People Profile: Joe Schenk, Art Museum of South Texas - Marina Arts District in Corpus Christi, TX

May 28, 2019

By: Alexandra Scott

How many of us remember walking into museums growing up? Normally, on some obligatory family trip, our parents would end up dragging us into museum after museum to try and teach us something. Whenever you had these experiences growing up, did you ever stop to wonder, “How does a place like this work?” Joe Schenk did.

Joe Schenk has been the Director of the Art Museum of South Texas for the past twelve years and is retiring at the end of this month. With a career spanning forty-six years, Schenk has worked in eight museums in six states including; Tennessee, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and of course, Texas. Moving this much wasn’t new to the self-described “nomadic military kid.

Born in Arizona, but raised primarily in Kansas, Joe received his undergraduate degree in Museum Studies and Business Management at Huntington College in Alabama. At the time, only three schools in the country had BA programs in Museum Studies. After Huntington, he went on to receive a Master’s in Arts Education and post grad studies in Museum Management.  Always a student of art and a lover of museums, he “got the bug early” by visiting museums in Chicago with his father. In fact, he credits his career to “winning a countywide third-grade poster contest.”

While he took art classes throughout his formative years, Schenk knew that he would “starve to death if [he] tried to be a painter for a living.” Luckily, he had another passion that still involved art. As part of his undergrad work, he had an internship at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts followed by a part-time position at the same museum culminating in his first full-time position as Exhibition Curator at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Joe says that being a director of a museum is by far the favorite position he has held. He loves being able to see things from a global perspective and being engaged in all parts of the museum. He has also loved growing the Art Museum’s collection. Right now, it sits at about 1,900 works, what Schenk calls “a modest collection”. The collection has grown by about 700 works since he came to the museum in 2007.

The museum and its footprint in Corpus Christi have changed a lot since Joe first joined the team. Renovating the lower section of the building and installing the creation station, black box theater and expanding the digital studio as well as adding technological elements to many of the exhibits are among some of his proudest achievements. Although he did teach a few semesters in his career and decided it wasn’t for him, the educational aspect of the museum is near and dear to his heart.

According to Schenk, “Art museums have been the latest ones to get on the bandwagon [with] hands-on interactives and technology.” He jokes, “They’re the last ones. Science first, then history. Art museums are late to the party.”

But that hasn’t stopped him from doing his best to ensure the teaching aspects of the museum reach as many people as possible. Partnering with local universities, schools and art teachers is another highlight of his career in museum management. “Providing a collection and exhibitions that the community can respond to,” Joe says, “is something that gives the museum a sense of meaning and purpose.” I think we can all agree that going to a museum to experience the art and atmosphere firsthand is much better than reading about it in the classroom or from a book.

During his time as director, Joe was also focused on ways of growing the audience and growing patrons of the future. It was this imperative that helped him “think of where people are today” and provide an “interactive experience, where you can use your devices in the Art Museum.” By incorporating them into the shows or collections, he helped give the museum a much-needed modern feel.

We won’t have to worry about Mr. Schenk running off anytime soon. He sees so much on the horizon for the Art Museum and downtown. When he first joined the museum, there was a “hard, fast dividing line of I-37”. Now, he sees that “we are all in this together.”

He is excited to see what his staff will do in the future. “I’ve never, NEVER worked for a staff that’s better than this one,” Joe said when asked about how they will handle his departure. “They run rings around most people,” and have grown during his time at the helm.

What does the future have in store for Joe Schenk? He’s looking forward to being able to travel, “putter around in the plants” (especially his citrus trees), “dust off [his] art supplies, fishing gear, and golf clubs”. But most of all, he’s excited to be able to spend more time of his wife and two sons, one a sound engineer and the other a middle school art teacher in Philadelphia.

On behalf of the Downtown Management District and Corpus Christi as a whole, we say, “Thank you!” to Joe Schenk. Have a wonderful retirement and we can’t wait to see you enjoy life as a patron of the amazing museum you helped shepherd into a great future.