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Dallas 500

Meet the Dallas 500: Carolina Alvarez-Mathies

Dallas Contemporary's deputy director shares what nonprofit she is passion about, her childhood dream, and her biggest risk.
By  | |Illustration by Andrea Chavez
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Illustration by Andrea Chavez

Carolina Alvarez-Mathies–one of seven executives on the cover of D CEO’s 2022 Dallas 500–took over as the deputy director for Dallas Contemporary just months before the pandemic struck. Her tenure has been unorthodox, but her impact has been great. Her role, she says, “gives her the chance to enact change by grappling with current issues and enabling artists’ voices to be agents of change.”

Education: Texas Christian University (BS-Fashion Merchandising)

Birthplace: San Salvador, El Salvador

First Job: “After two summer internships, my first position was as press director for Angel Sanchez, a couture and bridal fashion house recognized as one of the premier Latin American labels, globally. Dallas was a huge market for us. The role allowed me to develop a multifaceted skill set that is still the core of what I do today. It was through my work there that my eye truly developed. Whether that be in fashion, art, or media, I was able to integrate my innate aesthetic sensibilities and passions with an earned skill set across creative and art direction, media relations, marketing, business development, and ecommerce. It was a small and entrepreneurial team and we achieved great things together that paralleled fashion houses that tripled us in size, much like my team at Dallas Contemporary. This taught me that true leadership is humble and about building trusting relationships and community. We don’t have to be many, we just have to be aligned on a mission and have each other’s backs.”

Best Advice: “On both sides of my family, I come from 100+ year old family businesses that still remain active in El Salvador and across Central America. My father’s side of the family founded the country’s first brewery in 1906. I witnessed my grandfather and father work tirelessly through civil wars and unrest, never giving up on our country and its people. Their leading with integrity taught me to always stand for what I believe is right and to never make a decision that goes against my moral code. I also have learned that legacy and tradition can go hand-in-hand with innovation, and that humility and a hunger for learning, especially from peers and younger generations, is one of the great keys to success.”

Dinner Party: “Amber Venz-Box and Eva Yazhari—I am fortunate to have already met them as I settle into Dallas, but am so looking forward to hopefully forming deeper relationships with these two women I so admire. Dinner seems like a great next step! I first heard of Amber and her work in the tech and fashion space via the Aspen Institute’s Global Leadership Network, of which we are both members and fellows. Amber is founder of rewardStyle and the only ready-to-shop consumer service on Instagram, LIKEtoKNOW.it. The way she has scaled her business is truly impressive. I met Eva through Dallas Contemporary. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Beyond Capital. Eva has 16 years of experience in investing for social impact, a field of great personal interest to me. She recently gifted me her new book, The Good Your Money Can Do. It’s my current read and a wonderful tool guide—highly recommended.”

Destination of Choice: “Travel is one of my greatest passions and so is cuisine. A lot of my destinations are based on culinary experiences—I find that learning about new cultures by immersion is truly an experience like no other. My trips are a mix of art, food, local markets (at sunrise), and some not to be missed landmarks. If I don’t get lost in a city at least once, then my trip is not complete! Some of my favorite destinations are Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Germany, Hong Kong, and Patagonia.”

Nonprofit Cause: “Children’s health and education—investing in our future generations is greatly important. Ayúdame a Vivir is the only non-profit in El Salvador providing cancer treatment to infants and children at no-cost to the patient. They were founded 27 years ago when the survival rate in the country for childhood cancer was around 5 percent, and it is now above 70 percent. They currently treat 100 percent of the patients diagnosed in the country and were named as one of the top four most cost-efficient programs in the globe by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.”

Gift Giving: “I bought a few of the open editioned Yoshitomo Nara prints that Dallas Contemporary launched in collaboration with the artist for my friends and family. Art always makes for a memorable gift and knowing that my gift also contributes to our mission makes it that much more special.”

Hobbies/Passions: “I am fortunate to work in the industry that is one of my greatest passions, art. Melding that with an immense pride of my Salvadoran heritage has led me to actively work to carve out much deserved space for the work of fellow Salvadoran and Latinx artists. I am a founding member of the advisory board of Y.ES Contemporary, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for Salvadoran contemporary artists working in the country and in diaspora, and also served as El Salvador’s Ambassador on Special Mission for Cultural Affairs, with a mandate of raising visibility and dialogue around Salvadoran creatives on the global scale.”

Local Fare: “It’s 100 percent a tie, so you get a bonus round. Beverly’s––if you are into cocktails, their espresso martini is killer (I ask for mine with mezcal). The caviar & latkes are not to be missed, as are the tuna tostadas and the frito misto. Their chicken schnitzel has been on the menu since day one, and it’s now a staple as much as their matzo ball soup. You can’t go wrong with dessert here, but the key lime pie is heavenly. The Charles — it’s family style, so the more the merrier. I start off with a LALO tequila neat with three luxardo cherries. Don’t miss the steak tartare and the wood fired oysters to start, then move on to the lemon ricotta gnudi and the spicy creste di gallo. The hanger steak, rare, is also a must to complete the meal. Wrap it all up with a glass of Amaro Averna, one rock and an espresso.”

