On the Catwalk: SRU alumnus connecting art and fashion for the Pittsburgh community
Cat Burton, a 2017 Slippery Rock University graduate, is the creative arts manager for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. She collaborates with many people in the Pittsburgh arts and fashion community, including stylist Bradley Hill who contributed to her look for this photo shoot.
Jan. 30, 2023
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Many people think of their careers as a series of crossroads. For Cat Burton, there's one particular crossroad that she prefers.
"My passion lies at the intersection of art and fashion," said Burton, a 2017 Slippery Rock University graduate with a degree in communication: integrated marketing. "Fashion is something everyone can see. It's an expression of yourself: the style, the clothes that you choose to wear. There's something really special about making a type of art that you get to present to the world."
Burton is in her second year as the creative arts manager for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. Although she is an artist and model herself, Burton wants to provide more access and strengthen communities through the arts, whether that's stoking children's creativity or providing opportunities for emerging artists.
To Burton, art is not created in isolation. The busier the intersection the better.
"Arts are often not a priority in the public school systems," Burton said. "Children need a creative outlet and a place to express themselves."
As the creative arts manager at the Children's Museum, Burton creates exhibit spaces for community artists and coordinates programming, including a recent project fashion-related project titled "How You Wear It.
She has many side ventures as well. As founder of a production company, Create Art Together, Burton produces concepts, visuals, events and shows for clients that include independent artists, brands and other organizations.
"The best art is created through collaboration," Burton said. "Everything I do as a project manager is a collaborative process, whether it's fashion show or an art gallery exhibit. There are stylists, models, DJs and the behind-the-scenes crew. It's really cool to see everything come together."
Burton's skills and passion started coming together as a student at SRU. A native of Erie, Burton liked the atmosphere at SRU and got involved with many campus organizations. She worked in what is now the University's Office for Inclusive Excellence, served as a mentor for the Jump Start program, and helped lead several student clubs, including Black Action Society and the Student Organization of Latinos/Hispanics and Allies.
"I really enjoyed getting to express myself through those cultural organizations, and I found my grounding as a person in the community," Burton said. "I didn't realize I had that capacity before I came to SRU. I learned how to work with others who have different communication styles and views and create something beneficial for everyone."
Because of her involvement at SRU, she pursued a career related to arts and culture. She lived in Washington, D.C., for a few months after graduating in 2017 before coming back to western Pennsylvania to work for two operations/facilities jobs in Pittsburgh. Burton was an operations coordinator at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for a year and a half before taking a job as a facilities manager for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for two years.
"I learned a lot about how to run events from behind the scenes," Burton said. "Although it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was grateful for all the experience I gained that helps me today.
"Now, I work with the exhibits department of the Children's Museum. Because the exhibits team builds all their exhibits, I bring that facilities management experience with me into this job. Although I'm more front-facing now with programming, I still have all my behind-the-scenes knowledge I've learned from previous positions."
Burton is most proud of her work with the "How You Wear It" exhibit, which was part of the MuseumLab at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. It included submissions from 30 different artists, including a "spider dress" from technology designer Anouk Wipprecht with arms and sensors to maintain personal boundaries -- a stylish nod to physical distancing in the pandemic era. The nearly yearlong exhibit included a speakers' series and a week-long sewing class for children taught by a professional stylist.
Style412 produced the video that accompanied the exhibit and served as another example of Burton's continued collaborations. She has been a frequent model and production assistant for Style412, a nonprofit dedicated to Pittsburgh's fashion industry.
Burton's portfolio also includes curated exhibitions at Social Status, Glitterbox Theater, and TRUSST Lingerie, along with various creative work with 1Hood Media, Luxurae Hair, Day Owl and Sabika Jewelry. In 2019, she directed her first fashion show, "Styled By Example," celebrating Women's History Month. The event, hosted by her production company at Spirit Hall in Pittsburgh, showcased the work of several of the city's stylists and models with fashion from each of the previous decades dating back to the 1920s.
Burton is also active with organizations and committees that spread awareness, appreciation and application of the arts. She's served on the arts advisory committees for the Pittsburgh International Airport and Creative Learning Network and was also part of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Pittsburgh Emerging Artist Leaders.
She is committed to drawing attention to other artists and their work, which complements her own sense of style.
"My style is minimalist," Burton said. "It's a lot of neutrals and black and white. I don't like to stand out. There is maximal art, which can also be beautiful with bright colors, but it's not what I'm drawn to. I like art that you have to get up close to see."
And while that may be Burton's style, it's not for everyone.
"Good art is whatever makes the artists happy," Burton said. "And sometimes the viewer could have a completely different idea than what the artist is trying to convey."
There will be many more intersections and creative crossroads along Burton's career journey. She's currently exploring collaborations for a film festival and creating scholarships for community artists.
"I definitely want to generate more funding and bridge the gap for the artists so we can create more opportunities for them," Burton said. "The more people I work with, the more I can network and bring opportunities for others."
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