A childhood growing up in rural New Jersey provided an ideal launchpad for the future career trajectory of Sabina Carr, the new CEO of the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Carr grew up on “40 acres of beautiful countryside on the top of a mountain, and we were surrounded with woodlands and gardens,” Carr said Tuesday after her appointment was announced.

Before accepting the position in San Antonio, Carr spent 17 years with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, first as a volunteer, then as vice president of marketing. She said she was part of a team that quadrupled the number of annual visitors and members, while growing the annual budget from $4 million to $24 million.

Carr also served as board president of the Association of Public Gardens, a national organization that connects public gardens throughout the country with resources and ideas for growth and stability.

Carr said as she looked to move into a leadership position, central Texas came into view. “I wanted to find another garden that had that growth potential, and San Antonio is that garden.”

Sarah Cochran, a member of the botanical garden’s board who sat on the organization’s search committee, said Carr is the right person to lead the botanical garden’s transition from City ownership into privatization, a process begun earlier in 2019 following the retirement of Bob Brackman, former executive director.

“He’s a well respected horticulturist and did a lot of great things for the garden,” Cochran said. Brackman oversaw a 7-acre expansion of the garden to its current 38-acre footprint, including a Family Adventure Garden and a culinary garden area.

With a new leadership structure and expanded facilities, Carr “brings a proven track record,” said John Troy, the board president, in a news release.

Carr was chosen after a national search.

“We cast a wide net to find the person with the highest level of leadership skills, career experience, and industry knowledge,” said Mary Ann Beach, chair of the search committee.

Cochran agreed. “She has the experience of working in a large public garden, but she also has a vast network of garden professionals that she can collaborate with.”

Carr’s career trajectory was not necessarily clear, she said. She graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1989 with a degree in English Literature, then returned to the east coast to work in marketing with advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, then Conde Nast Publishing and American Express.

Such experience lends itself to her new role, Carr said. Her approach will be to “operate through a business lens, but always keeping the mission as our bottom line.”

She described the garden’s mission – “to connect people with plants” – as deeply meaningful. “Connecting with plants and being out in nature makes you a better person, and makes you a happier person, I hope,” Carr said. “I feel so blessed to work in this industry.”

A daddy long legs from David Rogers' <I>Big Bugs</I> exhibition at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
A daddy long-legs from David Rogers’ Big Bugs exhibition greets visitors near the entrance at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Carr begins her new position Nov. 6. In the meantime, the Botanical Garden is gearing up for Big Bugs, an exhibition of large-scale, whimsical insect sculpture by New York artist David Rogers that opens Aug. 31. Rogers’ bug sculptures, made from natural materials, have traveled extensively, including to the Atlanta Botanical Garden during Carr’s tenure.

Carr’s goal now is to generate new awareness of the gardens, to attract new support and new revenue by “activating all these beautiful new spaces,” she said.

“Before I’ve ever set foot into this role, there’s been such wonderful work already done here to grow the garden,” Carr said. “I feel I’m just standing taller on the shoulders of those who came before.”

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...