Sunday, July 26, 2015

Killer Heels

“Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe“ is an exhibition at the Albuquerque Art Museum and was originated by Lisa Small, Exhibitions Curator at the Brooklyn Museum  with the additional assistance of Albuquerque’s Project Manager and Curator, Andrew Connors.  You might say that I went there kicking and screaming.   I expected high kitsch. Well there was some of that.  I have never been into fashion, and even less shoes though I did have employees once who competed with each other on who could buy the most shoes at the once or twice a year sale at Ferragamo on 57th Street in New York.

I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  This show was interesting and enjoyable and made art historical sense as well.  There were some shoes that I found absolutely hideous others that seemed most impractical, such as the toe shoes with heels so that you could never come down off toe, but then, thank goodness, I did not have to wear them. 

There were 6 commissioned videos, which did not seem necessary for the show but I believe that is what is done these days to interest the younger museum visitor.  Some had warnings to the effect of R ratings and they were a bit racy but that is all unless you find close ups of painted toes obscene.

The overarching label for the show reads in its first lines, “Loved and despised, coveted and mocked, high heels are perhaps the most polarizing and intriguing article of fashion.”  The only thing missing from that description is that they have also been considered unhealthy to wear and yet men agree that they make the women who wear them most alluring!  Actually, it was aristocratic men who first wore high heels at the end of the 16th century.  By the early 18th century they had shifted from representing the higher classes to identifying gender and worn by women. Every show needs funding and one of the newer ways of collecting funds is by “selling” sponsorships in the works of art in the show so those individuals are mentioned prominently on the labels.  I thought it was brilliant that 3 podiatrists sponsored 3 pair of boots!

There are a couple of sculptures by Virgil Ortiz (1969- ) from Cochiti Pueblo.  The one that introduces the exhibition is called, “Aeronaut Pilot of Survivor Ship Armada, Decision, 2015” and lent by the artist.  The woman represented is studying her choice of shoes deciding which she should put on before taking on the world.



There is so much to see in this exhibition that I won’t be able to do it justice. One fascinating pair of shoes that is too difficult to read in a photograph are by French designer Christian Louboutin, who has a number of heels in the show.  These are called Maire-Antoinette Fall/Winter 2008-9. They are called peep-toe stilettos.  On the ankle strap is an embroidered portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette wearing a towering wig topped with a miniature warship taken from an anonymous engraving of 1778.

The one pair of historical shoes that I feel obliged to mention is British these particular ones were produced between 1720 and 1739.  It became the most fashionable style for women during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774).  A painting by Hyacynthe Rigaud (1659-1743) of Louis XIV wearing a similar pair shown on the label looks back at the time when heels were stylish for men. These were lent to the exhibition from the Metropolitan Museum, which lent several other pair as well.

A number of years ago my wife, Penelope, co-curated an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum called “Rococo: The Continuing Curve 1730-2008” and she remembered this pair of shoes from the Italian fashion company Miu Miu called Cammeo Baroque Leather Wedge, Fall/Winter 2006.  They came to this exhibition Courtesy of Prada USA Corp.


Any exhibition about fashion has to include celebrities and this show (or as Ed Sullivan used to pronounce it, Shoe!) is no exception.  The “best”, in my opinion, were the shoes that were designed for Lady Gaga by Rem D. Koolhaas for United Nude and worn in 2012 for the launch of her perfume, FAME.  The photo is by Sonia Moskowitz.  Accompanied with a quote from “Fashion” from Artpop by Lady Gaga, “A girl is just as hot as the shoes she choose”!



Of course, all the designers get into the act and here is a pair, Chanel, Heel, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2010 designed by famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and shown here thanks to the latter.


There were a number of shoes that were a hoot and maybe the funniest in this category is a pair of hooves. The design is by the German, Iris Schieferstein, called “Horse Shoes 3” 2006, and lent through the courtesy of Iris Schieferstein and Frosch & Poortman.


The exhibition being in New Mexico the Albuquerque curator would want to represent innovation in heels in this part of the world so there are a pair of Beaded High-Heeled Boots, 2011 by Luseno/Shoshone Bannock Native artist, Jamie Okuma, lent by private collectors and a pair of beaded high-top tennis shoes with leather heels by, Kiowa artist Terri Greeves, lent by the Home & Away Gallery in Kennebunkport, Maine.



