February 28, 2007

Museum Reappoints Director

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Franklin Robinson has been reappointed as the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art for his fourth five-year term. His reappointment will go into effect on July 1, 2008.

“It’s better than being fired!” Robinson joked. In actuality, Robinson is thrilled about the continuation of his position. At the age of 13, after his visit to Rome Robinson knew he was to devote his life to art.

He began his career teaching at Wellesley College. Robinson later taught at Dartmouth College, followed by Williams College. At Williams, he was the director of both the history of art graduate program and the museum. He then became director of the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design. Finally in 1992, he ventured to Cornell, and received his first appointment as director of the Johnson Museum of Art.

“What you look for in life is to be stretched — to be challenged,” Robinson said.

His roles as director certainly have stretched to include duties that range from conversing with artists about their work to handling the workers that patch the roof. Robinson also fulfills his position by traveling 90 to 100 days per year to acquire more artwork. The majority of his trips are made to New York, Florida and California, but the trips certainly are not limited to these states. While traveling, Robinson meets with alumni who wish to donate art to the museum. Robinson stresses the fact that at Cornell, the art will go to good use.

Robinson also has ensured that the Johnson becomes a prime part of both the Cornell community and surrounding areas.

“A university museum should be the intellectual, cultural and social center of the campus,” Robinson said, “and I think we come close to being that.”

The Student Advisory Committee, the Faculty Advisory Committee and the Museum Club allow students and faculty to have direct input into particular activities concerning the museum. Such events in the past have included Jazz Night and Blues Night. The most recent was an event two weeks ago, After Hours at the Johnson Museum.

“I see Mr. Robinson standing in the snow in the middle of the blizzard handing out brochures publicizing the museum’s upcoming events,” said Meg Sofen ’09, president of the Museum Club. “I know that he is really passionate about the museum’s image on campus,” Sofen said.

The museum expands its reach to students even more thoroughly via the two courses per year that it offers. The fall course examines specific works of art, and the spring course focuses on the functioning of a museum in general, as well as its relations to the public.

Students also have the ability to get involved with the museum as volunteer docents as well as paid interns. Robinson feels these positions help stress the importance of education.

“I’ve always wanted to work at a museum, and not many schools have a museum as prestigious as the Johnson,” said Kristin Shiller ’07, an intern at the Museum. “It’s a really great opportunity for college students.”

Robinson has contributed to the incorporation of new technology.

The largest advancement, however, lies in the near future. In 2008, the museum is planning to break ground with a new wing. Architect I.M. Pei, who designed the current Johnson building, will design a new underground wing on the north side of the museum. Robinson reported that the new wing will include a lecture hall, new gallery and storage space, and a workshop room for smaller art classes.