On October 14, 2019, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West had a breakout night in a breakout year for a museum just five years old. The doors swung open on a beautiful desert night for a special members-only preview of the groundbreaking, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition “Maynard Dixon’s American West.”
Under the direction of founding museum director/CEO Michael J. Fox and the creative team of the museum’s curator, Tricia Loscher; Scottsdale art collector and museum benefactor Abe Hays; and Western art historian and Medicine Man Gallery owner Mark Sublette, who wrote the accompanying catalogue Maynard Dixon’s American West: Along the Distant Mesa, the show is a defining moment in the museum’s five-year history—and in the career of the director. Fox not only worked behind the scenes from 2007 to 2015 to bring the museum to fruition from concept to reality, he has been the day-to-day director, master of ceremonies and lead fundraiser for the nonprofit venture in the heart of Old Scottdale in an era when new major art museums are rare across the country. In recognition of his inspiring leadership, visionary direction and belief in the creation of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West—fulfilling a dream of the city’s late Mayor Herb Drinkwater—True West magazine is proud to honor Michael J. Fox with the seventh annual True Westerner Award.
Raised in Madison, Wisconsin, where he attended a Dominican high school and washed dishes to pay for the tuition, Fox was encouraged by his parents to be the best he could be. He was active in sports, especially football, in which he excelled as a wide receiver (named to All City and a college football scholarship), and he was the president of both his freshman and senior classes. From there he attended The Cheshire Academy in Connecticut where he met students from all over the country. He served in a top-secret law enforcement group during the Vietnam War, and taught at the state police academy for a year, and then decided to pursue a career in public service. He says, “I chose nonprofit work, specifically the American Cancer Society.”
In 1972, Fox moved from Wisconsin to Arizona. He has worked in the nonprofit sector much of his adult life, with most of his professional career dedicated to museum management in Arizona, including senior or executive management positions at the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum and the Museum of Northern Arizona.
After seven years in Flagstaff, Fox moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to serve as the director of the Mohammad Ali Center, where he took Ali’s dream and built it into a lasting legacy. Then he returned to Arizona to help support and launch Scottsdale Museum of the West.
The Scottsdale endeavor had a long gestation with numerous groups and individuals trying to make it fly. In 2007 a handful of locals formed a not-for-profit entity which brought in Fox and made the dream a reality.
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West’s success can be attributed to Fox’s leadership, his ability to inspire loyalty in donors and benefactors, and the resulting modern, interactive museum space for all generations, which simultaneously reflects the past, present and future of Western art.