Gerald O'Grady

Year of birth, place
1931, Framingham, Massachusetts, United States
Year of death, place
Role at the ZKM
Guest Scholar

With his enthusiasm, energy and expertise, Gerald O’Grady made a groundbreaking contribution to the establishment of film and media studies in the United States, and to their public recognition throughout the world.

After founding The Media Center at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas under the patronage of John and Dominique de Menil in 1967, he taught film at the University of Texas and the three graduate schools in New York City – New York University, Columbia, and the New School for Social Research.

In 1973, he founded and directed Media Study/Buffalo, and both the Center for Media Study and the Educational Communications Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The first provided access to equipment, workshops and exhibition programs to all of Buffalo’s citizens, the second recruited creative artists and scholars to teach students in his new academic degree programs, and the third, composed of 100 media professionals, supported services to all 128 departments of the University. The Center for Media Study made Buffalo the focus in film theory, the practice of avant-garde and documentary film- and video-making, in computer-generated image-making, and in pedagogy.

He himself taught courses in national and international narrative, in documentary and experimental traditions, in ethnographic film, and in teaching methods. He served as a judge for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, as an advisor to the Ford, Rockefeller, Markle and MacArthur Foundations, and a member of the National Committee on Film and Television Resources and Services, playing a leading role in establishing policy guidelines and opportunities for the funding of the creation, exhibition and broadcast of independent makers. He called conferences to provide directions for the field: the first European exhibition of video art at »Experimental V« at Knokke-Heist, Belgium, in 1973; »Open Circuits: The Future of Television« at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1974; the Conference on »Autobiography in the Independent American Film«, in 1973; the »National Conference for Teaching Resources in Film and Media«, in 1975; »Design/Electronic Arts«, in 1977; and the Conference on «Contemporary Directions in the Public Affairs Documentary«, in 1979. He delivered over 300 lectures and papers on all of these subjects.

While a champion of the traditional fields of both the arts and humanities and the first to incorporate cultural studies and the exploration of consciousness in the new fields of neurophysiology and technology into the university curriculum, he was committed to international problems, to marginal and minority populations, to the underdog and to “the other.” In 1995, he joined the Department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University to teach »The Films of the Civil Rights Movement.«

During his career, he programed film series on China, Japan, India, Egypt, Iran, the Middle East, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Russia, Brazil and Argentina. Among all the scholars in his field, he made a major contribution to the lower schools. From the outset of his career, he taught film in elementary and high schools on a daily basis. He went on to support media organizations of high school teachers, and directed the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Film and Media for twenty years, a unique six-week residential program for 60 fifteen-eighteen-year-olds in film, video, digital arts, photography, holography, and creative sound.

In his retirement, O’Grady was Guest Visiting Professor to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany, where he held lectures on Marshall McLuhan. He was Research Fellow at La Fondation Daniel Langlois pour l’art, la science et la technologie in Montreal, Canada.