The John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art is the University of Nevada, Reno’s still-very-new art museum. Vivian Zavataro has been serving as the museum’s interim director since August.
Tell me a little about who you are and how you got this job.
Sure. I did my bachelor’s here at UNR a long time ago. And then I did my master’s at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands in museum studies. And then, my husband is from Reno, and we decided to come and live here. I got a job as an art history professor here at UNR, as an adjunct faculty member. And I started working with Paul [Baker Prindle], my predecessor here, curating some stuff for him and helping him with research and so on. And when Paul decided to move on, I had been very involved in the background and helping the museum open and all of that, and he recommended me as the interim director, so this is where I am right now. … I have a lot of experience with contemporary art and also with transhistoricity, which is a fancy word for mixing periods in an exhibition.
When you do that, do you look for a theme to group things?
Yeah. So, it depends on the display. There’s lots of ways of doing it. Here at the Lilley, we do it thematically, so the works are divided thematically. We have themes that relate to any human being on the planet—time, family and courtship rituals, for instance.
Awareness of the Lilley is still a little under-the-radar. What are you doing to combat that?
I have noticed that. When I came here to Reno, actually, I noticed that all of the art institutions act very individually. In Europe, the museums collaborate with each other a lot. They collaborate with each other in order to promote events or to create a unique community of arts organizations and institutions, so when I came to Reno I found it very interesting that people were not collaborating with each other. So before I got this job I was hired as a guest curator at the Nevada Museum of Art, so I had a relationship with them. I was also doing workshops with their docents on audience engagements and such. And when I got this job, I was like, “Let’s collaborate. Let’s make an exhibition where everybody can participate in town.” And they were like, “sure.” So, we’re doing an exhibition next year that will involve the Lilley, the Nevada Museum of Art, Sierra Arts Foundation, the City of Reno and, potentially, the Holland Project. … I think about the Lilley not only as a university museum but also a museum for the community. And my vision for the museum is to transform it into a communal space where people feel welcome, and they feel like they belong and their voices are heard.
When it’s all dead white guys and you’re not a dead white guy.
Exactly. I like this metaphor—it’s kind of like eating pizza every day. Pizza is great, and there are great pizzas out there, but if you eat pizza every day then you’re missing out on Indian food and Thai food and sushi and all these amazing other dishes. … So, moving forward, we want to purchase works by queer artists, by black American artists, by women and move in that direction, so people feel that they’re welcome. We also provide tours in Spanish for after-school programs.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Brazil. My family is Italian, though, given my last name. And I lived in Italy, and I lived in the Netherlands and France and Germany.