After serving the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture (ICAA) for 10 years as president, Paul Gunther has decided to pass the torch and embark on a new chapter in his life.
Gunther came to what was then called the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America in 2003, just after two organizations merged with a combined determination to sustain the classical tradition in the contemporary context of design, and its allied fine and building arts.
After a careful national search, Gunther was hired and resigned from his post as Vice President of the New-York Historical Society, where he'd served eight years helping to save America's oldest cultural institution, which is thriving now as never before since its 1804 founding.
“When I got here, there was a staff of four total in temporary digs and my mandate was not only to get settled and chart a strategic plan, but also to forge a way to spread the ICA&CA via a network of chapters,” said Gunther. “It added up to a tall order but 10 years later I look back with pride and gratitude. The accomplishments are many but existence of 15 regional chapters with three others in formation is perhaps my best legacy. Each one of them embodies the kind of innovative energy that first gave rise to the national office and its programmatic blueprint.”
The programs and initiatives that were launched during Gunther’s presidency are too long to list, but among the highlights are a full-time art and design program along with a diverse panoply of continuing education courses and public programs, an annual scholarly journal called “The Classicist,” the advent of a historic plaster casts collection and research library in the ICAA headquarters along 44th street in New York, and an affordable housing pattern book conceived and implemented with Habitat for Humanity International rank.
The ICAA’s staff now numbers 14 full-time employees with several dozen others both part-time and volunteer, who fill out a growing roster of teachers and administrators carrying out the ICAA’s guiding mission.
Gunther’s initial goals of stability and growth in like measures have been achieved, he said, “But no healthy organization can stay static. I found a threshold for expansion in both the structure and the programs it allowed. A big vision is only as good as the resources to fulfill and especially sustain them. Our late treasurer, Chris Browne, and co-founding chairman emeritus Arthur Ross, were both critical at the outset in terms of both wisdom and generosity of means. It couldn't have happened without them as with so many others. The three board chairs I have had the privilege of working with—Gil Schafer III, Anne Fairfax and today Peter Pennoyer— have stepped up as like-minded leaders besides the standard each upholds in the arena of today's classical expression.”
According to Gunther, the ICAA’s budget is up nearly 10-fold since he began, but along with success came new challenges and opportunities.
“A new leader will proceed as I did by taking stock of where we are and then ranking priorities for future viability and growth,” said Gunther. “The focus on print is already in dynamic play as occurred with our beautiful Forum newsletter now sent electronically, but we will be the last to abandon it totally. The next steps will be taken with comparable attention to the broader culture we inhabit.”
The skepticism of those who do not share the ICAA’s intent were Gunther’s biggest challenges when he took on the president title. “I worked to lower the temperature and separate content from the politics of both academia and public policy generally,” he said. “Our advocacy work for example has always been confined to what it seems to us as essential underlying principles and fair play, not as much to the daily battles which other organizations have been founded to wage.”
As for the future of the ICAA, Gunther sees electronic teaching methods being introduced as well as the continued expansion of ICAA chapters.
“I cannot stress enough the excitement of the chapter network with what are essentially maniple nodes of innovation and education in active interplay,” he said. “This cross current of ideas will keep us alert. The Rocky Mountain Chapter for example has made several steps forward including the forging of a new classical certificate program in the School of Architecture of The University of Colorado.”
As for his own future, “I will take a breather,” he said. “I will do some writing and traveling and consider the next best step for me in a career devoted to the civic realm and how in differing but intertwined ways America can best conceive and secure a better built future. One thing in which I believe strongly is change. It is never good when a cause becomes excessively intertwined with one personality or leader.”
“A decade feels right,” he added. “My work here is complete. I am proud and grateful but depart with refreshed vigor, and I leave with colleagues in place whom I hope readers have the joy to work with in the months and years ahead. They, like the volunteers and governing trustees in New York and nationwide, bring energy daily to a cherished cause that is uniquely ours in this advancing century. I depart knowing that the Institute's brightest days lie ahead.”