Catherine Dickinson, the new education director at Sherman Library & Gardens, talks about community outreach during a pandemic and her go-to spots in town.
By Sharon Stello
This past fall, Sherman Library & Gardens hired Catherine Dickinson as its first education director and she’s already hit the ground running with a passion for the venue and plans for new programs.
“The Sherman Library & Gardens is the premier cultural hub of Corona del Mar,” Dickinson says. “When I came to Newport, I could feel the affection the locals had for the place. For me, it was a wonderful place to visit to learn about plants, art and local history, and I enjoyed many visits talking to the docents, librarians and horticulturists.”
Originally from England, Dickinson worked in curatorial roles for several art museums in the United Kingdom and, after moving to the United States, as community outreach coordinator for the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
“Throughout my career, I have chosen to work for those organizations that are really touching people’s lives and there is no doubt that the Sherman has done that for decades,” she says. “We have remarkable collections … and I am excited to share these with the community via our programs.”
Dickinson joined the team in October and went right to work. Despite the pandemic, the venue has been able to continue hosting classes outside—the offerings, from arts to flower arranging, gardening and exercise sessions, have actually expanded since Dickinson started—and give small group tours of the garden. Dickinson and her team are working behind the scenes to prepare to launch a new field trip program in the fall based on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum. They also hope to help local schools create gardens on their campuses. She believes it’s important to teach children about the value of our natural environment, from basic gardening skills to healthy cooking and eating, as well as wider issues related to history, food justice and the health of both the planet and local communities.
Dickinson moved to Newport Beach five years ago and lives in The Bluffs area with her husband, Mark, and teenage daughters, Lauren and Anna.
Mark’s career with Johnson & Johnson allowed them the opportunity to travel. “When our children were young, we had a taste of living in a European capital for a few years in Brussels, Belgium,” Dickinson says. “Then, in 2015, the temptation of wonderful weather and the beach lifestyle of Newport Beach brought us to Southern California.”
“… I really appreciate the combination of coastal living and access to culture that Newport offers,” she says. “Within [a] 15 minutes’ drive, we have access to a world-class offering of art galleries, theater, gardens, libraries, film festivals and exhibits. I believe that wherever you grow up, you should be able to experience the best culture from all over the world, right on your doorstep—and that is certainly true here.”
And Dickinson has already found her favorite place at Sherman Library & Gardens: the passion vine-covered fountain arbor in the Sun Garden. Not only does it feature beautiful purple flowers and passion fruit, but it attracts native gulf fritillary butterflies as this is the only plant the species feeds on. When in need of a peaceful moment, Dickinson finds herself drawn to the vine, which is often covered in butterflies, especially on a warm summer day.
Dickinson’s favorite place for an outdoor meal is CAFÉ JARDIN, right at Sherman Library & Gardens. “I love the French onion soup and you can’t beat the beautiful garden setting,” she says.
BRUEGGER’S BAGELS in Corona del Mar is Dickinson’s go-to place for a morning meal. “It’s just a short walk from the gardens, so I am there most days to pick up a bagel and a coffee,” she says.
A Taste of Home
“Having lived in Europe, my family is obsessed with finding a great French baguette,” Dickinson says. “We found it at C’EST SI BON BAKERY and often stop off to pick up sandwiches on the way to the beach.”
“I like to support small businesses, so I have to mention POKÉ OC on Birch [Street]. [They have] the best poke in town,” she shares.
“I am so lucky to work within walking distance of CORONA DEL MAR STATE BEACH,” Dickinson says. “It’s such a pleasure in the summer to head down there after work to take in the view and the fresh ocean breeze.”