Dr. Robert Breunig will be honored with the Viola Legacy Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Arts and Sciences at the 2017 Viola Awards Gala on March 4, 2017.
Dr. Breunig retired as President of the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) on June 30, 2015, after which he became President Emeritus of MNA. He had served 11 and a half years as Director and CEO of MNA and most recently as President.
Robert first came to MNA in 1975 as the museum’s first Museum Educator, founding the museum’s Education Department in that year. In 1977 he became the Curator of the Museum and in 1981 the Curator of Anthropology. During his first tenure at the museum, he started the MNA Docent Program (1975), the Discovery Program for children (1976), and the Ventures Program (1977), an out-door discovery and adventure program, primarily for adults. All of these programs continue today. He also served as curator and project director for the installation of MNA’s long-term anthropology exhibit: Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau (1980).
In 1982, he left MNA to become the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Phoenix’s Heard Museum. In 1985 he became the Executive Director of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and later, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. He returned to the Museum of Northern Arizona as Director/CEO in late 2003.
Robert returned to MNA during a particularly challenging time. Just prior to his return, MNA’s accreditation with the American Alliance Museums (AAM) was withdrawn due to the sale of 21 items from the museum’s permanent collection. Under his leadership, MNA’s American Alliance of Museums (AAM) accreditation was restored in 2008.
During his tenure MNA eliminated $600,000 in bank debt and increased the museum’s endowment funds from $4 million to $8.7 million. Robert also led the funding and building of the award-wining Easton Collection Center, a nationally recognized LEED Platinum collection facility housing more than 250,000 collection objects. This facility was named by Engineering News and Record Magazine (ENR) as “the greenest of the green” structures in the US for 2009. To protect the museum’s collections, Robert helped the museum secure more than $2 million in collection improvement grants from federal agencies and foundations.
He also secured funding for major renovations of buildings and grounds on the Harold S. Colton Research Center campus and for the Museum Exhibit Building, including a new roof and parking lots for the Exhibit Building and a planned reinstallation of the museum’s Ethnology Gallery.
In research, he spearheaded funding of the Danson Chair of Anthropology, currently held by Dr. Kelley Hays-Gilpin; appointed a new curator in the biological sciences (Dr. Larry Stevens); and, in 2004, reopened the Geology Department and restored its curator, Dr. David Gillette.
For being a living Arizona individual who has made a significant impact on arts and culture in Arizona through philanthropy, leadership, and/or direct involvement, Robert won the 2012 Individual Award at the 31st annual Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards.
Robert devoted his career to passing on a sense of love and responsibility for the Colorado Plateau, including strengthening the museum relationships with Hopi, Zuni, Navajo tribes and the local Hispanic community. He was honored by the Hopi Tribal Council on September 22nd 2014 for 40 years of friendship and support to the Hopi people. Fostering a global perspective, in 2014, he arranged for MNA to establish an international academic partnership in collections research with the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan.
Dr. Breunig has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Indiana University, a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Kansas, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Northern Arizona University, awarded in 2013. Robert is an emeritus member of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance (NALA), and recently served two terms as a commissioner on the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
In 1979 President George H.W. Bush appointed Robert Breunig to serve as a member of the National Museum Services Board, the governing board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. President William Clinton renewed this position, and Robert served on the board for more than a decade.
In recognition of MNA’s exemplary service to the northern Arizona community, the museum was awarded the National Medal of Museum and Library Service in May of 2015. Robert accepted this medal on behalf of MNA from First Lady Michele Obama at a White House ceremony on May 18, 2015.
In 2015, the Museum Association of Arizona awarded Robert the its “Distinguished Service Award” and in September 2016 the Western Museum Association awarded him the “Director’s Chair Award” for significant and lasting impact on museum practices or the museum profession in the Western region.
Robert Breunig continues to serve MNA as Emeritus President managing several capital construction and exhibit projects, including the planned re-installation of the museum’s Ethnology Gallery.
On his retirement as MNA President, Robert stated: “Occasionally one hears museums described as ‘cultural amenities.’ I reject that formulation. Museums, if they do their job correctly, are not amenities, they are fundamental institutions within a community. They can define a community and give that community its intellectual core—and its heart and soul. They can hold up a mirror to that community and help it see its past, understand its present, and challenge thinking about its future. So it is with this museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona.”