Bob Dunn

This month, we’re delighted to feature Bob Dunn. With his keen eye for design and style, we often see Bob at The Shop at Fotografiska. We spoke to Bob this month to learn more about his love for design, as well as his meaningful work advocating for social justice, equity, and sustainability.

Elmer’s glue and brush bristle painting by Brooklyn artist John Beech (left) and a plaster, wood slices and paint piece by Baltimore artist Lat Naylor (right). Image Courtesy Bob Dunn

Bob, your career has spanned many unique industries, but has a consistent underlying thread of advocating for social justice and public service. What drew you to this path and mission in life?

Early on, my parents impressed upon me the importance of values and the role they play in determining whether you have a meaningful life of significance. So I’ve tried very hard to create a life that honors the values I hold most dear and use my experience to promote social justice and greater equity.

I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood where people generally got along and kids played together without judgement about personal characteristics like race. Then, in high school and college the tumultuous years of the civil rights movement occurred. I couldn’t accept that it was OK to systemically deny some people rights based on race, gender, creed, sexual orientation – so I was in the streets protesting in high school. I was back in the streets this summer. This time, I was struck by the fact that the signs people were carrying 60 years ago could still find a place now and sadly still be relevant.

You speak a lot about the values you hold close and dear. What are they?

Fairness, compassion, integrity, honesty, justice. There’s a quote by Howard Thurman – “All I want is the right for me to be me, without making it more difficult for you to be you.” I would like to see everyone have an opportunity for the full expression of their potential: to know themselves, and know their gifts, and be able to share them generously.

What positions have you held that have given you agency to promote your values and advocate for equity?

Early on, I was a college dean. I counseled students and worked to promote racial harmony at a university that, at the time, made a pioneering commitment to increase the acceptance of students of color. Later on, I worked in the public sector where I worked for a progressive Governor who promoted more equitable public policies and also served in the Carter administration because I admired the President’s commitment to human rights and sustainability.

In the private sector at Levi Strauss & Co. I led the development of a global code of conduct to establish workers’ rights and human rights for their global supply chain. Later on, I helped found and lead a business membership organization that worked with companies to promote ethical and socially responsible business practices around the world. After that, I led an organization focused on global poverty and sustainability and spent time in developing countries in every part of the world.

In some ways though, what I do now is my most satisfying work. I’ve been able to draw upon my diverse experiences to coach leaders in organizations that are committed to fighting poverty and promoting social justice. The folks I coach head organizations ranging from startups to large NGO’s with locations in more than 100 countries. I feel that making a small contribution to these extraordinary leaders is the most important work I’ve done, because I know that anything I can do to enhance their success yields an enormous benefit for the poor or marginalized communities they serve.

Hand carved wooden porcupine created by a young refugee from Zimbabwe now living in South Africa named Lameck Tayengwa. Image Courtesy Bob Dunn

You have traveled all around the world. Do you have a favorite country, or a place you hold dear?

In the last few years, most of the work I’ve done outside the US has been on the African continent. The warmth of the people there, the human diversity, the magnificence of the natural world, the energy of so many people determined to make life around them better, the innovation – I feel a special heart connection to Africa. There are a few things I’ve learned in life, and one is that I’m happiest when I get to show up as myself. People there have welcomed me, embraced my intention to be of service, and extended their trust and friendship.

We often see you in The Shop at Fotografiska. You have great style and an eye for beautiful things. What are your favorite items that you have bought from The Shop, and why do you love them?

Design is of keen interest to me. I appreciate anything that’s created with an intention to make it beautiful and functional. I feel that everything I place in my environment influences how I feel. I greatly admire the creativity of people who offer so much of themselves in what they create for others, from farmers to artisans to fine artists. I have more fun spending time looking at what people have crafted and created than almost any other pastime.

I love finding things that delight and inspire me, and sharing them with the people I love and care about is like sharing a little part of my world. In fact, I don’t own a single purchase I’ve made at Fotografiska!

I can’t say I have a personal favorite from The Shop, but what pleases me most is how delighted people have been to receive what’s so carefully curated there. Someone I am close to just lights up whenever I bring him sour berry candies from Scandinavia. I gave an artist a set of three pencils, which he was so happy to receive. To others I’ve given tea, or a candle. I often gift the WREN cement bag gifts, which are so exceptional and durable and thoughtfully crafted.

I love going into The Shop. It’s a treat just to walk around and see what’s there. I invariably spot something I know someone will appreciate. During the pandemic it’s been especially nice to see what little it takes to brighten up someone’s day.

Image Courtesy Jacqueline Chambers

What drew you to becoming a Member of Fotografiska New York? 

I live in the neighborhood just a few blocks away. Fotografiska is on my route to the Farmer’s Market and many restaurants and shops I patronize. I’ve loved the building and watched it closely through the years of renovation. I was so pleased when I found out how it would be used. When it opened I was impressed with how thoughtfully the space had been renovated. When I wandered in, the people were so welcoming, and I could sense the care with which everything was done – from the curation of items in The Shop to the uses of the 6th floor space. I felt from the start there was an opportunity to expand my neighborhood community by adding Fotografiska, which is exactly what’s happened. Sometimes I will pop in just to say hello, and the people there always seem genuinely happy to see me and always have treasures to share.

During 2020, many of us feel compelled to make a difference, but are overwhelmed by how to do it. What would you say to someone who wanted to inspire change but wasn’t exactly sure how to start?

There’s a Gandhi story I really appreciate. The essence of it is that what really matters is who you choose to be, rather than what you do. For me, there’s an opportunity for each of us to engage in self reflection and then take action. If we want to be an advocate for justice, then we can always find things to do that will be in service of that goal. I don’t usually throw out so many quotes but I will give you another one, by Carl Jung. He said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”  All of us have more agency than we sometimes recognize. We may feel constrained by what we have done or not done in the past, or what others might think of us. I would just encourage people to be openhearted, loving, and generous; and if that’s how they present themselves to the world, they will easily encounter opportunities to be of service to others and make a difference.

Thank you, Bob, for being a member of Fotografiska New York and taking the time to speak with us. 

We host Member Spotlights every month, and would love to hear from you. Please contact us at membership.ny@fotografiska.com to be featured.