Ali Pizza

Ali Pizza '22
Cornelius, North Carolina
Master of Arts Administration
Director, Gaston County Museum; owner, James Street Bindery

Ali Pizza (pronounced like Italy's Leaning Tower and NOT the food) is pretty sure her colleagues at the Gaston County Museum are growing tired of hearing her say, “Well, actually, I just read that in class!” Since enrolling in Winthrop University's Master of Arts Administration (MAAA) program, she's discovered real-life applications from her coursework. 

“I put off graduate school for a long time because I loved learning hands-on in the workplace and couldn't resist the opportunities I had as an apprentice in Oxford and later in leadership roles in higher education and the arts,” she explained. 

Those experiences took her across the Atlantic Ocean and back – from majoring in glass-blowing and textiles at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, to apprenticing with the Rare Book Binders of Oxford University's noted Bodleian Library in England, to opening her own book-binding business while also working as the museum's assistant director. 

“However, I've found that Winthrop's Arts Administration curriculum is current and, more importantly, relevant,” she said. “Going back to school hasn't been so much of a step away, but more of a deep dive into the very heart of what I do each day. I believe in the end, my studies at Winthrop will make me a strong leader, one that can utilize the arts to create true change in our field, and in our communities.”

Pizza has always been enamored with the process of creating art and the idea of mastering the necessary skills to do so. 

“I quickly found that conservation requires the same attention to detail, mastery of skill and unique processes,” she said “My introduction to conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was the first time I saw conservators at work-- it fascinated and inspired me and set me up for my future.”

She moved to England with her husband, Joseph, while he completed his doctorate. There, she embarked on an “incredible experience” at the Bodleian Library: learning how to repair ancient books and manuscripts on paper, parchment and leather. Her favorite project she's ever restored? Helping restore Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein manuscript. The pair returned to the United States and settled in North Carolina, where Pizza took her rare book experience to Belmont Abbey College as its director of preservation. 

In her current role as director of the museum, Pizza helps promote object preservation at an institutional level and create a vision for the museum's future with her staff. She opened her small business, James Street Bindery, to offer consultations on preservation for organizations, private collectors and educational institutions. 

All of this, in addition to pursuing a master's degree! 

“I knew that I wanted to learn in-person, and yet I have a full-time job and a young family,” Pizza said. “The fact that Winthrop designed a low-residency program that suited my professional and personal life was a perfect fit. It also helped that Program Director Robert Wildman called me a bunch of times to convince me that I was not, in fact, too old to return to school!”

Because she's in a leadership role in her professional life, Pizza said she often needs to have the answers; but as a student, she gets to ask the questions instead. 

“Those ‘aha!' moments — like realizing that budget line items stand for something universal, (thank you, Brenda Floyd)  happen in each one of my classes. Being able to apply what I've learned in the classroom in a practical way is exciting and validates the hard work of being a student.  

Other than that, I have to say that I am constantly learning from my peers in our small cohort. They each come from different backgrounds and professions, and I truly enjoy learning alongside them.“