Everyone who goes to this exhibition will have different favorites and there is something for everyone. The show closes on August 9 in Albuquerque.  From there it will go on to the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Currier in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Photography @ The Spanish Colonial Museum

Last year we went to a benefit for the Spanish Market in Santa Fe and as is often the case they were holding a benefit auction.  One of my favorite photographers is Ansel Adams and one of my favorite photographs by him is his Ranchos de Taos Church.  It has been photographed often but as far as I was concerned only one was successful and that was by Adams.

Then at this auction I saw another.  It shows the Ranchos de Taos with birds flying off and landing on it.  It is not a want-to-be Adams but an original vision of the church called “Flight of the Angels, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico” 2014.  I bought it at the auction and I saw another print of the image recently at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.  Anne and Bill Frej (pronounced Fray) are very passionate collectors in several areas but particularly photography and Bill Frej is the extremely talented photographer who took that photo.


The show mentioned above is 80 years of black and white photography from New Mexico and Mexico and features works from the Frej collection.  The idea for the show was Anne and Bill’s because they saw the perfect fit between their collection and the Museum on whose board he now serves.  Also, it can introduce the field of Spanish Colonial Art to a broader audience interested in photography. 

During the 16th century Spain conquered much of South America, all of Mexico and parts of the United States.  Spanish Colonial Art is derived from Spanish art combined with the indigenous styles of its colonies and they naturally developed their own style within the Spanish vernacular.  For someone, such as myself, where Spanish Colonial Bultos (painted wooden sculptures representing images of Christian Iconography) and Retablos (devotional paintings) are completely unfamiliar, photography becomes a natural bridge to the Spanish Colonial world.

An idea, however, is not enough, every exhibition needs a lot of planning after the images have been chosen.  The Frejs came up with the title,”Traditión, Devoción y Vida”; the director of the museum, David Setford, selected the works from their collection, amplified by loans from the New Mexico Museum of Art and the artists themselves for the various sections; and Reine Mouré, a volunteer at the Spanish Colonial, did the installation.  If you just start putting works of art up on the wall you will end up with extras that don’t fit or a huge gap so you first need to make models.  Here is one that Reine prepared before starting to tack images to the wall.

Just as European Old Master art is predominantly religious, Devotion overlaps the categories of Tradition and Life in this photography exhibition. To mention just a few of my favorites among the almost 70 works, I will start with another photograph by Bill Frej.   This one is the cover of the catalog and is called, “Calvary Hill, The Road from Chimayo”, 2014.  This image shows a Cross overlooking the valley and the sculpture of an angel admiring the vast New Mexico landscape.  It captures New Mexico in a way that is not easy to do.


Continuing on a theme is “Praying to Mixe God, Oaxaca, Mexico”, 1980 by Sebastião Salgado (1944-), a Brazilian social documentary photographer.  It reminds me so much of my favorite 19th century German artist, Caspar David Friedrich.  Look at this image for instance, “Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog”, circa 1818 from the Hamburg Kunsthalle with the added element of the religious crosses echoed in the landscape.


The most moving image in the category of devotion is the “Penitente Services during Holy Week”, 1987 by Nancy Hunter Warren.  Penitentes are members of a lay brotherhood who practice self-flagellation. The ancient rite remained strong in rural New Mexico. The artist, though elderly, attended the opening and talked to all comers.  Quite a number of books of her work have been published with images of Native Americans and Hispanic Villages of New Mexico.  In fact, throughout the exhibition were separate cases near the images with books turned to the page of the image that you are looking at.  It is an innovative touch, which makes sense and adds an imprimatur for an unfamiliar field.


“Devoción de Mano Lupe Tomé, New Mexico” 1989 was lent by the artist Miguel Gandert. Born in Española, New Mexico in 1956, a descendant of Spanish settlers of Mora, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado.  Gandert is a professor at the University of New Mexico. Beaumont Newhall (1908-1993), the Museum of Modern Art’s first photography curator who was the first to see photography not from a technical point of view but an art historical one, taught at UNM and was instrumental in developing the university’s stellar collection of over 10,000 photographic images.



In the section of the exhibition that focuses on daily life the Mexican photographer Humberto Suaste, (1954-) translates the title of his photograph “Recuerdos”, 1970s as Remembrance.  The word in context can also mean to “take this as a keepsake”.  The figure leaning out of the window of the train looks wistful; is it a good memory?-- maybe he is thinking of family left behind.


