.”