A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin

A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin
A Salute to Carmela Vircillo Franklin

Reflections from Thomas A.J. McGinn, FAAR’85, and Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge, 2006-9.

It is difficult for some of us to accept that Carmela Franklin in a very short space of time will step down as Director of the American Academy after serving for five years. I had the good fortune of being present for the greater part of that period, and it is a privilege to write a few words of appreciation, as though my meager prose could do justice to her many and varied accomplishments.

The time has gone by all too quickly. I recall, as though it were something very recent, learning the news of Carmela’s appointment as Director. It seemed to me at that time an inspired choice. The experience of the last five years has done nothing but reinforce that impression. At the end of June, Carmela concludes what, in the consensus of all, has been one of the most successful terms as Director in the history of the Academy. I am lucky that most if not all of my readers know her well, since even a summary of her many achievements and excellent qualities would take up a great deal of space. It is almost enough to say that we, and by “we” I mean those of us fortunate to have been Fellows, Residents, and Staff over the last five years, have all benefited greatly from Carmela’s leadership as Director.

At the certain risk of omitting much else of vital importance, I want to call attention to three aspects of Carmela’s term as Director I think worthy of particular notice. First is her dedication to the Fellows’ Program. Next is her contribution to the Academy as a community. Finally, I must make mention of her commitment to the staff.

The centrality of the Fellows’ Program might seem like something to be taken for granted, but I can assure you that it is anything but that, certainly for Carmela Franklin. The Academy, almost inevitably, has a complex and varied mission. There are many ways in which different aspects of this mission might come into conflict with the Fellows’ Program, making governance a delicate task at times. Carmela not only did not shrink from this challenge, she faced it squarely, asserting the priority of the Fellows’ Program against all other claims on the resources of the Academy, including the most elusive and valuable resource of all, that of time. We were always and continuously engaged in finding ways to facilitate the work of the Fellows on their projects, at the same time we were laboring mightily to offer them an endless series of distractions that would enrich their stay in Rome, Italy, and beyond. That was our job, our primary focus, and Carmela led the way.

The continuing creation and recreation of the residential community at the Academy is another area where Carmela led by example. The AAR is in some ways like a small village, with a high-achieving population that is in large part ever in a state of flux. It takes more than a certain talent or conviction to forge a successful sense of community in such circumstances; it requires a rare generosity of spirit. Carmela has been for her entire term a sheer presence. Her accessibility to Fellows and Residents, to staff, to visitors, was more than remarkable. By now the numbers of lunches and dinners, of lectures and conferences, of exhibitions and openings, are beyond counting. They have become the stuff of legend. I have never known an academic who professed less concern with the progress of his or her “work.” The American Academy in Rome, that was Carmela’s work.

In the years I worked at the Academy, I learned many things from Carmela, but none perhaps as important as what I observed from her relationship with the staff. Carmela took a very deep interest in everyone who worked at the Academy. She wanted to know their views on things, tolerating, even cultivating, adverse opinions in the discussion of policy, for example. Most of all, she wanted them to grow in their jobs so that they realized their full potential. Carmela believes that being a good manager is not just a matter of possessing the right technical expertise, or even of showing many of the individual qualities of leadership for which we all know her so well. She viewed it in terms of a moral obligation on the part of the manager to do the best she could by the staff, hearing them out, assisting them whenever possible, and helping them to realize that they were capable of more than possibly even they understood. Needless to say she is the kind of administrator for whom anyone would want to work. We all came to understand this important, even crucial, aspect of community life, that its best chances for success depend on the happiness and productivity of all concerned. At the AAR under Carmela’s guidance everyone’s career was “open to their talents.”

I must leave it to future historians of the Academy to do full justice to Carmela’s quinquennium. What I have written barely scratches the surface, but I hope it gives even a vague sense of the kind and quality of the experience we, and the Academy community understood as broadly as possible, have enjoyed for the past five years. The one note I will end on is that of sacrifice. What I mean is that anyone in even partial possession of the facts will understand that Carmela had to give up something of great value in her full and productive life in order to serve the Academy in this splendidly successful season. That is not the least of all that we have to be grateful for.

A final note:

Many Fellows, Residents, members of the community and staff during Carmela's directorship joined Tom and Eileen McGinn in naming the Carmela Vircillo Franklin, FAAR'85, RAAR'02 Table in the Arthur & Janet C. Ross Library. Contributions exceeded all expectations allowing them also to establish a book fund in Carmela's name. Trustee Ili Nagy, FAAR'86, RAAR'09 announced the gift at the May 28, 2010 Certificates and Rosettes Ceremony joined by Scott Craver, FAAR'10 who represented the artists and scholars completing their fellowships this year.

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