In his first year as director of the Tampa Museum of Art, Michael Tomor (’83 B.A., ’90 M.A., ’93 Ph.D. Art History) has already implemented exciting programs to attract a wider audience to the institution, including free general admission for students and an in-gallery discussion program in partnership with the University of South Florida Honors College for people experiencing depression, dementia, and trauma.
According to Tomor, art museums are uniquely positioned to “learn more about human nature, how people want to interact with art, and how we can better provide arts learning experiences…We are quickly moving the museum away from the sanctuary of contemplation, self-reflection, and research, and rapidly becoming the new sanctuary for public engagement.”
Tomor previously served as director of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art immediately following graduation from Penn State, and then as executive director of the El Paso Museum of Art.
A Penn State alumnus three times over, Tomor said his graduate work “provided the fundamentals of methodology to conduct research on any topic.” He also credits the opportunities he had to teach undergraduate courses and to work in almost all divisions at the Palmer Museum of Art with giving him valuable work experience. “The museum experience laid the groundwork for my present-day career, and the undergraduate teaching experience gave me the ability to share information with the general public,” he explained.
Tomor looks back on his time at Penn State with gratitude, though he considers it something of a miracle that he was able to graduate from his master’s and doctoral programs with zero debt. “The moral support I received from the Art History department’s faculty and staff allowed me to persevere and build a solid future for me and my family,” he said. Tomor’s mentors included Elizabeth Walters, Elizabeth Smith, and Tony Cutler. His doctoral advisors were Jeanne Chennault Porter, George Mauner, and current department head Craig Zabel.
While technology makes it easier for people to view images and objects, Tomor noted that the in-person experience in a museum remains important. “Museums provide a unique interactive human experience of getting up close and personal to objects we may normally only experience in projections, books, periodicals, media outlets, or the Internet. While universal access to these images has never been easier, it is an entirely different experience to see these objects in person in the absence of technology.”