2017 ROBERT P. BERGMAN PRIZE
Growing up a Navy brat at various bases, Grafton Nunes’ medium of escape was comic books, armed forces radio and movies. While his father was stationed at Bremerhaven, Germany, Grafton watched a different movie on base every night, for 50 cents. When they returned to the US, his family got their first television set, and he religiously watched the 4:30pm early show every day.
“Films were the center of my focus,” he says. “It was almost like getting a cinema education in the movies of the ‘30’s, ‘40s and ‘50’s.”
The farther he progressed in his education, the deeper he got into film. While attending the College of Holy Cross to earn his bachelor's in English and religion, he immersed himself in the college’s film society. By the time he was working on his Ph.D. in English at Columbia University, he had to face the fact he was deeply in love with films.
“I wanted to study movies, so I dropped out of Columbia’s PhD program and enrolled in the film school the following year,” he says. “Then, it was 24/7 watching movies, thinking and writing about movies. It was heaven.”
Upon earning his master’s in film history, theory and criticism, he became the departmental administrator of the film school at Columbia. When the chairman resigned, Grafton asked acclaimed auteur Milos Forman to replace him, and ended up working very closely with Forman for the next few years. “At that point, I was totally involved in art and cinema,” Grafton says.
Three years later, he was hired by filmmaker Paul Schrader to work at Paramount Pictures. On a Midwest scouting assignment with Schrader, Grafton got his first taste of Cleveland, when the pair visited the Euclid Tavern as a possible site. Grafton went on to produce director Kathryn Bigelow’s first film, The Loveless, starring Willem Dafoe in his first lead role.
Grafton then returned to Columbia University to run a theater internship program with the Shubert Theatre Organization. He began working on his master’s in theater history and film studies, and then was asked by the dean of the school of the arts to serve as associate dean.
“As associate dean, I had responsibility for the creative writing, painting and sculpture, film and theater programs,” he says. “So I became involved with a wide range of the arts, and it was really exciting.”
In 1998, he became the founding dean of the school of the arts at Emerson College, in Boston. During his 12-year tenure, he instituted a master’s in fine arts program that is now listed as the No. 8 media program in the world, as well as first-rate creative writing and performing arts programs.
On July 1, 2010, Grafton become the 10th president of the Cleveland Institute of Art. He fondly recalls his first night in town a couple weeks prior to his installation, when he attended the Cleveland Arts Prize awards ceremony.
“I was so impressed that this city cared enough about the arts that it could give these awards to the quality of people on that stage,” he says. “It told me there is an audience that supports the arts here, and this sophisticated, well-heeled, financially supportive audience believes that the arts are important to the life of this city.”
Grafton has leveraged renovation of the school’s signature building and campus unification to re-launch CIA and highlight the building’s inviting elements to welcome the entire community. These include the 32'x50' Toby Lewis Media Mesh, a lively and fun medium for sharing the work of CIA’s students and faculty with the neighborhood; the prominently situated Reinberger Gallery, which provides a bright, well-lit backdrop to work by not only students and faculty, but also emerging national and international contemporary artists – all in a venue that is free and open to the public.
Of course, one of Grafton’s favorite components is the state-of-the-art Peter B. Lewis Theater, which allows the Cinematheque to showcase films in the conditions that the director originally intended. He also loves the abundant windows throughout that foster cross-pollination of the various disciplines.
“His focus is pointed all day, every day at his students,” says Michael Schwartz, retired president of Cleveland State University. “CIA may be the most student-centered academic environment I’ve ever seen.”