HOMETOWN Bloomington, Illinois
EDUCATION Bachelor’s degree in art history, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
RESUME Curator of collections, Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, 1978-2014; chief curator and Virginia G. Schroeder curator of collections, Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, 2014-2018; John Streetman executive director, Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, 2018-present
FAMILY Husband David A. Bower and daughters Kate Schnepper and Julia Ehret
After working at the contemporary arts center and the Ewing Manor at Illinois State University, Mary Bower knew working on a museum’s curatorial team was what she wanted to pursue after graduating. She moved to Evansville in 1978 to take the position of curator of collections with the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, and has remained with the organization for almost 41 years.
Now as the John Streetman executive director, Bower is learning even more about the museum she has been a part of for decades and its place in the community.
How many exhibits have you curated in your time at the museum?
We have about 20 changing exhibitions per year — that is art, history, and science. I would say I’ve been involved in the organization and curation of maybe eight to 10 exhibits per year. (Bower has curated around 400 exhibits throughout her career.)
I have had the opportunity to work with the permanent collection, and we have done major installations and reinstallations of our permanent collection through the years. That’s been exciting, too.
What has been one of your favorite exhibits to curate?
It was a show named Object Project [in 2007.] We invited 15 artists from around the country who are contemporary still-life painters to produce a painting or drawing using the same five objects, and it was amazing the variety and the result of the work. They were just everyday objects. There was a ball of string, a glass of water, a moth, a bone, and a little blue plastic mirror. We did an exhibition here, and then the exhibition traveled to four other museums across the U.S. It really was a wonderful exhibit, and we’re excited we are working with the artists to plan Object Project 2, which hopefully will be organized in the next couple of years also as a national touring exhibition.
We are known for our American still-life collection in the U.S. We have been collecting for 25 years. It’s one of our most prestigious collections in our American art collection, so we wanted to highlight that with a touring show.
How have your responsibilities changed now that you are the executive director?
It is a transition from being on the curatorial team to really looking at all aspects of the museum. My primary role now is to talk about the museum, get the word out about the museum, invite everyone to come and see it, and to let people know the variety of programming and exhibitions that we do here.
What is your vision for the future of the museum?
I would like for Evansville and the surrounding community to visit the museum and see what we have to offer. While some parts of the museum may seem familiar to you, we do have a new wonderful Koch Immersive Theater and Planetarium. We have 20 changing exhibitions a year in art, history, and science. We have a dynamic curatorial team that is working to bring a variety of contemporary topics, exhibitions, and programs to the community. We have a very vibrant arts community in Evansville now, and it has been wonderful for the museum to be a part of that growth, encourage that, and see how Evansville has changed through the years.