Artist Spotlight- Grafton Nunes

Just a bit over a year ago, North Collinwood welcomed one of its newest residents to our expansive community of artists and organizers on the shores of Lake Erie: Grafton Nunes.

As president and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), Nunes currently leads one of Northeast Ohio’s (and the nation’s) top art and design colleges. Since coming on-board in 2010, Nunes oversaw the unification of CIA’s campus with the new 80,000 square foot George Gund Building; the $75 million project budget and capital campaign; not to mention steadily increasing enrollment at the institution.

If that sounds like a tall order for one person, well, you’d be right. But with an extensive background in academia, film and television, plus the sheer determination needed to support creative individuals, Nunes was well positioned for the task.

As a young man from Maine, Nunes grew up with the dream of teaching high school English. After receiving his dual BA in English and Theology from the College of the Holy Cross, he realized a fatal flaw with that plan: he actually hated teaching English.

So he did what anyone does at that point in their academic career: he took a break and made sandwiches in a deli for a while.

In time he realized his true passion was in film and spent his life – from the age of 23 onward – dedicated to the study and creation of film. Fresh out of film school from Columbia University a couple years later, Nunes found himself assisting director Paul Schrader at Paramount Pictures on a number of films and eventually producing Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature film, The Loveless, which starred Willem Dafoe in his first film appearance and is archived in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

He took his dive from film production into academia after being offered a position at Columbia, where he ended up building a 22-year career – first as the head of the Theater Management and Producing Program and then as associate dean for the School of the Arts. His flourishing career caught the attention of Emerson College leadership, who offered Nunes the opportunity to become the founding dean of their School of the Arts. The school quickly became a top national and international arts educator, including a prestigious graduate film program.

And then Cleveland beckoned.

With the word of Nunes’ meteoric rise in arts education and strategic vision, the Cleveland Institute of Art offered the non-Ohio native a chance to reposition a rust belt institution as one of the nation’s premier art and design colleges. Of course he accepted the challenge.

While day in and day out he doesn’t get to make films, Nunes says the processes are shockingly alike. Just as a film production, guiding an education institution requires staying within budget, on schedule and with as few bumps and bruises as possible.

If anything, Nunes is surrounded by more artists now than ever. His daily goal is to support them through their creative frustrations, their inspirations, their lofty ideals, their logistical nightmares and – ultimately – toward their professional successes.

It’s probably little surprise then that Nunes had significant impact on the North Collinwood community before even moving, particularly with working artists in the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District.

Valerie Grossman (CIA ’12; Brick Ceramic + Design Studio) and Jessica Pinsky (technical specialist and adjunct faculty, CIA; Praxis Fiber Workshop) both received insightful guidance from Nunes as they pursued their dreams of working studio space – shared by an array of local artists – in the heart of North Collinwood. Christy Birchfield (CIA; Zygote Press) and Loren Naji (CIA; Satellite Gallery) are close associates. The CIA has an increasing thread woven through North Collinwood, both in commercial spaces and along winding residential streets.

While Nunes explored the neighborhood and helped his friends and colleagues in realizing their visions, he fell in love with North Collinwood. The sense of community, interdependence, authenticity and place at the table for the arts sealed the deal. Longtime resident Cindy Barber, owner of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, helped Nunes find his dream home. But it’s the sense of peace returning to his street with 100 year-old homes that truly calms Nunes after a stressful day.

Visit the Office of the President to learn more about Grafton Nunes and his leadership at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Follow CIA on Facebook for updates at the institution, enrollment opportunities, career and professional development or just a chance to meet the next wave of Northeast Ohio creatives.