Birmingham Museum of Art Selects Attorney Ralph Cook as New Chairman of the Board
The Board of Directors of the Birmingham Museum of Art has unanimously selected Ralph Cook, an attorney and former associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to be chairman of the board for the next three years. Cook, a longtime supporter of the Museum and a member of the board will take office in September after the term of Thomas L. Hamby.
“I am personally excited about my upcoming role as chairman of the Museum board,” Cook said. “I look forward to working with the board, the City of Birmingham and groups across our region to maintain the high quality that exists at the Museum and to continue to work for exhibitions and programs that will appeal to citizens of our city and state.”
Cook becomes the first African-American in the Museum's 60-year history to hold the post as chairman of the board. While that makes his appointment historic, his appointment says much more about his outstanding qualifications to lead. As the latest in a long line of distinguished Birmingham residents to head the board, Cook is described as “a man of vision and great integrity,” by Board Governance Chairman Jim Sokol.
“It is always a challenge to run a big institution like this that is so important to the city and the state and I've been honored to do that,” Hamby said. “I am pleased that the Governance Committee and myself have selected Judge Ralph Cook as our Chairman. We are honored and look forward to his leadership and supporting him.”
Museum Director Gail Andrews agreed. “We are thrilled with the selection of Judge Cook as our next Board chair,” she said. “I have been so impressed with his thoughtfulness and willingness to think about the Museum's long term plans, both challenges and opportunities. His dedication and integrity are well-known in our community and all of us are excited about working with him.”
Since 2001, Cook has been an attorney with the law firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell, and Newton. Before that however, he spent a career on the bench that spanned 24 years. From 1993 until 2001, Cook was an associate justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, first as a political appointee, then elected to that position.
Until taking his place at the state's highest court, Cook served as a circuit judge in the Bessemer Cut-off Division of the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Jefferson County from 1981 to 1993. In that capacity, Cook adjudicated domestic relations cases and lawsuits filed in civil court. Before circuit court, Cook was a district judge working in Jefferson County Family Court in the Bessemer Division for more than 4 years.
In addition to his time on the bench, Cook served 24 years as a professor at Miles College Law School and Dean of the law school there. His teaching credits include Miles, San Jose State University, and Cabrillo College in California.
As a lawyer, Cook worked as an assistant Jefferson County district attorney in Bessemer, as well as in private practice. He earned his juris doctor degree from Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC. A member of bar associations in Alabama, California, and nationally, Cook also is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and a member --- and often in leadership roles -- of a number of judicial, community and civic organizations, many of which have awarded him honors.
Included in the list: the West Jefferson Kiwanis Club, Alabama District of Kiwanis International, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, The Salvation Army, Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, Bessemer Hall of History, Bessemer YMCA, Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, St. Vincent’s Foundation, Alabama Power Company, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Business Alliance, the Quarterback Club, and of course, the Birmingham Museum of Art.
During his political career, Cook has been appointed to high office in Alabama by both Governors Fob James and Jim Folsom, Jr. - a Republican and a Democrat -- and is widely held in respect throughout the state and across the nation. “There could be no better choice for leading the Museum board of directors than Ralph Cook,” said Birmingham Mayor William Bell. “Over the years and in everything he’s done, he has demonstrated outstanding judgment and leadership, which is what all institutions need. I’m confident that his experience, wisdom, and good common sense will benefit the Museum and the Birmingham community.”
Cook considers his appointment as Museum Board Chairman as an opportunity to further help the institution reach its goals of engaging the whole of our community through art, scholarship, and programs that educate, entertain, and enlighten.
“We are fortunate to live in a city that considers the arts an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. This Museum is important to the City of Birmingham as well as the entire state,” Cook said. “The exposure to the arts that it provides is on par to what is available in many larger cities in the country. In addition, it is a fun place to come.”
Cook cited BMA exhibitions such as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Pompeii: Tales from an Eruption, as examples of how the Museum enhances the life of the greater Birmingham community. “There was a time in order to see exhibitions like the ones that I mentioned, it would require travel to museums out of this region,” Cook said. Additionally, he noted the popularity of the annual art and music series Art On The Rocks and the Museum's cafe, Oscar's.
“Art not only provides enrichment,” Cook said. “It contributes to the vicarious experiences that enhances one's life. I would hope that many more of our citizens will take advantage of the opportunity to visit their Museum -- which I might mention, has free admission to the visiting public. I believe they will not be disappointed.”
About the Birmingham Museum of Art: Founded in 1951, the Birmingham Museum of Art has one of the finest collections in the Southeast. More than 24,000 objects displayed and housed within the Museum represent a rich panorama of cultures, including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American. Highlights include the Museum’s collection of Asian art, Vietnamese ceramics, the Kress collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the late 13th century to the 1750s, and the Museum’s world-renowned collection of Wedgwood, the largest outside of England.