William Griswold, PhD
2018 BARBARA S. ROBINSON PRIZE
Like every child, Bill enjoyed drawing and doodling. In fact, though not an artist himself, the Camp Hill, PA-native always loved art. However, he told his parents – and himself – that he would grow up to be a lawyer.
“I attended Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where I studied the history of art because I thought it would provide a good liberal arts background for me in preparation for law school,” he explains. He majored in the history of art. When professors suggested he attend the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for one year after earning his bachelor’s degree, he thought that sounded rather interesting.
Six and a half years later, he collected his PhD in the history of art. “I felt I really couldn’t ask my parents to send me to law school at that point,” he quips. “So I really dove in, and my first job was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been very fortunate all along and have had a wonderful time with the field that in this roundabout way chose me.”
Why art? “Art is an extraordinary thing. Art is a universal language. Art is a profound expression of our shared humanity,” he responds passionately. “I find that enormously compelling and believe devoutly in the power of art to bring people together and enrich lives.”
Museums as repositories of art that are accessible to all people have enormous appeal to him. “Institutions with great, encyclopedic collections like ours exist for a democratic purpose, in the words of our founders, to benefit all the people forever,’’ he concludes.
From the Met, Bill went on to hold executive positions with The Morgan Library & Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. In 2008, he received the Insignia of Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters, and in 2015, he was awarded the medal of Cambodia’s Royal Order of Sahametrei.
He was appointed director of the Cleveland Museum of Art in May 2014. The institution’s ninth director, he leads the 450-member team responsible for the museum’s collection, deepening its long-standing engagement with the local community, and elevating its profile both nationally and internationally.
“I have been an admirer, an enthusiast for this museum since I came here for the first time in my second year as a graduate student,” Bill informs. “In the years that followed, I returned over and over again. It’s one of the most important collections anywhere in this country or in the world.”
Since his arrival in Cleveland, he has overseen the 2016 celebration of the museum’s centennial, the conclusion of the $320 million capital campaign that made possible its recent renovation and expansion, and a strategic planning initiative to guide the museum into its second century of growth and public service.
Bill has earned recognition for his proactive commitment the repatriation of undocumented antiquities. Most notably, he oversaw the transfer to Italy of the ancient Roman bust of Drusus Minor – once celebrated as one of CMA’s most prized artifacts that was acquired in 2012 – to its home in Naples, Italy, when it was confirmed that it had been looted from an Italian institution in 1944.
“I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop relationships with other institutions all over the world, including those that we have with the Ministries of Culture in Italy and Cambodia,” he states. “Each arose as a consequence of challenging issues having to do with the provenance of the works of art, but each has led to a deep partnership between this institution and the governments of those countries.”
Bill has also earned recognition for his leadership in making education a priority, launching programs to make the museum more accessible to a broader audience of visitors of all ages. Last June, the CMA’s Board approved its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan to address the longstanding lack of diversity in the museum profession.
Being called by Barbara Robinson and told he won the Barbara Robinson Prize was very humbling for someone who is a relatively new Clevelander, he reveals: “This doesn’t happen to me often, but I was completely dumbstruck. It is an honor to receive this special prize. I feel almost as if I’ve received my citizenship, and it means a lot to me.”