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Rob Fisher Takes the Wheel of the Academy’s Automobile Museum

The new CEO looks forward to encouraging Academy students to visit and enjoy the rare and vintage collection

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Robert Fisher, CEO of the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. Photo by Bob Toy.

As the new CEO of the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum, Rob Fisher is determined to make the museum more accessible to Academy students and the San Francisco community at large.

On a recent tour of the museum, located on the ground floor of the School of Industrial Design, a building that was once a car Dodge-Plymouth dealership, Fisher recalled a conversation with a student: “I parked out here the other day. (And, if you’re curious, he drives an Audi R8 to work.) I spotted a student sitting on a bench and I asked, ‘Are you a student here?’ Yeah. ‘Have you ever come to the museum?’ No, but I’ve always wanted to. ‘Well, why don’t you come by?’” Fisher said, “Two days later, they were here—and they brought a friend.”

It’s that renewed sense of welcome and accessibility that Fisher hopes will drive the relaunch of the museum as its own nonprofit foundation. The collection of 245 rare and vintage vehicles, which goes back to a 1920 Kissel Gold Bug, was started by the late Richard A. Stephens, former Academy of Art University President and the impressive legacy has continued with his daughter, current Academy President, Dr. Elisa Stephens.

Fisher first learned about and developed a close relationship with the Academy and Dr. Stephens while he was the Chairman of the Hillsborough Concours, an annual vintage car show that raises money for local charities, where the museum has shown cars for a number of years. Fisher even sold one of his own, a 1970, robin’s egg blue Mini Cooper S. He’s kept his 1960 Austin-Healey, though, which he likes to take out for a spin on the monthly drives he does with his car club.

The museum counts a similar Austin-Healey among the Bugattis, Jaguars and Alfa Romeos in its own collection. And Fisher hopes to bring similar programs, like car drives, to the museum. Ultimately, he wants to leverage what he called “one of the most impressive pre-war and post-war car collections on the planet,” providing students in the School of Industrial Design with the chance to study classic automobile design and craftsmanship as well as establishing the museum as a world-class destination for San Francisco locals and tourists alike. “Something the city can be proud of,” he said.    

The New York City-born car enthusiast moved to the West Coast with his family when he was a teen, graduating from Miramonte High School in Orinda and going on to U.C. Santa Barbara for college. At the time, Fisher drove a silver 1980 Mustang—his first car—which he called, “not a very pretty thing.” And while he began his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering before switching to economics, he said he’d still challenge a mechanical engineer to rebuild a car engine. “I love working on them,” he said. “I have a deep passion for how machinery works.”

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Photo by Bob Toy.

With only two weeks on the job, Fisher admitted that he’s still in the early stages of establishing the museum as a nonprofit foundation, developing its membership program, and a docent team. Still, there are plans to show a few cars from the collection at the upcoming Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in late August.

The Academy of Art University Automobile Museum is located at 1849 Washington St. in San Francisco. For more information, please visit academyautomuseum.org.