Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Named Chair of Advisory Board

Wolfsonian founder Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. has been appointed chair of the museum’s advisory board for a one-year term beginning in spring 2014. Wolfson has been a member of the board since its inception, and he explains that his current installation as chair was precipitated by the stepping down of long-term museum director Cathy Leff as well as that of FIU’s provost Douglas Wartzok.

“I intend that my presence as chair will provide stability, continuity, and progress during a transitional time for the museum after the loss of its director and the appointment of a new provost at Florida International University,” says Wolfson. “We are entering a new and exciting stage in The Wolfsonian’s development. We’re near the beginning of our current five-year strategic plan, adopted in 2013, which is aimed at bringing the institution to its next level. My major objective is to sustain and advance The Wolfsonian–FIU and its strategic plan.”

Wolfson cites several recent major developments and achievements as building blocks for the future, including the award of a five million dollar lead gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the second three-year, five hundred thousand dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support museum-university educational initiatives; and the integration into The Wolfsonian of the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Study Centre in downtown Miami and the promised gift of its approximately twenty-five thousand items.

“Above all, our goal is to continue to build on the impressive foundation that Cathy Leff established during her seventeen years as director and her many accomplishments. She succeeded in putting the museum on the map. Her work was invaluable in establishing The Wolfsonian’s national and international reputation as an academic museum and research center known for its singular collection, thoughtful and provocative exhibitions and programs, and commitment to education,” he says.

Wolfson looks forward to working closely with the university to achieve mutual goals, which include the search for the next museum director and fostering The Wolfsonian’s growth, particularly in the areas of research, scholarship, educational outreach, and greater public online access to the collection through innovative digital initiatives. During the search for the new director, the museum’s interim directors are Sharon Aponte Misdea, deputy director for collections and curatorial affairs, and Casey Steadman, deputy director for business affairs.

Nearly three decades ago, in 1986, Wolfson established The Wolfsonian’s precursor, The Wolfsonian Foundation, as a research center in Miami Beach. It was then, after many years of collecting, that work towards developing a museum began in earnest. That same year, Wolfson began publishing the award-winning Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. In 1997 he donated his collection and the museum’s building to Florida International University. He is also the founder of the Wolfsoniana in Genoa, a museum and research center, and of the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Study Centre in Miami.

Wolfson sits on many educational, civic, and cultural boards and is the recipient of several awards. He is a trustee for both the Mitchell Wolfson Senior Foundation, which supports education and health, and the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation, which supports the Audubon House and Gardens in Key West. He is a member of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art and the International Council of Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A graduate of Princeton University, Wolfson serves on the advisory council of its Department of Comparative Literature. He is also on the executive planning committee for the Bard Graduate Center. Recently, he was named an honorary member of the Accademia Ligure di Scienze e Lettere, Genoa. He is co-author of the 2005 book Miami Beach: Blueprint of an Eden.

In other advisory board appointments, chair emeritus Finlay Matheson has re-joined the board as one of its vice chairs. Matheson is a long-time Wolfsonian supporter and advocate who has made significant contributions to the collection as well as the museum fund. One of his donations, the Edison Bipolar Dynamo, a direct current generator c. 1887, is prominently displayed on the walkway leading to the Museum Shop. An active collector of engines, Matheson has amassed a world-renowned collection.

Matheson’s fellow vice chairs are Alex Hurst, Michael Kreitzer, Philip Scaturro, Gary Wasserman, and Louis Wolfson. “We are fortunate to have as vice chairs a group of people who are major figures in local and national philanthropy, with an enormous amount of experience with nonprofits and proven financial and business acumen,” says Wolfson. 


Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.
Photo: Lynton Gardiner