Polk Museum’s Alex Rich on the Power of Art (High and Low)

As the executive director and chief curator at Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, Dr. H. Alexander Rich’s professional life rose another rung on Feb. 8. He was named the George and Dorothy Forsythe Endowed Chair in Art History and Museum Studies at Florida Southern. The academic title, supported by the George C. Forsythe Family Foundation, sponsors Rich’s dual position as a professor at the college.

Being named endowed chair at FSC is an honor and it’s inspiring, Rich said. He won’t claim ownership of it on his own, however. He said it is a testament to the hard work of his colleagues.

“It speaks so well to how we’ve all worked collaboratively,” he said.

The designation seems like a pinnacle, but it’s not the endpoint, Rich said. It’s a catalyst to improve.

“Let’s keep going,” he said. “This is a motivator, and we’ve all worked so well collaboratively. It was with the help and support of so many people.”

While some might know Rich, 39, for his professional art roles since he moved to Lakeland in 2014, there are some other sides to discover. Frequently, the art curator has a Taylor Swift song running in his head. He loves to swim laps with his dog, Wilkie, poolside. And he starts each and every day with an actual print newspaper.

Not an Art Snob

While he claims he is obsessed with Broadway, Rich can’t get enough of superhero and reality-television shows. He likes everything and anything on Bravo, but his favorite show of all time is “I Love Lucy.”

“As an art historian, I don’t really see this dividing line between high and low art forms,” he said.

Alex Rich and Wilkie at home

Since he was an English major at Dartmouth College, Rich finds himself returning to some of the same novels over and over, such as “The Great Gatsby,” “1984,” “Brave New World,” and “Dracula.” But his favorite, “The Woman in White,” written in 1859 by Wilkie Collins, is a lesser-known classic and considered one of the first mystery novels.

Rich’s musical tastes also run to the popular rather than the classical. He still likes the same band from his college days, Matchbox Twenty. He’s also a fan of Elton John and Billy Joel, but he can’t get enough of Taylor Swift.

“Since ‘1989’ came out, she can do no wrong in my book. Most days I either have Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift songs stuck in my head,” he said.

Newspaper Each Morning

Rich starts his day the same way each morning, by reading the newspaper. Not online.

“I vowed that when I moved down from New York City, I needed to have The New York Times delivered to my door,” he said. “I read it cover to cover every morning with breakfast. That’s my requirement for the start of my day.”

He also walks Wilkie, his miniature schnauzer, each day for about two miles as part of his fitness routine that also includes swimming. But Wilkie doesn’t like the pool, so while Alex swims laps, Wilkie curls up in his special teak chair to watch.

Transformative Power of Art

Rich’s earliest art memory is seeing the Temple of Dendur, a first-century BCE Egyptian temple, as a kid at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Met stands as his favorite place in the world — he even worked there when he was 16 years old — and he particularly likes the 19th- and early 20th-century galleries. He maintains an ideal classroom term would be split between two museums, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Met.

“It would literally be walking around those two museums,” he said.

Since he was young, Rich has known the transformative power of art.

“I’m biased, but the arts are the most powerful tool in building people’s minds and making them more aware of their own world and lives outside their own. It’s a doorway into understanding our world, individually and collectively, in extraordinary ways,” he said.

“I believe fully in the idea of promoting empathy through arts. In a world that needs more understanding of other people, I believe that art is the most immediate and most accessible form of building community.”

Lakeland skylineSupport Independent Community News. We rely on people like you to invest in the community by supporting this non-profit service. Donate