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My name is Katie Clark. I've lived in Altadena for almost a decade, and I'm an educator, an artist, and advocate.

I have seen the erosion of faith in public institutions intensify in recent years. Perhaps nowhere is that more critical to address than in those places that serve to educate, connect, and inspire our communities. We are fortunate, because our Altadena Library has done that work for decades. But when I contrast the deep love that we all have for our Library with the profound challenges it now faces, I cannot remain on the sidelines.

When people ask me, "what do you do?" I always take a moment to answer, because the truth is: I wear more than one hat. I am fortunate enough that I've been able to build an incredible life here in Altadena, combining my passions into a rich whole. That collection of experiences gives me a unique perspective on problem solving, people, and opportunities.

 

Educator

The archaeological site of Hierapolis (near modern-day Pammukale, in Turkey); Greek, Roman, and medieval structures remain at this UNESCO World Heritage site.

The archaeological site of Hierapolis (near modern-day Pammukale, in Turkey); Greek, Roman, and medieval structures remain at this UNESCO World Heritage site.

By training, I'm a medieval historian. It's what brought me to Altadena: after finishing my PhD in medieval history at Oxford, I moved here for a three year postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech.

A manuscript from the year 1350,  from the Archives Départementales de Vaucluse, in  Avignon (southern France).

A manuscript from the year 1350,  from the Archives Départementales de Vaucluse, in  Avignon (southern France).

The process of uncovering the stories of real people, of finding their voices in manuscripts that they wrote more than seven hundred years ago, is something truly remarkable. I can remember sitting in the Secret Archives at the Vatican, reading court cases with original witness testimony from the late fourteenth century, and marveling at the fact that I could hear an echo of someone who was at once very much like me, and at the same time unutterably different, across the span of centuries.

I loved teaching history, both at Oxford and at Caltech. I loved helping students see how many of our modern institutions and practices — from banking to universities to eyeglasses to double-ledger accounting — were inventions of the Middle Ages.

I believe that teaching is storytelling, and that it's a process of framing. It's getting someone to understand a story and then challenging that story again and again until he or she can come to a more nuanced, aware understanding. It's breaking down assumptions and building up a set of analytical tools that empower someone to write, read, and learn things that she never could have believed possible.

Although I ultimately decided that a career in academia was not for me, I am profoundly grateful for my academic training has taught me.

Sometimes people ask, "But aren't you sad that you're not using your degree?"

And I tell them: I use it every single day.

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Artist

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I come from a family of artists (and teachers). My parents are both musicians, and from as far back as I can remember, the performing arts have been part of my life. In fact, I was a working musician all the way through college. I paid for my textbooks playing the harp at fancy hotels in New Orleans.

I had danced my entire life, but wasn't serious about it until college, when I started ballroom dancing competitively. I never considered it as a career — partly because I was so invested in my academic work, and partly because I didn't know that it was actually viable for me.

But about ten years ago, I started working nights at ballroom dance studios: teaching, choreographing, and performing. And it brought me more joy than anything else I was doing in my life. So I decided to pursue dance seriously, and left academia to be a dancer. My husband and I (whom I met on the dance floor, and who is himself a brilliant dancer) opened our own studio in 2013, and have been running it successfully ever since.

Teaching partner dance is about teaching movement, and teaching communication. Partner dance itself is about collaboration — about accomplishing something as a team that is literally impossible on your own. 

Dance lets me feel free. I feel better when I'm dancing than when I'm doing just about anything else. I love understanding the human body, and how to create emotion, rhythm, and expression through physical movement. It is always challenging, and there is always more to learn. Martha Graham once said, "you are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost." That's true for every dancer, I think, but it's also true for every human.

 
 

Advocate

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I am an advocate for small businesses, and for the freedom to follow your dreams. I did that in my own life by opening a dance studio, and along the way I learned a lot about what to do (and what not to do). Almost by accident, I ended up with a thriving consulting practice, which I spun off into a PR, marketing, consulting, and design  firm in 2014.

Now, I help small and medium businesses as well as non-profits get set up, and get in front of their audiences effectively. I help them tell their stories, and help them define their goals and objectives. I am a systems creator and a big picture thinker — maybe it's my academic training, or maybe it's just how I am, but I see problems in terms of systems. I also have a meticulous eye for detail.

I was able to start my own businesses and be successful because I had had access to a phenomenal education, and because my family background taught me the value of hard work, persistence, and hustle. Many stars aligned for me, and I am not blind to the privileged position I've had. Yes, I've worked hard, but I've had access to a great many opportunities as well.

I believe it's my obligation to help provide those opportunities for other people, to pass along some of the lessons I was able to learn thanks to my unique experience. I find the process of helping someone create something entirely new, that had previously existed only in his or her imagination, to be some of the most empowering and rewarding work I've ever done. 

 
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