An Interview with Curator Georgia Schwender

Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer or administrator to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery or exhibition program. This week we caught up with curator Georgia Schwender of Fermilab Art Gallery. Though not a 'dealer' this interview is still part of CGN's Interview with a Dealer series. 


Age: 55

Current Position: Curator

Hometown: Shoreham, NY

Previous Occupation: Senior Photographic Specialist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton NY


Favorites from this week:

Restaurant: Farm to Table – both ours! Nothing tastes better than homegrown heirloom vegetables.

Shop: REI

Read: Alan Alda – “If I understood what you were saying, would I have this look on my face?”

Neighborhood: Fermilab Tallgrass Prairie

Music: Eddie Vedder – Tuolumne


Chicago Gallery News: Tell us about your art background and how you started with Fermilab Art Gallery? 

Georgia Schwender: In 1995, I was part of a three-person exhibit in the Fermilab Art Gallery, exhibiting “Stem” large format black and white photographs from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. I became part of the Art Gallery’s committee and discovered a community of like-minded individuals. I was offered the position as curator in 2001.


CGN: How do you sum up Fermilab Art Gallery’s program in one sentence?

GS: The Art Gallery, including the annual Artist-in-Residence program, is an intersection of art and science.


CGN: Share a typical 'day in the life.'

GS:  There are no typical days, which is one of the many reasons I enjoy my job. One day, I’m installing an exhibit. The next day, I’m collaborating with the Office of Communication for public outreach. 


CGN: Affiliation with Fermilab puts this gallery in a unique position, can you speak to how the partnership affects and influences programming?

GS: The Art Gallery is a fundamental aspect of Fermilab’s cultural and scientific heritage. “Art@CMS,” “Art of Darkness – Images from the Dark Energy Survey,” Ellen Sandor’s “Neutrinos in a New Light,” and Edward Tufte’s “The Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams” are all exhibits and partnerships exploring experiments and discoveries in physics. Because the gallery is located in the main building of this particle physics accelerator laboratory, the collaboration between artists and scientists is unique. The artwork brings to life the discoveries within Fermilab and engages the surrounding communities.   


CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.

GS: Fermilab celebrated 50 years of discovery this year. 10,000 people attended the open house. The art gallery was a destination with presentations by the current Artist-in-Residence Jim Jenkins and Gallery Committee Member Anne Mary Teichert.


CGN: What are some unique aspects about running a space dedicated to the visual arts while under the umbrella of a science and tech organization?

GS: Robert Wilson, the first director of Fermilab, was an artist and a physicist who created the space within the laboratory for art to thrive. We continue to uphold and further explore this connection between art and science. In 2014, I founded the annual Artist-in-Residence program, which enables an artist to have access to places and experiences not usually open to the public, in order to create a signature body of work that is displayed in the gallery.


CGN: What do you want a young person to know who is considering this field?

GS: Follow your dreams. Do not be dismayed if you take some right or left turns along the way. You’ll get there.


CGN: What's coming up next at the Fermilab Art Gallery?

GS: “Wind Flow Photography” by Shirley Nannini and Candace Wark’s “Viewing Silence” on display from October 12 - December 29. At the reception, held October 20, 2017 from 5-8 pm, artists will be demonstrating a Wind Tunnel.


CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?

GS: Understanding the ecosystems of the native Midwest prairie. This inspired my two grid pieces, that were on display at the Bridgeport Art Center during “Curators Create”, “Prairie Quadrat Study I and II.” It depicts a prairie quadrat study at Fermilab with the brown images represented as non-native plants and blue as native plants. These 25 pieces are displayed on 8x8 wooden panels and illustrate my passion for native prairies.  


CGN: Favorite work of public art in Chicago?

GS:  “My Pi” by John Adduci


CGN: Artists you admire most.

GS: Anna Atkins, Julia Margaret Cameron, FSA Photographers, National Geographic Photographers, the list goes on and on...


CGN: Last Chicago restaurant you visited.

GS:  Antique Taco, after collecting my cyanotypes from “Curators Create” at the Bridgeport Art Center.


CGN: What have you learned about being an artist and curator?

GS: I am both an artist and a curator. In July 2017, I was an Artist-in-Residence at Homestead National Monument in Nebraska, which gave me time to work on my cyanotypes in the Prairie Quadrat Study series. It also allowed me a time period to identify purely as an artist. Curating a gallery and creating art are uniquely different, but are symbiotic in my pursuit of the arts.


Georgia Schwender is the curator of Fermilab Art Gallery in Batavia, Illinois. For more information about the gallery and Fermilab’s mission please visit: 

Fermilab Art Gallery.