On Friday, Oct. 10, I.D. Aruede, the co-chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, spoke at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business Event Hall as part of Fairfield University’s Open Visions Forum: Espresso. This was a Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts event in affiliation with the Fairfield University Art Museum.
Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D, professor of art history at Fairfield University, welcomed the audience to the event. Senior Diallo Simon-Ponte, an English literature major with minors in art history and economics, introduced I.D. Aruede to the stage.
I.D. Aruede left his home country of Nigeria after high school and moved all the way to the United States. He planned to live with his cousin, who he had only met once before as a child. A week before Aruede was going to move, his mother got a call that his cousin had gotten married. What a disaster, he thought. He was going to move in with newlyweds.
He made the move to the United States anyway. To this day, he has found a supportive and loving extended family with his cousin and his cousin’s wife’s family.
Aruede majored in accounting at Morgan University, a historically black college, and he received his master’s in business administration at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
After working in finance on Wall Street for several years, Aruede realized he wanted a career change. He applied to work at the Whitney. And he got the job.
“My job is a means to an end,” Aruede said. As CFO, Aruede ensures that the Whitney has the funds to fulfill its founding ethos: supporting artists first.
This was the original idea of Whitney founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who opened the museum in Greenwich Village in 1933 to help artists, often supporting them before their work received acclaim. Risk-taking is part of the institutional fabric of the Whitney.
This is why the Whitney’s move from Madison Avenue to its current home in Greenwich Village was so important. From 1966- 2014, the Whitney Museum looked more like a fortress. The world has changed significantly in the 48 years since the museum had been built, and the Whitney needed to reflect that change.
But before this change could come to life, there were some financial issues to tackle. The Whitney had to go 125 million dollars into debt for a new building.
Aruede and his colleagues decided to increase fundraising for the Whitney to 225 million dollars, making sure that these funds would cover the debt and leave enough money to expand the Whitney’s educational and outreach programs for children in the community.
In 2015, the Whitney moved to its current location in the Meatpacking District, near its original location in Greenwich Village. The new design of the current Whitney is inviting, with open spaces and bright glass walls that reflect the city and reveal the wonders of the art inside. It embraces the community and the world as a whole.
During the last twenty minutes of the event, there was a panel discussion with Eliasoph, Professor Danielle Ogden, and Carey Mack Weber. Ogden is an art history professor at Fairfield University and an art consultant dedicated to working with artists and establishing relationships with new and seasoned collectors, and Weber is the Frank and Clara Meditz executive director of the Fairfield University Art Museum.
Ogden asked Aruede, “There is a lot of risk-taking and vulnerability in the museum field. Could you share something in your life where you failed and how you learned from it?”
Aruede nodded. “Failure…”
At this comment, Eliosoph smiled. “Your worst nightmare!”
Aruede laughed, and then said, “After I left my job in finance, I felt like a failure at that moment…My first office was clearly a converted closet…But now I don’t view it as a failure.”
He views it as a win.
Senior Emily Slama, an international business major with minors in legal business law and ethics, said that Aruede’s speech made her realize how accessible the art world can be.
“His entire presentation made me so hopeful for the future, not just for me, but for students everywhere. Now I am interested in seeing all the different aspects of the art world… I feel that it is going to be one of my major focuses going forward…I am excited!” Slama said.
Senior Matthew Waldemar, an art history major, said that Aruede’s speech gave him perspective on the industry.
“What I loved the most about his speech was when he said that you need to invest in what you love, because that’s what brings you joy, success and fulfillment, however you define success,” Waldemar said.
“He showed me that I can really do anything.”