President and Eloise W. Martin Director, Art Institute of Chicago
Dr. James Cuno became the President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, halfway through the museum’s largest expansion project since the construction of its original 1893 building. In May of this year, the city of Chicago celebrated the opening of this Modern Wing and, with it, the completion of the largest fundraising campaign in the history of cultural institutions in the city. Dr. Cuno is an active advocate and scholar on the issue of cultural patrimony and on the role of museums in civic life, and he has written and spoken extensively on these topics, most recently in his authored work, Who Owns Antiquity?, and in his edited collection Whose Culture? For the past several years, he has developed programming with other cultural institutions (such as Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project) to present at the Art Institute year-long themed seasons of exhibitions, lectures, performances, and readings—all with the goal of bringing together cultural production around such central ideas as American identities, cultural exchange, “art beyond borders,” and, this year, the concept of the modern on the occasion of the opening of the Modern Wing.
Here at the Art Institute of Chicago, we have taken a very long view of the current economic and cultural climate. Historically, museum attendance has increased dramatically during periods of economic stress, such as the Great Depression or the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This fact tells us that museums provide solace, inspiration, and perspective during difficult times. Now more than ever, it is of paramount importance that we continue to uphold our mission as a truly civic institution. Most immediately, we are striving to remain as accessible as possible to all visitors, which we are able to do through offering more than 400 hours a year of free admission and by consciously designing our new addition, the Modern Wing, to create more civic space in the form of our bridge into Millennium Park, our sculpture terrace, and our education center. All of these new spaces are completely free and open to the public. We aim to be at the center of the cultural life of the city by offering not just exhibitions and the display of our permanent collection but also by offering musical performances, lectures, poetry readings, and, this year, even a residency with one of the leading modern dance companies in Chicago. All of these efforts are, of course, accompanied by creative fundraising, but we are lucky that Chicago has always been—and continues to be—a city that generously supports its world-class cultural institutions. ≤