Founder’s Story

One of the most common questions Alla Prima Art Services’ founder is asked:

How did you get into appraising art?

The short answer is having a penchant for research and analysis, “geeking” art for years, and being in the right place at the right time. The long answer is more of a long and winding road.

Ever-fascinated by history and the masterpieces that have “illustrated” it over time, Alla Prima Art Services’ founder’s involvement with art has always been behind the scenes as an appraiser, organization leader, dealer, and fan. She likes to say that she can do just about anything when it comes to art–except create it.

Immediately prior to establishing Alla Prima Fine Art Services, Kara Dirkson responded to the call of nonprofit arts leadership in Sioux Falls, SD where she served as Director of the Visual Arts Center at the Washington Pavilion and led the Sioux Falls Arts Council. In 2018, she left the nonprofit world to resume serving private fine art needs in South Dakota and extend her appraisal expertise into other types of property. 

A South Dakota native with degrees from Augustana University and Minnesota State-Mankato, Dirkson’s personal and academic fascination with art goes back much further: to lectures at old Flaten Hall at St. Olaf College in the late 1990s then continuing as she used art history as a learning tool in her work as a high school social studies teacher in Minnesota and Iowa. Her involvement with art turned from academic to hands on when she served as a gallery and archival assistant as a graduate student.

Settling in eastern Iowa during the early 2000s, Dirkson found it difficult not to have daily encounters with some art history heavyweights. She found herself restoring a historic home down the street from Grant Wood’s former studio and a Louis Sullivan-designed church. She had stars in her eyes doing research in the Stephen Holl-designed art building in Iowa City as people casually strolled by the Peggy Guggenheim-donated Pollock on open display there. She marveled at the masterworks by Marvin Cone and Conger Metcalf as students studied in their company at Coe College’s Stewart Library. Much to her surprise and delight, a rich legacy of fine art ran deep in the region. 

Her entrance into the world of appraising art was less about mingling with art history heavyweights and having stars in her eyes than it was about the harsh reality of a major flood in eastern Iowa during 2008. The need for appraising art for insurance purposes unexpectedly spiked with the rise of the flood. Dirkson worked as an appraisal assistant, traipsing through damaged buildings in a haz-mat suit and sitting in cavernous galleries and collection storage areas documenting art. She also paid her dues in private galleries helping with everything from sales to framing and installation.

These experiences inspired her to obtain specialized post-graduate training for appraising art in Chicago, IL through the American Society of Appraisers and Northwestern University. At about the same time, an art historian friend persuaded her there was a need for a qualified art appraiser in her hometown of Sioux Falls, SD. After relocating to South Dakota, Dirkson established an appraisal and consulting practice called Artisia Fine Art Services and worked to jumpstart the secondary art market through collector-to-collector sales until answering the call of nonprofit arts leadership in 2014. 

Alla Prima Art Services is a refinement and synthesis of Dirkson’s prior work as an independent art market professional, her nonprofit leadership experience, and her nuts and bolts experience behind the scenes in galleries and collections in the upper Midwest.

Among her “mountaintop” encounters with art was attending Ai Wei Wei’s solo exhibition at London’s Royal Academy in 2015 where she put aside all elements of being an art professional and was simply a gawking fan.

She and her husband ignore art market indicators and value projections by simply buying original art they love. Their home is filled with work by artists with ties to the upper Midwest–especially southeast South Dakota.


In addition to 10+ years of institutional and market-based art experience, APAS is built upon post-graduate training and testing in personal and real property valuation theory, methods, research, analysis, report writing, legalities and regulations as well as up-to-date compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. 

Appraisal Studies: American Society of Appraisers, 2009-10 (personal property); Appraisal Institute, 2018 (real property); USPAP Compliance 2018-19

Education: M.S. – Minnesota State University Mankato; B.A. – Augustana University, Sioux Falls, SD

Affiliations: PAASD, Professional Appraisal Association of South Dakota (real property); AOA, Association of Online Appraisers (personal property)  

Dirkson is available for speaking engagements and workshop presentations on topics such as art collecting basics, the value(s) of art, where art and weather intersect, pricing for artists and considerations for artwork in estate planning.  Email for more information. 

Photo from Ai Weiwei’s 2015 exhibition at London’s Royal Academy–a “mountaintop” art encounter for Alla Prima’s founder. About the artwork: “Colored Vases (from the Han Dynasty and Neolithic eras) with industrial paint.” Best experienced while observing the large-scale photos of the artist defiantly dropping similar objects in the background.