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A few questions for Dr. Michael Tomor about the El Paso Museum of Art

Dr. Michael Tomor recently became the new director of the El Paso Museum of Art. Born and raised in El Paso, he attended Penn State University for his undergraduate degree, master's, and doctorate.

He specialized in Southern Baroque painting with a minor in 19th century French painting and 20th century American painting and sculpture. For the last 12 years, he has been affiliated with the Southern Allegheny Museums of Art, first as a curator then in 2000 as a director. The El Paso Museum of Art has undergone a major organizational change in that it is now under the direction of the city's museum and cultural affairs department.

DS: Why did you decide to return to El Paso?

MT: Several reasons are immediately obvious to me. Of course, it is where I grew up, but it also allows me the opportunity to be involved with the permanent collection, which includes the Spanish Colonial collection and the Kress collection. My interest has always been not only specifically with the Spanish Baroque but also with the whole Southern European Baroque. I wrote my dissertation on 17th century Baroque painting, and this interest was stimulated by my visits when I was young to the Kress collection, which is a permanent part of the museum's collection. This whole area of Southern European art is of major interest to me.

[Coming back] also gives me a chance to work with this community. My getting the job was actually something of a fluke. I hadn't known about the vacancy, but I happened to be in the area, heard about the position, and decided to apply.


DS: Are you going to try to expand this part of the collection?

MT: I don't really have an agenda. It would be my hope this part would continue to be built, but I see myself more in an advisory capacity, providing suggestions but mainly implementing whatever the community and the board would like to see.

DS: Do you have plans to reach out to the community?

MT: Absolutely, I see it as a matter of strategic planning. There is a mandate for the cultural board to lead the city in implementing quality of life issues, and that includes reaching out to people who might not regularly come to the museum. Here in the Alleghenies, we have many people who are not accustomed to coming to art museums, so we scheduled a bluegrass concert to go along with an exhibition; while many of the people showed up mainly for the concert, we had a much larger turnout than expected and got a huge number of new members. So one thing to do is to bring in a mix of disciplines to go along with the artwork in order to encourage those people to come who might not otherwise do so. Many people are unaware of what a great museum El Paso has and, for example, what a treasure the Kress collection is.

DS: Do you hope to reach out to Juarez?

MT: The city has stated in its new master plans that it wants to reach out to the community and I believe that includes Juarez. It is up to the board, but there is a huge population across the border, and if you don't embrace your neighbors, they will not embrace you and you will miss that synergy. I believe there are plans to make a connection between the two cities along with Las Cruces. El Paso can really be a leader and a gateway for the arts in this area, and I am very excited to be working to help implement that.

DS: In the past there seems to have been little interest or movement to bring together artists from Juarez and El Paso, and I was wondering if you want to foster that kind of dialogue?

MT: Absolutely, I would be extremely interested in that, and I do think that is part of what the board has in mind. As far as any problems, here we have four different museums, each operating under a different local government, each with its own rules, and we have managed to bring that together. So I would think we could resolve any problems that might have occurred in the past. I am really excited to be coming to El Paso to help implement all of these goals with the help of the cultural board and with people in the community. I think it's going to be exciting and I can't wait to get started.

Images courtesy El Paso Museum of Art.

David Sokolec is a writer living in El Paso.

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