You can teach me about the same war twenty times and a day later I will have already forgotten about it.
Does this sound like you?
Yesterday I was at the airport waiting to board when a woman across from me asked: “so where are you traveling to?” Quite honestly I wasn’t in the mood to chat. I had an early flight that morning and this was my connecting one. Regardless, I told her and we began to chat about our travels. She was around her mid 40s – early 50s. Her shortish golden hair reminded me of my grandmother’s.
After around ten minutes, the plane began to board. Turns out, I was sitting behind her. We talked about how she met her husband on a beach in Spain years ago. She described how they are still madly in love even after having three kids. Although that is nowhere near where my life is at right now, I felt as though we were very similar.
When we got off of the plane, we were going through airport security and she began to tell me about some Dutch history. Before she went any further, I had to tell her: “I’m going to be honest I love history. I think it’s fascinating.. but I never remember it. I’ve seen several castles and battle grounds in Ireland and I couldn’t tell you one fact about them.” She laughed at me. I felt a bit embarrassed. Then she said this:
“I’m bad at remembering history too!”
“Really, so how do you know all of these facts?”
“I read children’s books”
“Do they actually help?”
” Yes, because it’s more important to understand the big picture before trying to remember the small details. I read a children’s book called the history of France before I went there. My friend and I brought the book with us and matched the illustrated pictures to the things we saw while we were there.”
“Where have you been my whole life! Haha”
“Also there’s a lot of movies that can help with that too.”
Our conversation went further, but I had never thought of doing this. Children’s books have to explain things in simple terms. Only once you get something in simple terms can you dive deeper and learn more.
This advice has really and truly changed my life. Time to go buy some children’s books.
Stop placing your worth, happiness, and success in the achievement of something in the future. When we do this, we basically tell ourselves that we cannot be happy until we get these things.
Think back to when you were a child. You’re in a grocery store trying to convince your parents to buy you a toy. You tell yourself that there is no possible way you will be happy unless they agree to buy you the thing. You have already decided that you will throw a fit if you don’t get what you want. This time you’re lucky- your parents agree to buy you it! Now you feel so happy… for a moment…. but it doesn’t last.
How many times have you placed your happiness on getting something that you look back on now and have to laugh? Turns out the American Girl Doll wasn’t the secret to our lasting happiness after all. Just like getting that new designer purse isn’t either.
How happy you are now is likely to determine how happy you will be in the future. It is fine to look forward to something. In fact, it’s totally healthy, but this is different than deciding you won’t be happy until something happens for you.
We aren’t the best at predicting what will happen in the future. Think about it. Who did you want to become when you were younger? What did you think you’d be doing right now 5 years ago? I can speak for myself and say that these are two very different things.
So decide today that you will be happy. Not when you get that new car or those new shoes. This only lasts so long until you are lusting over the next new thing.
Decide to be happy because you have goals and values that guide what you do. Be happy because you are in this moment right now and have made it this far. Be happy to be authentically you. And be happy that you are on a mission to change your life and the lives of others too.
Does everyone suffer from some kind of social anxiety?
Or am I the only one who feels awkward when I am alone in a hallway with someone walking the opposite direction and can’t decide where to look and when it’s okay to make eye contact and basically over-think everything?I know in my heart the kind thing to do is look at the person and smile or even say hi, but sometimes I just decide to look down and keep walking.
Being kind can actually be kind of scary sometimes. It can take us out of our comfort zones.
So, story time: A few months ago, I took a trip to California. I checked into my flight before I left- window seat. Score! I got on the plane and the person sitting in my row was a guy in his early 20’s. He had red hair and looked like a slightly bigger version of Ed Sheran. I sat down next to him and immediately put in my headphones; it was a 6am flight and I was tired. Five minutes into the flight, he tapped on my shoulder, “you can just punch me if I’m asleep and you need to use the bathroom.” We both chuckled and then I put in my headphones again. We both fell asleep shortly after.
I woke back up and saw him jamming out. He was head nodding and aggressively playing the air guitar with his iPhone. It was hilarious. Clearly, he did not care if anyone was watching.
I didn’t mention this earlier, but for some reason I was feeling extremely anxious on this flight which is rare because I love flying. I stared out the window and took deep breaths in attempts to rid myself of the nervous feelings. I shut my eyes briefly and then he tapped on my shoulder again, “hey can I share some music with you?”
Is this guy trying to sell me his music? I thought to myself, but I didn’t question him. I put in one ear bud and he had the other one in. Before he started to play it, he told me that he had been listening to this song when he was jamming out earlier and he wanted to share the experience with me. The music started playing and it turned out to not be his music, but religious music.
So this guy went out of his way just to share a feeling he received from this song with me- pure joy. For the first time during this flight I felt some peace.
Moral of the story?
Go out of your way to be kind. You really do not know what other people are going through. One small gesture can make that difference for them. Your actions affect people more than you think. Be vulnerable and be kind. It matters.
