November 29, 2022


Gabby Drees

University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson hugs Stanley Museum of Art director Lauren Lessing at the opening celebration for the Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

From the museum’s new location between the Main Library and the campus recreation center, the building is a newly-minted staple for Iowa City architecture.

“It’s not quiet,” Tokarski said. “The visibility is really cool of this building and I think it does more of a service to the collection than the old space did.”

From her position on the third floor of the Stanley Museum, Tokarski’s window overlooks the riverbanks and water treatment plant that divides the campus in half. Her office overflowed with stacks of books, papers, and boxes, but the brightly-colored posters that show various works of art offered visitors a homey feeling.

Tokarski’s position was created to be a resource for students on campus to connect with the new Stanley. With the return of the building to a prominent place on campus and a growing staff, Tokarski’s role was created in April to be a resource for student engagement.

“It is a new job developed with the opening of the museum in mind,” Tokarski said. “So a lot of the work I do is creating experiences for University of Iowa students at the Stanley… I focus more on getting them involved in different ways.”

Increasing student engagement on campus, Lessing said, is another one of the major goals for the museum as they move forward during the next ten years. Tokarski’s role helps foster those connections within the student body.

Her role includes assisting with a student advisory group, monthly events, and weekly mindfulness activities in the museum. Tokarski also plans to begin a student docent program next fall, allowing more students within different disciplines to be more involved with teaching and learning from the collection.

It is an experience Tokarski had herself as a student. In 2016, Tokarski worked as a gallery host for the Stanley Museum located in the Iowa Memorial Union. This location offered small sections of the collection to tour, though the space was limited.

Tokarski graduated with her BFA in Painting in 2019 and continued to work at the museum until the pandemic shut Stanley’s doors in 2020. When she was offered the role to assist with student engagement in 2022, she seized the opportunity to give back.

“I feel like it’s sort of my duty,” Tokarski said. “The Stanley did so much for me as a student. I was able and lucky to have and seek out those opportunities… Giving as many students as possible the same opportunity is the ultimate goal moving forward.”

Tokarski is not the only member of staff focused on engagement. In another new position, Learning and Engagement Team academic outreach coordinator Kathryn Reuter leads class and faculty tours around the museum every week.

“It’s kind of like, wow, let’s talk about the past,” Reuter said. “And maybe not all the students are jazzed to talk about history. It’s not everyone’s favorite subject. So I try to make it relevant and engaging to the content they are learning in class.”

In her position, Reuter splits her time between the museum, where she spends forty percent of her time, and UI Special Collections. This integration offers an overlap between the collections, especially when both collections have work by the same artist.

Access to these collections is something Reuter values highly. The museum does not ask for an entrance fee when visitors arrive and instead relies on donations and grants to survive. This is an aspect that allows the museum to be receptive to incoming audiences from different backgrounds.

As a child, Reuter grew up in Orange County, California, and identified as low-income. Her past experiences influenced her appreciation for the free access to the collection.

“[As a child] even when I entered a lot of museums, I had that feeling of, this space is not for me,” Reuter said. “It is a space for people who are fancier than I am and come from a different home than the one I came from.”

Reuter said that museum fees can be an especially strong barrier for those who hope to visit, so she was excited to hear that the Stanley offered free admission.

In her role, Reuter said she hopes to continue fostering relationships with the community, even beyond the UI.

“You should feel welcome at the Stanley Museum,” Reuter said. “It really is for everybody.”

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