As you have heard this is the “Summer of Color” in Santa Fe.  Museums and exhibition spaces have picked various colors and Spanish Colonial’ Museum’s official Color exhibition is “Blue on Blue: Indigo and Cobalt in New Spain”, including bultos, retablos and textiles.  It seems fitting to me that Santa Fe should have a Black & White show as well.

All the photographs are from the collection of Anne and Bill Frej unless otherwise noted and I thank them for sending me the images for this Missive.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hopitutuquaiki

I met Robert Rhodes (aka Bob) at least 15 years ago through a mutual friend on the Hopi Mesas. IN 1971, with a Bachelor and Masters degrees in Music Education from the University of New Mexico and a Doctorate in Education from Arizona State University, he began his career as a Teacher and Business Manager at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School on 3rd Mesa, Arizona which is one of the most conservative mesas on the Hopi Reservation. He has lived there ever since.  

A few years after he arrived at Hopi he met an artist who became a very famous jeweler, Verma Sequaptewa, known as Sonwai.  He married her in 1977 and has been her business manager for the last 25 years.


We haven’t been up to the Hopi Mesas for some time but an email I received recently brought back many good memories. It was a press release from Bob that the school he started, Hopitutuquaiki. This can be translated as simply Hopi School, or going one language layer deeper, the place where you learn Hopi things.  The Hopi School, had received a grant of $19,724 from the First Nations Development Institute out of Longmont, Colorado.  The school at this time has a summer arts and language program for which their non-profit must raise $40,000 a year.  Their ambition is to become a year round arts-magnet school, but for that they will need to raise $350,000 a year.

Sometime after we met, Bob sent me a research paper he had done in 1999 on the role the arts play in Hopi commerce, which is major both on and off the reservation.  He concluded that arts and crafts were as important a source of funds for the Hopi as government jobs!  At the time he sent me the report in 2003, he felt that few had seen his paper and that it had not fulfilled his hoped for function.  I see it differently.  He took what he learned from this research in and together with his education background started a school teaching one of the most important aspects of the Hopi economy, the arts.  They are teaching language and history as well, not as in a traditional classroom but in a manner that it will be far better absorbed by the students.  He wants the students to be able to function, not just within the Hopi society, but also in the Anglo world (BTW, Bob is Anglo).  He understands, however, that one must start this education from within the Hopi belief system.

Years ago one Indian, a total stranger, on the Rez confided in me that he had been away in Phoenix for a number of years and had forgotten much of his language.  As a result his family had still not totally accepted him back.  This is how important the language is within the society, though English is a necessity as well.  We have only met a few much older Hopi who could only communicate through the younger members of the family who would translate for them. Years ago Hopi raised funds in order to establish its own Hopi language radio station and we actually own the small print 900 page Hopi dictionary, which I used to translate the title of this blog! 

At Hopitutuquaiki preschoolers learn how to pursue their tribe’s traditional crafts with an emphasis on weaving and basket weaving and in the process learn their language and culture.  In this image the little ones on the floor are in an emergence class learning the Hopi language through numbers, parts of their body and such.


 Students in the school range in age from 3 to 72. The youngsters are encouraged “to complete at least one kilt (pitkuna), sash (mutsapnguenkwewa), sifter (tutsaya) or wicker plaque (yungyapu)” during the summer.  What I found fascinating and wonderful was that often the younger students help the older ones, who may be infirm in one way or another, make their art while the older ones tell them about what it was like at Hopi 30-40 or even 50 years ago. I have always thought that a home for the elderly should be combined with a school.  The generations have so much to give to each other.  I knew one 90 year old who said I don’t want to be with old people, just young ones!  Here is an image of 3 men weaving.  One is just out of high school another in his 30’s and they are working alongside an older gentleman.


In another image that Bob sent me the students are making a ceramic tile mural on the side of Verma’s House.  Piki is a flat bread made from blue corn by the women in the Southern pueblos.  It is often  used for ceremonies such weddings, but it is sold as well, and we have bought it from a woman at Acoma.  One does not, however want to make this in one’s home because of the smoke and smell, so many Natives have a separate Piki House.  Verma’s is on the other side of her uncle, Charles Loloma’s, house.  He was the most famous Hopi Jeweler during the second half of the 20th century.    She inherited his home and the school also uses it for classes.


