October 29, 2012
Deborah Scott, CEO and President of the Cincinnati Taft Museum
Imagine growing up 17 miles outside of New York with – as many would claim – America’s cultural epicenter in your figurative backyard. For Deborah Scott, the director and CEO at the Cincinnati Taft Museum, this takes no imagination; it was her childhood.
Scott grew up in Passaic, NJ with close proximity to the Big Apple. After graduating from Rutgers, NYC beckoned. She began working in an art gallery on Madison Ave. that, among a variety of items, also sold ceramics. “That’s where I discovered Rookwood Pottery, the knowledge of which has come in handy living now in Cincinnati,” Scott said.
The Buckeye State eventually wooed her away from New York in the form of a graduate program at Oberlin College. Afterwards she worked at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin and credits her experience there, thanks to a number of outstanding mentors, as being inspirational to a career path as a curator. Prior to joining the Taft Museum, just two years ago, Scott had been working as the chief curator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO.
Scott showing off the new “Star Power” exhibit to museum patrons
For those who have been to the Taft in recent years, then you know we are lucky to have Scott. In honor of the Taft’s upcoming 80th anniversary and the wonderful work Scott does, iSPYCINCY conversed with her for a Q & A to learn more about the museum, her personal aspirations, and the joys of living in Cincy.
iSPY: How does the Taft Museum differentiate itself as an art museum from – let’s say – the CAM or the CAC?
The beautiful Taft Museum
Scott: We are so fortunate in Cincinnati to have three art museums, each of which has its own identity and all of which complement one another. The occupancy total for the Taft is 879. We have a small footprint, a small collection—fewer than 800 works of art—most of which are on view in the former living room, parlors, music room, etc., of the Taft family when they lived in what is now the Taft Museum of Art. We offer the visitor the opportunity to see great examples of art in an intimate setting. And, of course, the 1820 home itself is its own work of art. As a visitor once remarked to me, “Coming to the Taft is like taking a step back in time.” When they are finished viewing the collection, seeing the special exhibition, and participating in some of our award-winning educational programs, they can visit our café and stroll in the beautiful garden.
iSPY: You are heading into your third year as the Museum Director, how have you adjusted to life in Cincinnati — likes, dislikes?
Scott: Graeter’s ice cream… need I say more?
iSPY: Cincinnati has undergone a number of wonderful development from The Banks project to the revitalization of Washington Park and OTR, do you think this increased enthusiasm for the city has affected attendance and excitement at the Taft Museum?
Scott: We just completed a huge outreach project, Art for All, with financial support from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./US Bank Foundation. In honor of our 80th anniversary, we installed 80 reproductions of works from the permanent collection throughout the region. We wanted to reach those who live and work in all these areas and to remind Cincinnatians that Anna and Charles Taft left their collection to Cincinnati for their enjoyment. As a permanent part of the project, we partnered with ArtWorks for the mural across the street from Washington Park that faces Music Hall. It is based on a work of art from the Taft’s collection. It is incredible seeing a detail from an 18th–century French mantel clock that stands about four-inches tall now enlarged to about 50 feet tall outdoors for everyone to enjoy.
iSPY: The Taft Museum is about to celebrate its 80th anniversary. Can you tell us about any exhibition highlights coming up for the big birthday?
Scott: The exhibition Star Power: Edward Steichen’s Glamour Photography opened two weeks ago. It is quintessential glamour photography. In this case, the works are from the 1920s and 1930s—the years when the Taft’s lived in this house. All of the iconic images are here: the famous shots of Gary Cooper looking you right in the eye, Gloria Swanson with her penetrating stare through lace, Greta Garbo—you know the one—with her hair pulled tightly back, and so many others that we all have in our collective memories.
On November 2 from 9 p.m. until midnight, we are having our official anniversary party titled An Astaire to Remember, where old Hollywood glamour will meet 21st-century swagger. It is the perfect complement to the Steichen exhibition, and we expect to see the glamorous side of Cincinnati on show that night. There is going to be a swanky 1930s nightclub atmosphere with music by the Billy Larkin Trio and wonderful food by executive chef Luke Radkey. We are charging $32 per ticket (in advance) because the Taft opened in 1932. Tickets are selling briskly.
iSPY: If you had to be stranded in any museum in the world (excluding the Taft), which museum would you chose and why?
Scott: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. When you look at art in the Met, you have the privilege of looking at works that represent the greatest achievements of man and womankind throughout history.
iSPY: Any motto(s) to live by?
Scott: Pretty simple: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
For more information about the Taft Museum please visit the website: http://www.taftmuseum.org/.to top ↑