Students in the museum studies class of the CMA/CWRU joint program in art history and museum studies have spent the past year researching the museum’s first director, Frederic Allen Whiting. Their capstone project is a Wikipedia page devoted to Whiting and his career in the arts. An unassuming figure, he is sometimes neglected when compared to the more colorful William Milliken and Sherman Lee. But his selection as our first director speaks volumes about the trustees’ plans for the museum and its role in the community.
Known as a promoter of industrial arts and as an educator, Whiting spent twelve years as Secretary of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston before taking his first museum job as director of the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Less than a year later, in 1913, he was appointed first director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He quickly outlined museum policies. With only a very small permanent collection Whiting recommended a continuous series of temporary exhibitions including an annual juried exhibition of Ohio artists. In order to establish the museum’s individuality he suggested focusing collecting efforts on the art of India, an area not yet adequately represented in American museums. Most importantly, he saw the museum as an educational institution with the opportunity and responsibility of forging relationships with the community through schools, businesses, community groups, and others. The museum's education department achieved national distinction under his guidance and the May Show became a mainstay of the annual exhibition calendar.