Two more images of the girls weaving traditional baskets and the children making traditional patterns in watercolors show further the serious activity at the school.



No one is turned away and students do not just come from Hopi.  They may be from a neighboring tribe such as the Navajo or Zuni, but also Anglos enroll once in a while.  If you think it is as wonderful an endeavor as I do you can find out more at www.hopischool.net where you can also find an address to which to send a tax deductible donation. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Huntington in San Marino

A short while ago I went to Los Angeles to visit my son, Hunter.  His girlfriend, Mallory, suggested going to the Huntington Museum which Hunter could not remember ever having visited and I had not been to for a very long time.  The entry fee is not cheap but still less than  full fare at the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Modern Art in New York and you get a hell of a lot for your money.


The Huntington covers 207 acres with a great library, 2 museums and a number of gardens.  It was founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) and Arabella (1850-1924),  his second wife, widow of his uncle.  Their fortune came mainly through railroad stock as well as utilities and real estate in Southern California. 

The Huntington is known first for its library that has 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts.  They do regular exhibitions there and the current show is “Magna Carta: Law and Legend, 1215-2015” celebrating the 800th anniversary of this famous document.  The center piece is the Huntington's own 13th-century draft of the charter.

From my point of view the main event at the Huntington is their 55,000 square foot mansion designed by Myron Hunt finished in 1911.  It opened to the public as a museum the year after Henry Huntington’s death. It has a major collection of Old Master paintings and decorative arts with a large emphasis on English art.  I remember being at the Huntington with Penelope and a museum director and suddenly both of them yelled “Wow!” at the same time.  Of course, I immediately went to see what was so fabulous as well.  I found Penelope on the floor staring at a piece of French 18th century furniture and the director standing looking at the painting above it.  Unfortunately, I could not find these pieces this time to show Hunter and Mallory. The most famous work in the collection is a full length portrait by Thomas Gainsborough called, “The Blue Boy” sold to Huntington by the famous art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen from whom he bought many pictures.  Though we toured these galleries I wanted to see things that I had not seen before.

There are some 15 gardens and we visited just one, the Chinese Garden, which is not just a bunch of plants but an entire architectural setting, with several places to sit and get away from the hot Southern California sun.  Called the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan, it is among the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China.  Architects and artisans from Suzhou, the renowned garden city of southern China, worked alongside California builders and gardeners. It is a true oasis that would be a perfect place to picnic but it is not allowed in the park though you can bring your own food to an area of outdoor tables and chairs at the entrance to the estate.


Mallory Gross and Hunter Stiebel

Though I had been to the Huntington in the last 20 years I was not aware of their growing collection of American art.  The Huntingtons did have some American paintings but they were mainly early American art that related to their great English collection, which was their first love.  In 1984 the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art were opened and Ms. Scott kicked off the galleries with a donation of 50 paintings. 

One learns that when one travels one must be prepared for disappointments and in this case a number of the galleries were closed for a major renovation.  A goodly number, however, remained open with plenty of  19th century art to see.  Here the most famous painting is by Mary Cassat (1844-1936), “Brealkfast in Bed” (circa 1894) donated by the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.


Always, being interested in decorative arts I spotted a dining table and chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), in a gallery of Arts and Crafts furniture.


As I may have said before I had been prejudiced against American art by both my family and professors but over the years I have grown to enjoy it more and more.  I also like artists when they are painting their own studio and here is a marvelous example of William Merritt Chase’s (1849-1916) “The Inner Studio, Tenth Street”, 1882, also given by the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.



There are also paintings by artists that would be more familiar to Southwest readers such as Robert Henri and Georgia O’Keeffe.  I was amused to see that of two loans by O’Keeffe the better one was in the mansion among the European works, where it was completely out of place.  I wondered if the lender insisted upon it. 

Another artist from these parts is Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) born in California travelled through Arizona and New Mexico and had a winter home in Tucson.  I know you can find his paintings at the Medicine Man Gallery both in Tucson and Santa Fe.  Here is a painting Campo Santo (1931) near Taos, NM lent from a private collector.  The picture totally captures the incredible skies and scenery of the southwest… and people ask me why I love it out here!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian was founded in 1937 by a philanthropist from Boston, Mary Cabot Wheelwright, and her collaborator, a Navajo, Hastiin Kllah. The original building was built in the shape of a Hogan, the traditional Navajo house. 

