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Unruly Engagements Conference

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News . Feature Stories . Q + A With CIA's New President, Grafton Nunes

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June 30, 2010

Q + A With CIA's New President, Grafton Nunes

Grafton Nunes brings a wealth of experience, expertise and wisdom to his role as the 10th president of The Cleveland Institute of Art.

Q + A With CIA's New President, Grafton Nunes

Grafton Nunes brings a wealth of experience, expertise and wisdom to his role as the 10th president of The Cleveland Institute of Art.

What factors influenced your decision to join The Cleveland Institute of Art?

I was attracted to the quality of the instruction, the intelligence and talent of the faculty, the energy of the students, and the loyalty of the alumni. It was just so clear that everybody involved with the presidential search was really committed; that this transition was seen as transformative for the institution. It was very gratifying to see everybody so involved.

What struck you about Cleveland?

I can’t think of any place in the country that has quite the combination of cultural institutions in juxtaposition with a great university and with a first-rate arts college as CIA’s University Circle neighborhood. Our students just have so much wealth of influence and so many places to go for inspiration. It’s a very, very rich environment.

In addition, it seems to me that this is a city of great audiences; that people like gathering together and having cultural experiences. Having a sophisticated arts culture also has to be inspirational to our students.

There’s obviously a very committed group of donors in the city, more so than I experienced in Boston. People in the philanthropic community have just been so open and welcoming to my arrival and I think that is not necessarily a testament to me; I think it’s a testament to The Cleveland Institute of Art.

How do you see an art education influencing our culture; what is the importance of art and design in our culture?

We can’t underestimate the importance of having objects of beauty in our lives. Good design, clean design, color, it gives our spirits joy. There is a utility to the joy that the spirit feels when it encounters something that’s beautiful. It enhances the quality of our lives and we need it as human beings. We must honor that.

What we make now as objects in our culture we will be judged by in 2,000 years when they’re sitting in a case, looked at by other human beings, who are going to come to understand something about who we were and what was important to us. The jewelry, the design objects that our students are producing will be the evidence, the data by which we will be judged as human beings by future human beings. I think it’s absolutely essential to who we are as people. Art really is the soul of human culture.

Are you passionate about seeing young artists come from high school to art school to begin to experience all this?

Oh yes, because there’s nothing more exciting than the moment of discovery. When a young person comes to those key moments of realization, it’s like Helen Keller when she finally realizes what water is and she just runs all over the house touching things trying to find out what their names are… those moments when the students come to those realizations, that’s exciting. Also, those realizations can create extraordinary art because there’s an energy in those discoveries; students will actually be able to represent that discovery in their work. So young art can be very thrilling.

I think it really is a lifelong process. We’re told that we stop discovering but I haven’t stopped discovering and I’m grateful for it. It’s like a gift. That’s why the adult education classes we have are so vital. It’s not just for people who are young. There are people who make discoveries and are then able to bring the wisdom of their life experience into a new field of expression.

Was Cinematheque of particular interest to you?

The Cinematheque was a personal draw for me because my art form was film. I was a film producer. The fact that The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is one of the great cinematheques in the country, and really (Cinematheque Director) John Ewing is renowned as being one of the best curators in the United States was certainly a draw for me. I can still experience cinema culture on a very high level. Another draw was Cleveland. I hadn’t been to Cleveland since 1979 when I worked on the script of Light of Day with Paul Schrader, just before I produced The Loveless (with Oscar-winning director Katherine Bigelow).

At Emerson, did you do a lot of work with Boston?

Emerson moved into the heart of downtown Boston, at Boylston and Tremont streets, and we were very instrumental in changing the neighborhood we moved into. The very presence of students energized the neighborhood; more restaurants started to come into the area because there was a street life. And then a hotel came into the area and then a 20-screen movie theater. All of a sudden there was this mixed use; but the anchor for the transformation was Emerson moving into the neighborhood and bringing this cohort of students… Academic institutions can be extraordinary agents for social good and I see that as being a great opportunity here as well.

Were you inspired by the potential for CIA’s campus project to have the same transformative effect here in Cleveland?

Absolutely. Emerson was at the gateway to the theater district and from that gateway, really started to advance the neighborhood. And I see it perfectly here. CIA is at the gateway to University Circle and will be a real anchor for that northeastern portion of the circle. I see it as having very similar potential.

On first impression, is there something that stands out about CIA among other art schools?

What stands out for me is the extraordinary relationship between the faculty and students. 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. There’s a responsibility to the art as well as a responsibility to the students. The thing that I’m looking forward to doing is telling that story to a more national and international audience… We have to tell people this is a great place. This is excellent. If you are a young person, you are going to see an extraordinary return here on your investment of your money, your time and your talent.

What is the core of your philosophy on arts education?

We need to provide our students with the tools to see the world around them, the courage to materially create images of what they see and the craft to master their materials in an intriguing and unique way.

Favorite philanthropy or cause?

Cancer research.

Favorite films? Filmmakers?

Almost any films by John Ford, Jean Renoir, Ozu, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Perceval le Galois by Rohmer, Lancelot du Lac by Bresson, Ran by Kurosawa, the Matrix by the Wachowski Brothers, and The Lord of the Rings.

Whose life do you find inspiring?

Abraham Lincoln.

What invitation would you love to receive?

To attend the Nobel Prize Award ceremony.

What inspires you?

Commitment to truth, boldness of execution, and mastery of craft.

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