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Ulrich's new director seeks to change the way museums interact with their communities

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Courtesy of the Ulrich Museum of Art

Passion for art often traces back to childhood. Vivian Zavataro maintained those passions through her work and education in Zurich, Switzerland, Reno, Nevada and now Wichita, Kansas.

"And I grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is kind of the cultural mecca of South America. I was always fascinated by how art creates traditions and connections. Being involved in the art world, I was able to experience that firsthand, and now able to act on it."

Torin Andersen

Zavataro thinks art has the ability to start a dialogue, even between disparate voices.

"Diversifying museum audiences is one of my focuses of my research and practice in general. Our team at the Ulrich has been working hard for a long time to represent artists in groups that have been excluded from spaces such as the Ulrich. Have you ever had the experience of going to somebody's house and there is a piece or a knickknack and then all of a sudden it's like a two hour conversation, right? So in a similar way, I want our museum, and exhibitions and educational programs, to spark these kinds of dialogues."

These dialogues are intended to connect with new audiences. She says new museum ideas are conversational, not a lecture.

"So imagine if you were having a conversation with somebody and it's a monologue of sorts. They are telling everything they like, they're telling you their interest, their knowledge, but they give you no space to contribute. It's painful, right? To be in a conversation, I'm sure you've been there. I've been there plenty of times. So as a curator, it's a similar thing. I have to think about what is relevant to the communities we serve here in Wichita. That doesn't mean that we're not gonna expose Wichita constituents to new art or new concepts, but it means that we're creating a dialogue, not a monologue."

Finding art that represents the community takes getting to know the community.

"The challenging part about relevancy is that we have to dive into the community, participate, connect and engage to get to know what will be relevant here."

Zavataro says the future of museums will change based on how they connect with audiences.

"Since I started working in museums, I've always longed for the moment the museums would have their audience as the main focus of their practice. And I think we're getting there. I think now there's enough of us that think that way, that we can permanently change the way museums interact with the audiences."
Torin Andersen explores the local arts scene every First Friday on ArtWorks.

He has more than 20 years of experience shaping and documenting the arts in Wichita.