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Student Feature: Tory Schendel-Vyvoda

Tory Schendel-Vyvoda is the curator of the Evansville African American Museum and director of the Lamasco Microgallery. She earned her bachelor's from Indiana University and master's from Johns Hopkins University.

Below is a series of questions posed by IDSVA Marketing Assistant Jessica Myer.

Congratulations on your incredible achievements this year! Most recently, you received the “Indiana University Liberal Arts Career Achievement Award” and were named one of the “Top 20 Women in Business by the Junior League of Evansville.” Tell us about your career and how it has built up to this point.

My career has been an interesting one. Initially, I set out to be a medieval curator. It seemed promising because I was lucky to serve as a medieval curatorial researcher at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2013. However, I had no work as a medievalist when the contract ended. Due to this, I had to diversify my skillsets. In the past ten years, I became a general curator who could manage extensive permanent collections and three to four ongoing exhibitions simultaneously. This change meant I had to learn and master museum operations, finances and fundraising, community engagement, project management, programming, lecturing, and publishing. While these skillsets helped me remain relevant in the curatorial profession, I have used them in serving museum and nonprofit communities locally, cross-country, and internationally through advocacy and social justice initiatives and volunteerism on various boards, councils, and committees. The desire to be a servant for the greater museum profession has led me to these two awards.  

As curator of the Evansville African American Museum, recipient of the 2023 Conserv Preventative Care Award, and trained through the Smithsonian NMAAHC Ethical Interpretation Workshop in 2022, among other notable achievements, you have proven your deep knowledge of anthropological work as it relates to art history. How does your research with IDSVA enrich your current practices?

Besides my professional achievements, I have been fortunate to travel to over 14+ countries (we are preparing to depart the country soon!) The ability to study the human experience in visual form and work and live among cultural groups to watch and learn how they incorporate themselves into their art has led my research interests to become more diversified and general. Because of this interest in the holistic human visual experience, IDSVA is the perfect program for me. Although I wanted to be a traditional medievalist, I have grown and learned too much to pigeonhole myself into one discipline. This program fosters and encourages out-of-the-box thinking, and at IDSVA, I am exposed to writers, thinkers, and artists that I would not otherwise know. The ability to foster a world perspective through personal experience and academic mentorship has and will continue to build me into a better researcher and professional.

For example, this program teaches me how to bridge the gap between medieval and modern and helps me better understand why the medieval period matters. Specifically, I was not too familiar with Carl Jung before this program. After reading his excerpt from the Art in Theory book, I am hooked and have purchased Jung’s Red Book facsimile. After reading it, I would argue that the Red Book is a mystical text that parallels Hildegard’s 12th-century mystical book, Scivias. This is a topic that not only excites me but is something I would never consider before IDSVA.  

You have served on several nonprofit organizations, and you’re the director of the Lamasco Microgallery. Your work as a community curator also seems to echo your interest in nonprofit work. Can you tell us more about your interest in community involvement?

While earning my master’s at Johns Hopkins University, I studied under Dr. Candace Matelic, a museum community engagement consultant. Her class revolutionized my thinking and understanding of community curation, which became the focus of my MA research throughout the remainder of my degree. Since then, I have tried to stay on top of community curation best practices and implement what I learn through my profession as a curator, volunteerism, and, recently, through creating the Lamasco Micrograllery. The microgallery is a grassroots initiative generously funded through the Love Lamasco Action Grant. The 20.75” L x 10” H x 5.5” W space in front of my house in Evansville, IN, exhibits local, regional, national, and international artists in a space that fosters inclusion and removes institutional barriers. We host community receptions to celebrate new installations and partner with local organizations, like Renew Church, to bring food and beverages and a jumbotron for programming to engage with the local community.

I love bringing people together through art. I believe in the power of art’s ability to unify people, and I like learning about new community curation processes through theoretical and practical applications. Exposure to the human visual experience adds value to our individual and collective perspectives, and I believe art can help us grow into more thoughtful and empathetic humans. The visual form resonates with people in ways that differ from, for example, the written or spoken word, and I appreciate being allowed to explore visual impact and community engagement through curation in various spaces.  

What do you hope to achieve in the short term? Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?

My short-term goal is to continue to publish one peer-reviewed article per year. As someone who was unable to write a thesis statement until my sophomore year as an undergraduate, it is vital that I write as much as possible. It is empowering to have something to say, but to have it published means the world. I must balance my work, personal, and school life to achieve this goal. For 2024, I have been invited to submit a piece for the Public Philosophy Journal that discusses the Lamasco Microgallery and community curation.

In 3-5 years, I hope to transition to a curatorial role in a university or larger museum setting with a multi-staff curatorial department. This is not to say I am unhappy with my current position. I love my job and the community I serve. However, going on my fifth year as a single-department curatorial personnel, I feel isolated. I sometimes fear the isolation could lead to complacency, especially since, in my current role, I am the curator, registrar, and collections manager, on top of additional roles and responsibilities. While this workload is typical for small museum professionals, I would like to move into a role with more curatorial support and colleagues to learn from and grow with. Furthermore, in five years, I should be coming to the end of the IDSVA program. I want to use my PhD in a more art-centered, curatorial position.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience at IDSVA?

I sincerely value and appreciate the people I work and study with at IDSVA. I look forward to our weekly study group sessions because the ideas and concepts proposed make me think or view ideologies in a manner I never considered. I am grateful the IDSVA community offers a safe space for discussing and not dismissing different ideas. I am also thankful for the professors who make the classes innovative, engaging, and informative. Furthermore, I appreciate the residencies IDSVA creates. Studying art in the classroom is one thing, but being allowed lived experiences to see other cultures and be in the spaces where the artworks were created or the philosophy written cultivates another dimension to the learning process that few other PhD programs consider as part of the curriculum.

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