Exclusive Interview: Appleton’s New Director Jason Steuber

The College of Central Florida today announced the appointment of Jason Steuber as the new director of the Appleton Museum of Art, College of Central Florida (CF). Ocala Style sat down  with the museum’s new director for an exclusive chat about his appointment, goals and his passion for art.

“There is an ordinary way to experience a museum and an extraordinary way,” Steuber explains. “If you don’t get goose bumps at least once at the museum, we need to find something that is going to give you that goose bumps experience. As the director, I need to ensure that we are offering those types of moments.”

Steuber, who has more than 20 years of curatorial and project management experience with American Alliance of Museums-accredited museums, found his passion for the art world when he had just such a goose bumps moment during a trip to China while he was in college.

“I had this visceral experience and had to get the fix again,” he recalls. “That sort of experience lends itself to any easy way to understand and learn about art, but also forget that you are learning.”

Providing those types of visceral experiences are only part of the challenge he faces as director, but Steuber is confident that he is up for that challenge.

“The opportunity is so exciting because I am ready for it,” he offers with a broad smile. “And the team is ready. I have assured them that I know how it is to work with a director. I am here for their benefit and will take what I have learned from my former directors and apply that, as well as my own experiences. We are going to go the cliff’s edge, but I will have ahold of the rope and I have your back.”

Steuber is well known for his high-profile role as the Cofrin Curator of Asian Art Endowed Chair at the Samuel P. Harn Museum at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he successfully oversaw the addition of a $20 million Asian art wing. He is an award-winning Asian Art historian and has been an art museum leader and financial decision maker for the past 10 years at the Harn.

And although he has advised on the conservation of some of the Appleton’s works, one of his first experiences at the museum was more personal than professional and still tickles the new director.

“When I was first dating my wife-to-be, she came to Gainesville. I thought we’ll do a day trip. We can check out alligators in Payne’s Prairie, look at the magnolia trees in McIntosh, visit the Appleton, a mix of old-Florida and new-Florida experiences,” Steuber explains.  “So we were here at the Appleton. It was a date, so very formal and proper. And I thought we should get something to eat. I said, there are a lot of great restaurants here in Ocala. We can pick one of those…or we could just get some barbecue. And there was this moment when we agreed, yes barbecue…yes, all you can eat. Yes! So there was this very funny moment where we went from all this beautiful art to getting our hands dirty and having a great meal together. And that’s a meaningful thing. Eleven years on and we still joke about it.”

Over the years, Steuber explains that he has worked with the curators and become friends with them.

“So when the opportunity came up, I felt it was a very meaningful opportunity for me to be part of this team,” he offers. “I have seen the growth and what they want to do in the future. I can also see the Ocala arts community coming together. I believe that I can be successful in this role.”

CF’s President Dr. James Henningsen also believes Steuber is destined for success. “He is well equipped to build on our past successes and move forward in implementing our strategic priorities for the museum. I was impressed with his experience at both the national and international levels, and his expertise in Asian art, which is one of the focal areas of our permanent collection. He has a proven track record in engaging civic and academic communities, as well as museum patrons and donors. I look forward to Jason getting involved with our growing and vibrant arts community.”

One of Steuber’s strengths and areas of focus when he assumes the role will be engaging the community through many avenues, including further strengthening the arts education programs. Henningsen goes on to say, “I was also impressed with his passion for making the arts accessible to everyone, including those who haven’t been exposed to arts that might be hesitant to visit our museum,” Henningsen continues.

“This is an exciting time for the Appleton. We welcome Jason Steuber as the new director and look forward to him bringing his experience and ideas to the team to help grow our already-successful museum into even more of a treasure.”

The museum’s permanent collections of approximately 18,000 objects include European, American, Asian, African, Contemporary and pre-Columbian art and artifacts, and a series of temporary traveling exhibitions are presented throughout the year. The museum is also building a collection of works of Florida artists that relates directly to the history and cultural heritage of the Central Florida community.

Steuber will officially join the Appleton team on Sept. 16.

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