Fun Fact: “That my childhood dream was to be the Latin American Martha Stewart (and that I might have a go at it one day).”

Dream Car: “The Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6. Measuring almost 6 meters in length, it is a beautiful reinterpretation of classic design with innovation at the forefront. It was designed as an electric car. As Gorden Wagener, chief design officer of Daimler AG, put it, ‘It’s both hot and cool.'”

Toughest Challenge: “The 10-month temporary closure of Dallas Contemporary at the three-month mark of my tenure as deputy director was certainly challenging. I was just getting settled into a new city and establishing trust with our team, board of directors, and supporter base. I am truly grateful to our executive director, Peter Doroshenko, our board of directors, especially it’s chair John Sughrue. Their combined expertise was essential to navigate these times. Peter’s vast experience mixed in with my fresh take on digital strategies and new revenue streams paved the way to the healthy institution we have now reopened. I would be remiss to not mention the commitment, passion, and resilience of every single member of the team in reimagining their individual roles in the digital space. Our digital channels became our programming. From free educational content for all ages, to artist interviews with our curators, to the launch of our online store, we came up with initiatives that kept the museum a beacon of our community, all while earning significant funds.”

Second Home: “We have a family home in Lake Coatepeque in Santa Ana, El Salvador. The lake is only an hour drive from the city and is nestled on the inside of the Volcano of Santa Ana. It’s one of our country’s tallest volcanoes, and some of the highest quality coffee is grown there. The vegetation is spectacular and there are these hot springs that you can visit. It’s absolutely idyllic.”

Must-Read: “The Executive’s Compass: Business and the Good Society by James O’Toole. I was introduced to this book during one of my fellowship seminars at Aspen Institute. I have read it several times now and find it a vital reference tool. It aims to provide a ‘compass’ for leaders to aid them in navigating social and political change within our society. It questions whether a good society can be created in a world of conflicting values, as well as the role of a corporation in the pursuit of a good society.”

Proud Moment: “Witnessing our team quickly pivot and identify new revenue sources and engagement strategies that have enabled us to reopen in a strong position with eight solo exhibitions featuring local and internationally renowned artists in 2021 alone, all accompanied by learning programs and still free to the public. I think the launch of our online store, which has provided a significant portion of our funds for the past year, speaks both to Dallas Contemporary’s remarkable flexibility and how essential the support of our global network of artists is to what we do.”

Walk-up Song: “‘This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)’ by Talking Heads.”

Biggest Risk: “In many ways I see my transition to Dallas Contemporary as a natural progression—I was attracted to the institution’s multidisciplinary and non-collecting approach. When combined with Dallas Contemporary’s unparalleled learning programs and free admission, one has the ability to truly enact change in society by grappling with current issues and enabling artists’ voices to be active agents of change. That said, the transition is still the most significant jump in my career to date, giving me the opportunity to realize a bolder vision for the future of cultural nonprofits on an unprecedented scale.”

Bucket List: “To see a tumbleweed in the wild!”

Future Forecast: “I am curious about the changes we will witness as we come out of the pandemic. It is my hope that as leaders we have taken the time to reflect on the importance of nurturing, kindness and humility as part of our role, and that community, curiosity and generosity are vital pillars to build upon. Personally, I have become much more intentional in the way I spend my time and who I spend it with. Quality over quantity is something I can say I truly internalized during this time. I realized an over-packed schedule was unnecessary and that meaningful encounters are much more fulfilling.”

Memorable Event: “Dallas Contemporary has always been committed to one goal over all else: to present art grappling with timely and complex issues at free admission to our public. Unlike other contemporary art institutions, we’re doing this across a multitude of disciplines, including art, fashion, and design. Additionally, we’re examining these visual fields by pairing local Texan artists alongside artists of an international scale—in 2020 alone, we exhibited artists coming from China, Italy, and Japan. Dallas Contemporary is also a Kunsthalle institution, meaning we don’t hold a permanent collection of works. Without a collection, we’re not beholden to more traditional models of fundraising or exhibiting art. We’ve been able to create an institution that is vastly more agile and experimental in its programming and is supportive of collaborations with artists and activations within the community. Especially in the past year, this model afforded us the flexibility to quickly pivot, working with artists like Carrie Mae-Weems and Jammie Holmes on projects that took our work well beyond our physical space. Working as a Kunsthalle also provides us with the opportunity to stage more site-specific, commissioned exhibitions. We pride ourselves in being able to bring bold, original concepts from around the world to the heart of Dallas.”

Author

Ben Swanger

Ben Swanger

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Ben Swanger is the assistant editor for D CEO, the business title for D Magazine. Ben manages the Dallas 500

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