The Bosun Bar & Restaurant: We ordered fish and chips and seafood chowder, which came with soda bread (very popular in Ireland). While we were there, we asked for tartar sauce and they gave us a huge pot of it that was in the shape of a genie lantern. Bosun has the best fish and chips I’ve had so far. I usually try to avoid fish and chips because I’ve had some bad experiences. Not this time!
The Shack: A cute donut shop in Cork City. It’s in a small corner of one of the streets in the centre. We ordered a Boston creme, I ordered a hazelnut donut, and we also got a pistachio coffee flavored one. While there were several cute and fun colored donuts, we chose the most basic looking ones. The one I ate, had a mint-flavored filling which threw me off. I later found out it was because it had Aero mint chocolate in it.
Rocket Man: This is also cute place in Cork City. It’s a small shop and, in the front, they have benches and fake grass for customers to sit and eat. They sell a variety of sandwiches, soups, and sauces that you can take to go. They heat-up our meals before serving them to us. Seriously so yummy- the coffee was decent.
We decided to go on a carousel ride in the middle of the city and here was one of the views from the top. The ride attendants were hilarious. They spun us around every time we got to the bottom and kept asking us if we were American.
The view from our house. Ships are constantly passing through and there’s a nice walking path by the water.
The first day I got into Cork, we brought my brother to school. We loaded our car onto the ferry and crossed the river then drove the rest of the way.
I wish public transit was as much of a thing in the States as it is in Europe. On Thursday, I took the bus into South Mall (the city) and I was so confused. The bus doesn’t announce or have any displays of what the next stop is. I assume it’s because most people are locals, but it’s still strange. On the way back home, we got off like six stops to early and ended up walking almost a mile because we were scared of missing our stop. Oops!
Before I get into this, I just wanted to mention how long I’ve wanted to do this interview. My grandfather is someone I have looked up to since the day he volunteered to look for bugs with me in his backyard. His humble and kind presence is admirable- he is an encourager, leader, and a good friend. Although barely touched on during this interview, his resilience when things have gotten tough is something I wish to learn. Without further ado- an interview with an art Museum Director.
Chapter One: College
Tell me what your college experience was like
I went to Williams College. I liked the small college atmosphere and didn’t apply to any big universities. I had a lot of very close relations with classmates and professors which were very affecting.
Starting out, I wanted to become a doctor, but realized the only thing that got me through my science classes were the lab drawings. I finally realized that I was destined to be an artist. So, I decided to take art history courses and eventually had my own student exhibition in my school.
I was a member of Delta Upsilon which had a well-rounded membership. The captain of football and basketball team were in it and honors society members too, but it also had its share of animals. Every weekend we’d have parties and the animals would tear the place apart!
My junior year, I was an advisor, so I was living with freshmen. At the time, it was an all male school- now its co-ed. We would take road trips to other colleges to meet women. We would see how quickly we could get back and forth to Skidmore. 45 minutes!
My sophomore year, I met Gayle (my now wife) who went to Skidmore. We dated all through college. Because she was an artist, we used to paint on our dates. We did anything to avoid the wild parties at my frat. They called it the “D U Zoo”. Some of the frat members are in jail now.. and never finished.
One year, I was a cheerleader amongst my frat brothers. You know- we would form pyramids and such.. it was really goofy.
Chapter Two: Career
What was your first job outside of college? How did it lead you into your career path?
I received an Andover Fellowship and took a gap year. I taught photography, painting, three-dimensional design, and coached the football team (even though I wasn’t a football jock). They gave me free housing and food, so I was able to save up money. During the fellowship, I wanted to become an artist and had a couple of exhibitions. The school ended up buying one of my sculptures!
After the fellowship ended, I decided to apply for grad-school. I applied to Yale, which had the best studio art grad program at the time, and also applied to NYU, to do art history. I did not get into Yale- but got into NYU, so I did the art history graduate program.
This was the fork in the road for me. This program led me to become a museum person.
When I was at NYU, in the late 60’s, many of the professors were from Germany. They didn’t believe in colored slides- all of the slides were in black and white and they never brought us to museums. It was odd. So we were learning about art history but never got to see the art for ourselves.
Metropolitan Museum Of Art
During my graduate program, I discovered the MET had a training course and this changed my life. I truly discovered museum work here. If I couldn’t make artwork myself, I could work with other great works made by other people. The MET is the greatest museum in the country! I was an intern at the drawings department. It was like coming home to seeing Picasso and Rembrandt. I could look at them and hold them.
In three years, I got a museum certificate and a graduate degree. I want to mention that throughout my graduate program, I commuted from New Jersey. I hitched a ride into school every day. I was never denied a ride. I would wait with my suit and briefcase everyday and would get a ride to the George Washington Bridge.
By the time I graduated, I was married to Gayle and we moved to London.
Victoria and Albert Museum
While we lived in London, I worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum- a museum built by Queen Victoria in 1851. It was filled with mostly decorative arts and a few paintings. I was an intern here, and my wife, Gayle, took courses on the furniture at the museum.
