By Lee Davis
When Katherine Miller graduated from Mountain Brook High School in 2005, she knew exactly what she wanted to do – attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and study pre-medicine.
“I was dead set on becoming a doctor,” she recalled. “So I went through the pre-med program for about a year and a half. Then about halfway through an organic chemistry class, I decided it wasn’t for me.”
That decision eventually led to Miller’s return to her hometown. In November, she was hired as the first gallery director of the Grand Bohemian Gallery at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook.
“For a long time, I never really thought about coming back to the Birmingham area,” said Miller, who worked at an online-based business called Gilt Groupe in New York City before making the trek home. “But once this opportunity came open, it made a lot of sense to come back.”
After deciding against medical school, Miller changed her major to art history and classics and landed an internship at the prestigious Corcoran Gallery in Washington. At that time she realized that sooner or later, she would make the art business her life’s work.
Following graduation from Georgetown, Miller moved to New York and attended Sotheby’s Institute – where she learned the business of art. Then she went to work for Gilt Groupe, where she stayed for six years.
“Working at Gilt Groupe was a great experience,” she said. “As a young start-up company, everything was hands-on because we only had a staff of 50 or 60 people. It was a 24 hour/seven day a week type of job, and eventually (I) burned out on that. I was ready for a change and wanted to come south.”
Miller’s sense of timing was perfect. The Grand Bohemian Gallery was looking for a director and she applied for the position in October. “I came down and interviewed and they said they would be crazy not to hire me,” she said. “And I felt really good about getting to come home.”
In many ways, Miller said, the Grand Bohemian Gallery is not typical of what you might see in many hotels. “When people think of hotel art galleries, they might think of a small area, almost like a gift shop,” she said. “We are a 2,500-square-foot free-standing building with a full gallery and a sculpture garden.”
The gallery has a number of signature artists, and Miller’s special interest is to showcase local artists.
“We’re trying to put in an eclectic look that is consistent with the spirit of the hotel,” she said. “A lot of galleries are low key and subdued. We have traditional art but also have a lot of the bold colors. I’d like to think that we have something for everybody.”
Miller and the gallery hosted a meet-and-greet open house for local artists late last month and was pleased with the turnout. “We thought
about 50 or 60 people would come but we wound up with more than 300, which was impressive particularly when you consider that the only way we promoted it was through social media,” she said. “That told me that there is a lot of interest in promoting and supporting local art.”
Making the gallery a major player in the overall Birmingham art scene is another priority for Miller.
“We want the gallery to become the go-to place for collectors and interior designers,” she said. “And we’ll have a continuing focus on local talent, including the yet-undiscovered artists, as part of what we want to do.”
Another goal for Miller is to make art collecting less intimidating for younger or first-time collectors. “We have a really wide range of price points,” she said. “Our pieces began at about $150 and go all the way up to $54,000. We want people who don’t necessarily want to pay five figures for a piece of artwork to still be able to have quality art in their homes. This way we think we can create a whole new generation of art lovers and collectors.”
As in the case of any new business, another of Miller’s priorities is to attract customers.
“It’s all about getting the right people in the door,” she said. “Anything we can do to promote the gallery through social media or any other way, we are going to do.”
While directing a new art gallery is an all-encompassing job, Miller does have a life outside of work. A former track and cross-country star in high school, she still pursues running as a hobby. Miller is participating in the Village 2 Village 10K Run in Mountain Brook on March 5.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “It will be good practice because I’m planning to run in the New York Half-Marathon later next month.”
It’s probably a touch of irony that Miller trains in Mountain Brook to run a race in New York much as she trained in New York to direct an art gallery in Mountain Brook. Whatever you call it, Katherine Miller is determined to bring the Grand Bohemian Gallery to the winner’s circle.