New director of Cranbrook discusses institution’s future

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

British-born photographer Christopher Scoates, who’s been director of the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach, just took over as director at the Cranbrook Academy of Art & Art Museum on Monday. Scoates, 52, replaced architect Reed Kroloff, who left after seven years as director of the Bloomfield Hills graduate school of art and design.

The Detroit News caught up with Scoates last week.

You grew up in Andover, England. When did you move to the U.S?

I moved to this country in 1980. I was actually on a tennis scholarship at University of Florida. I was studying graphic design at the time and thought it was time to see the world.

You got your master’s in Fine Arts at Cranbrook in 1986. How’d you land here?

My photography instructor at Florida encouraged me, saying there was this amazing place called Cranbrook. He said he thought I’d like it, that it was very small, like a monastery.

And was Cranbrook good for you?

It changed my life. I got to spend two years really focused on making and thinking about art, and being around an incredible group of peers and visiting artists. Daniel Libeskind (who designed the Ground Zero master plan in New York) was teaching architecture. It was a very vibrant time.

What’s your vision for Cranbrook?

It needs to continue forging a future that builds on its history of innovation and its international reputation as an institution of great excellence. The Cranbrook brand and message are very strong. I hope to create partnerships beyond the walls of the campus — to reach out to Detroit, to London, and other parts of the world. That’s part of the challenge: to continue to raise Cranbrook’s profile.

What do you hear on the West Coast about Detroit?

I think people are again looking at Detroit as the city of the future. It has a great history in terms of the arts, and between the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan, Cranbrook and other places in town, there could be a really interesting collaborative matrix of people doing great stuff. I’d like to be a part of that.

What do you see for the Cranbrook Art Museum?

I’m interested in what the university art museum of the future looks like. It’s not going to be the same as 30 years ago. You don’t talk about sculpture, painting and architecture in the same way anymore. There’s an enormous convergence of disciplines, and we look at the world differently today —there are all these screens. The way the younger generation sees the world in art is very different from the way we saw it years ago. That will inevitably have an enormous impact on way we teach, curate and create.

Speaking of enormous impact, didn’t you and your wife just have a child?

Yes. Jasper was born Aug. 1 at 5 p.m. He’s a little bundle of joy, and I can’t imagine better place to raise a child than at Cranbrook, where he’ll be running around the Triton Pools and hanging around artists. (Scoates laughs.) Of course, he’ll end up being an accountant.