Minneapolis Institute of Art
A man I met while in London, who at the time was director of the Minneapolis museum, told me to come out and work for him there. I became the Associate Director at Minneapolis Institute of Art. I was number two associate at my first job! I had a tough boss, but he would actually let us (his employees) try stuff! He constantly encouraged us to invent and design things at the Museum.
While I worked here, I organized an exhibition for Dutch art. I was sent to Europe and was introduced to a bunch of art dealers there. I kept seeing Dutch art everywhere. Little to no publications of it. I wanted to do an 18th century Dutch art exhibition. I met with people who either had the art or studied it. I went through with the exhibition, and then Toledo and Philadelphia wanted in on it.
When the Dutch exhibition was over, Toledo asked me to work for them. My salary was dramatically increased and had promises of becoming director. The director retired and I became next director. He and I remained great friends- he was always super supportive- a mentor and a guide.
A group of people in Toledo made relations with Toledo Spain. Because of our sister city relationship, I wanted to see if they could lend their pieces of art for an “El Greco” exhibition. We asked other museums if they could partner with us as well. I went to the National Gallery in Washington and they said they were interested, and then I went to Spain and they agreed to give us the art.
I found out the exhibition would cost over a million dollars! We cooked up a scheme to go to amex- and told them Dallas would take it if they sponsored us. They did! It was the greatest momentum- it was not only the money we needed but it also gave us great publicity. People were flocking and tourism was huge as a result!!! It was an enormous success, we had articles in Time Magazine and I was interviewed on CNN. It was the most heavily populated exhibition in all of those museums. (Link to Times article here.)
The National Gallery of Washington
This stunt introduced me to all the folks at the National Gallery. Paul Melon came to check out the Toledo Museum and invited me to become the Depute Director of the National Gallery. I was there for five and a half years: 1988-1993. During that time, I did a lot of strategic planning, organized exhibitions, helped with the first capital campaign for their 50th anniversary, and re-installed the entire painting collection while working with the curators. An exhibition with works by Vermeer was the last major show I did there. We had 27 of his paintings for the exhibition.
After the 50th anniversary of National Gallery, the director pointed at me to become next director as he retired, but the trustees picked someone else. The director who was chosen was a friend of mine- I stayed for a bit then left.
Soon after, I was offered an honorary professorship at Williams. I would fly up to Albany and go to Williamstown to teach one class a week. I loved it so much. I began to think that it would be cool to be a president of a college someday.
I searched and saw nothing. Then, I heard about the RISD presidency. I applied and because the trustees were all looking for a director for the art museum there,they hired me. I only took the presidency, but hired someone else to be the museum director. I loved it. I was there for fifteen years. Happiest time of my life. My wife got her masters in fine arts. And my grandchildren came (me). It was a cozy and wonderful time.
RISD was glorious. I loved the students, being near Brown, helping build more international experiences. I was able to teach- work with designers, and architects. It was wonderful.
When I left, I was voted to get an honorary degree. During my career, I’ve earned 9 honorary degrees.
Ive had an exciting career.
Qatar Museums Authority
After RISD, we moved to the Middle-East. I was head of Qatar Museums Authority. We had never been to the Middle East before and here we were moving there! Qatar is a very family-oriented place with big ambitions. They are liberal and tolerant of other religions. There’s a Catholic Cathedral there. They are very involved with national politics.
The Qatar Museums Authority wanted to build 12 museums- not just art ones but history, science, children’s, air and space, and media museums as well. I was in charge of all of it!
We started with 350 employees. I hired museum staff from Britain, France to Turkey, Australia, and the U.S. I brought people from all over the world. When I left, we had 1200 employees- in four years that was a lot of people to hire. I had a chance to work with I.A.PEI a chinese architect who designed the Museum of Islamic Art.
Jea Nouvel. Hergzog and De Meuron. All great architects, I worked with all of them.
After four years I was turning 70, and we decided it was time to come home. In January 2012, we came back. I served as senior advisor to Qatar Museum Authority for a year.
Then, I started doing consulting for different universities, colleges, and art schools. I’ve been serving on a lot of boards as a trustee of art museums and art schools. I enjoy it a lot because I’ve worked in a variety of arts institutions. I think I have good and wide experiences to offer as a trustee.
Chapter Three: Today
Today, we are trying to start a contemporary art and design museum in New Bedford.
It’s called: DatMa or Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute.
It will specialize in international work and programs. It will show the impact of new technologies on art and design.
It’s having its inaugural exhibition next summer as part of a huge festival were planning called Summer Wind– we’re celebrating the arrival of wind turbines in New Bedford!
We’re bringing in an outdoor installation from LA. by Poetic Kinetics. We have 16 board members and we are currently trying to raise money to fund for this show!
Interested to learn more about “DAT”? Watch this.
Thank you to my grandfather, Roger, for sharing his story with us all. I believe it is fascinating how life leads us from one chapter to the next. No matter how much we try to plan our lives- in my grandfather’s case- planning to become a doctor, life leads us to where we are meant to be and this is apparent from hearing his story.