ROGER BERKOWITZ A man of the arts
By LAURIE M. FISHER
This is a year of celebration for Youngstown native Roger Berkowitz.
The executive director of the Toledo Museum of Art leads his institution to commemorate its centennial and next month will receive the 2002 Governor's Award from the Ohio Council for Art Administration.
"It's always good to know you are doing the job right," Berkowitz said in a recent telephone interview. "The award is very nice recognition. The Toledo Museum has been around a long time," he said, noting that he attributes his success as seventh museum director to the directors who worked before him.
Early days: Years before he became a professional art collector and manager, Berkowitz said he had an early interest in collecting. The former North Side resident said he accumulated miniatures and stamps as a child.
"I remember frequent trips to Strouss-Hirshberg's downtown to buy stamps."
His parents, Rabbi Sydney and Pauline Berkowitz, also took him to the Butler Institute of American Art to admire American art collections.
"I took one painting course there in fifth or sixth grade," he recalled. "When I took that course, it became clear to me that art was going to have to be a spectator sport."
After graduating from Rayen High School in 1962, Berkowitz earned a degree in psychology from Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 1966.
"What really took hold for me when I was at Western Reserve," he said, "was frequent trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art." During his senior undergraduate year he spent six months in London and Paris. "I visited an incredible number of museums," he said, noting that he became interested in a career in museums rather than just an avocation
Berkowitz studied 19th century English and decorative arts at the University of Michigan, where he received a master's in museum practice in 1970 and a Ph.D. in 1977. He began his career at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1974 as curator of decorative arts and worked as chief curator and deputy director before he became director in 1999.
Museum growth: Berkowitz attributes the expansion of the museum collection to the wisdom of the founders. "Glass magnate Edward Drummond Libbey and his wife, Florence Scott Libbey, had the foresight to see the museum prosper," Berkowitz explained. The couple set up a trust so that the income supported both operations and acquisitions.
The money for acquisitions made the difference, he said. It allowed administrators to put together an impressive collection. A century after its inception, the museum continues to acquire and show impressive exhibitions.
In March, "Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum" will open. The museum was only one of two stops for an exhibition of Michaelangelo's drawings. Another traveling show demonstrated the effect of art on pop culture featuring the "Star Wars" saga.
Berkowitz said the success of the museum reflects the artistic and industrial strengths of the city of Toledo. For example, the museum pioneered an exhibition examining the industrial design profession that included creation of scales, Jeeps, spark plugs and fiberglass.
In an effort to expand the museum's audience, a 2-acre sculpture garden was recently dedicated. "We are trying to make museums more of a campus, not just an isolated building," he said. Nearby, a former medical professional building houses museum and Toledo Symphony offices.
Glass collection: Perhaps the most ambitious current project is a $60 million capital campaign for a new center for glass to be built across the street from the museum. He said nearly $54 million has been raised to date.
"The Toledo Museum's glass collection is considered to be the single largest of any in the world," Berkowitz explained. "This will give us a chance to showcase the collection."