A Middle East historian and author who is president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York will be the next director of the Smithsonian’s Asian art museums.
Chase F. Robinson will begin his tenure on Dec. 10 as the director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian announced Tuesday. He succeeds Julian Raby, who retired in December after 15 years.
Robinson described the position as a “wonderful opportunity” to lead an educational institution with a broad reach.
“I’ve given my academic and intellectual life over to the understanding of the Middle East and Asia,” Robinson, 55, said. The museum’s collections and exhibitions can be powerful tools for understanding the societies, cultures and history of Asia and the Middle East, he added.
“We live in a time where cultural misunderstanding seems to be on the rise, and what better institution to foster . . . serious cultural understanding,” Robinson said of the Smithsonian.
Robinson served as provost and senior vice president of CUNY’s Graduate Center from 2008 until he was named president in 2013. The doctorate-granting arm of the country’s largest public urban university, the Graduate Center has almost 4,000 students, including 3,300 who are enrolled in 31 doctoral programs.
During his 10 years at CUNY, Robinson led efforts to invest in digital learning and teaching, recruited several dozen faculty members — including its first Nobel laureate — and collaborated with many institutions, including the American University in Beirut. He expanded the Graduate Center’s public affairs and arts and cultural programs and surpassed previous fundraising levels.
Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton highlighted Robinson’s understanding of the role of public institutions in civil society.
“Chase is an outstanding scholar . . . who recognizes the importance of public institutions in advancing understanding as a widespread civic good,” Skorton said in a statement. “I am confident he will continue the Freer|Sackler tradition of excellence while using the museums’ world-class collections to provide a broader, finer and keener understanding of Asian art and culture and its connections to our own lives today.”
Before his stint at CUNY, Robinson spent 14 years on the faculty of the University of Oxford. He is the author or editor of nine books and more than 40 articles. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Brown University, studied at the American University in Cairo, the University of Cairo and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and earned a doctorate from Harvard University in 1992.
The Freer/Sackler is a significantly smaller operation for Robinson. The Graduate Center’s faculty and staff number about 600. The center operates on an annual budget of $225 million. In comparison, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery — two of the smaller branches of the Smithsonian — have 115 employees who study and care for collections of some 41,000 works. The annual budget is $23 million. Robinson will earn a salary of $425,000.