In 1979, the film scholar and producer Grafton Nunes came to Cleveland to work on the script of director Paul Schrader’s film, Light of Day. The city made a good impression.
“I remember going to lunchtime concerts in the Flats and there, at the bar, you had construction workers, lawyers, cab drivers, architects — every type of person listening to rock ‘n’ roll. That spoke to me about a quality of social interaction that was very, very appealing and that I had not seen in any other city,” Nunes recalled.
His memory of Cleveland as “a city of great audiences” sprang to mind when Nunes received a phone call last winter from an executive recruiting firm assisting The Cleveland Institute of Art with its presidential search. “When I got the call, I thought ‘this is perfect.’” said Nunes, who took office on July 1 as CIA’s 10th president. “Cleveland was definitely a draw for me when I considered pursuing this position. People here like gathering together and having cultural experiences; and I contend that great audiences make for great cultural institutions and great art.”
A FILM LOVER AT HEART
Because film is his art form, Nunes was also drawn to The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. He called the Institute’s year-round film program “one of the great cinematheques in the country directed by John Ewing, who is one of the best film curators in the United States.”
Nunes speaks from authority, having earned an MFA from Columbia University in film history, theory, and criticism. After graduate school he came to Cleveland to research bar band rock ‘n’ roll for the script of Light of Day, which starred Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett and was shot at the Euclid Tavern in University Circle. Nunes later co-produced The Loveless, the first feature film by academy award winning director Kathryn Bigelow.
On his way to becoming a film scholar and producer, he took the job of administrator of the film school at Columbia, where he held roles of increasing responsibility over the course of 22 years. Nunes then spent 12 years at Emerson College in Boston, where he was founding dean of the School of the Arts. During his tenure, the school grew to 3,000 students taught by 111 full-time and 150 part-time faculty members.
At both Columbia and Emerson, Nunes was centrally involved in extensive capital projects, including a $45 million performing arts and television production facility in downtown Boston that helped revitalize a neglected neighborhood.
AN AGENT FOR SOCIAL GOOD...
IN AN ACROPOLIS
“Emerson is at the gateway to Boston’s theater district and from that gateway, the college really started to advance the neighborhood. I see our campus project as having very similar potential. CIA is at the gateway to University Circle and our modernized, unified campus will be a real anchor for that northeastern portion of the circle,” he said. “Academic institutions can be extraordinary agents for social good and I see that as being a great opportunity here.”
As impressed as he was with the downtown Flats entertainment district and the rock ‘n’ roll scene in Cleveland, Nunes said he is delighted to be surrounded now by University Circle’s cultural institutions. “In this circle you have world class museums, a botanical garden, some of the best hospitals in the country, along with arts institutions, music institutions, a natural history museum. It strikes me as being like an acropolis. It’s this vital center of human culture that not only I, as president, can experience, but that students can experience. Having a sophisticated arts culture has to be inspirational to our students.”
A father of six, Nunes said he is passionate about seeing young artists come from high school to art school to make art. “There’s nothing more exciting than the moment of discovery. When young people come to those key moments of realization, they can create extraordinary art.”
ART SCHOOL MATTERS
Nunes takes the helm of CIA during an uncertain economic and political time when, he said, people need the inspiration of good art and design more than ever. “One of the really vital things that CIA students, alumni, and faculty do is they make objects of beauty. We can’t underestimate the importance of having objects of beauty in our lives. Good design, clean lines, color, they give our spirits joy. We must honor that. Never was it more important than it is now. People just simply need the uplift of being moved by what is reaffirming of their lives in a narrative way, or by what takes them outside of their daily worries in a visual way.”
He has already witnessed “the extraordinary relationships” between CIA faculty and students that help cultivate inspired art and design. “There’s a very strong one-on-one mentorship, a personal investment in the students and their work, and a strong investment in the integrity of the field. There’s a love of the students creating but there’s also a love of the art,” Nunes said.
He was equally impressed with the level of engagement by members of the board of directors, the faculty and alumni who participated in the presidential search process. “What that showed me was a real commitment and an extraordinary love for the institution,” he said. “The thing that I’m looking forward to doing is telling this CIA story to a more national and international audience. I want young people across the country to know they are going to see an extraordinary return here on their investment of their money, their time, and their talent.”
In addition to his graduate degree in film, Nunes also holds a master of philosophy degree in theater history and film studies from Columbia, and a BA in English and religion from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He succeeds David L. Deming ’67 who retired after a 12-year presidency to return to his sculpture studio full time.