2020 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
As far back as he can remember, Scott Mueller was fascinated by contemporary and classical architecture and design. His interest in contemporary art, though, started about 20 years ago, when a friend invited him to serve on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art. His friend thought it would be a perfect fit because of Scott’s interest in creative people and his active imagination.
“In a way, I got it backwards,” says the CEO of Dealer Tire with a laugh. “I joined a board that became my entry point into contemporary art in itself, but I’m a Type A person, so once I get involved in something, it takes on a life of its own.”
Characteristic of that personality type, he immediately immersed himself in books about contemporary art and surrounded himself with art experts to serve as mentors, such as Jill Synder, then Executive Director at MOCA; Paola Morsiani, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art; and Brett Shaheen, owner of the Shaheen Modern and Contemporary gallery. He also saw as many exhibitions as he could, starting with his first show at MOCA, the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara.
“Something about this show clicked with me about the fundamental beauty of Nara’s work, and one thing led to another,” Scott recalls. “Shortly after I joined MOCA, I began to collect art, and I haven’t looked back.”
Committed to Snyder’s vision for MOCA, he took charge of the fundraising campaign for the new building at the corner of Mayfield and Euclid roads. “It was a bit of a challenge,” Scott recalls. “We got caught in the thick of the 2007-08 economic crisis, but we forged ahead, and a lot of people stepped up to the plate to help us get it done.”
Just two decades after getting started in the field, he is considered an elite collector of contemporary art. He later became involved with CMA and has led a significant effort for the museum to increase its contemporary art collection. Since 2008 when he joined, Scott has enabled the museum to buy 18 contemporary art pieces with money he donated for that purpose. Those works include paintings by Jack Whitten and Keith Mayerson, and sculptures by Liza Lou, Monika Sosnowska, Haim Steinbach, Jenny Holzer and Simone Leigh.
“The wonder of contemporary art is you get to meet the people who are making the things you are collecting, so I really enjoy that interaction with the artists,” he explains.
Currently one of the museums most generous donors, Scott has donated more than $20 million and is committed to contributing other works from his collection additional support in the future. Last September, he was elected chairman of the board of trustees at CMA.
When it comes to contemporary art, his generosity extends far beyond the walls of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Dealer Tire displays works he has loaned or given throughout the Victory Center, a four-story, 166,000-square-foot building in MidTown. The company recently refurbished the long-vacant historic structure to serve as the tire wholesaler’s headquarters, where roughly 450 employees enjoy viewing an exceptional collection daily that contemporary art museums envy. Scott also loans works from his collection to various museums and individual artists, if they request a certain piece to study.
In his role as chairman, he continues to guide CMA toward implementing its diversity and inclusion plans that’s become a template for other museums. He’s also overseeing completion of CMA’s strategic plans to add a billion dollars worth of art by 2027 that features an initiative to “inspire other collectors” to contribute money or their art collections to the museum. A recent success was the extraordinary gift from private collectors Joseph and Nancy Keithley of $100 million worth of art in March.
“Scott’s engagement, above all with contemporary art, coupled with his commitment to our city and our region, have benefited audiences throughout Greater Cleveland,” says William Griswold, director, CMA. “He has contributed to the growth of our collection, supported numerous major exhibitions, and demonstrated amazing generosity.”
Scott is also intricately involved in the FRONT International mural project in MidTown, and under his guidance, Dealer Tire has sponsored scholarship contests for the Cleveland Institute of Art. He still makes significant capital contributions to MOCA, as well.
“I enjoy helping out because it was part of my early upbringing,” Scott concludes. “My grandfather and father taught me a great example of generosity and kindness to others and to leverage your good fortune, so I’ve tried to link my passion for art with my good fortune in a way that would help Cleveland.”