In 2011, I wrote a missive about the plans of the Wheelwright to build an extension to their institution to house a Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry.  The project had been discussed and debated for some time that there needed to be permanent galleries and installations since the museum had been conceived as a museum of Navajo ceremonial art, and, after repatriation of the sacred objects, it developed as a Kunsthalle for exhibitions of the work of individual Native artists and also historical subjects.  We have been coming out here for 25 years and known the director of the Wheelwright, Jonathan Batkin, during that time and the shows have been among the very best in town.

Finally, this June the long awaited goal of galleries for the permanent collection was reached and we attended the opening.   Though the museum had been donated some silver in the past when it was decided that silver and jewelry would be the focus of the permanent galleries the first major purchase was a collection of Native American silver spoons in 2002.

Martha Hopkins Struever, a dealer and collector for whom the main gallery is named has also been a major influence in the lives of many Native jewelers through mentoring and acquisition of their work. Over the course of the campaign, she directed many donors to the Wheelwright and, I suspect, was behind many of the anonymous gifts.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Batkin

Jack and Ann Stewman had scoured the country for an institution that they felt would appreciate their Native jewelry collection and when they saw the 2005 exhibition of Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma at the Wheelwright and met its dynamic director they knew they had found what they were looking for. They promised their collection as well as additional funds to kick off the last leg of a fund raising campaign to be able to add the wing for the study center.

They say good things come in threes and in this case it was Lauris Phillips known as a voracious collector and dealer in the field of Southwest Jewelry who donated her personal collection of rare early pieces in 2010. 

We attended the afternoon opening and it commenced with a prayer by the Navajo sand painter and silversmith, Joe Ben and his son Zachariah giving a blessing.   Joe Ben spoke about the great influence and assistance both Marti Struever and Lovena Ohl, another major dealer in the field had been.  After a short prayer song outside the doors of the new center the director went inside the galleries with the Bens who did two blessing songs in private as requested by the Navajo.  The door was left part way open so that those crowded into the ante room could hear but not see.

From left Zachariah, Joe Ben, Jonathan Batkin with artist Jonathan Lorretto

At the members’ opening the next day we saw Zachariah Ben demonstrate his sand painting technique.


After the blessing we were invited back to a large tent where tables and chairs were set out and food and drink were provided.  The director then thanked the many people who were involved in one way or another in the success of this monumental endeavor.  Wisely, we were given individual time slots to see the galleries so that they never got too crowded.  Since this first day was for donors and artists the pecking order was obvious by the times assigned!


The galleries are truly beautifully done with recessed vitrines in wood paneling.  Inside each case, on  the left and sometimes right side as well there are general didactic labels giving the history of what is in the case.  The silver and jewelry are beautifully mounted in the center of the case and below labels lighted from underneath have images of the pieces and brief label copy.  The cases are in roughly chronological order starting out in the late 19th century and going through to contemporary.  Some are devoted to bracelets, concho belts or horse bridles and others have the work of single tribe such as the thunderbird jewelry of Santa Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo or an individual artist such as Charles Loloma.

Photo credit: Jonathan Batkin

 True to its title as a study center Johnathan Batkin has assembled unique documentation of the field. In 1995 he was able to negotionate  the donation and management of the archive of John Adair (1913-1997) an anthropologist who  was the first to research the origins and early history of Native American silversmithing.  He wrote the seminal book on “Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths” in 1944.  The museum has continued to acquire documentation about early Southwest silversmiths and even some of their original tools making  the Center a must place to go for in depth study in the field.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Currents: New Media in Santa Fe

The first question is, “What is New Media?”  I quickly found a good answer at newmedia.org.  It is “is a 21st Century catchall term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound. In fact, the definition of new media changes daily, and will continue to do so. New media evolves and morphs continuously.”  It is where art meets technology and it seems to be a continuous battle between the two.

Currents is produced by Parallel Studios in Santa Fe.  It is a not for profit put together by a group of video and installation artists.  The Co-executive Directors Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano are interested in producing exhibitions to provide a venue for new media artists.  The first edition of Currents was in 2010.  The main event is always free and it seems to grow larger every year. It takes place in the 31,000 square foot exhibition space known as El Museo Cultural.  This space is also often a venue for art fairs.  For Currents it is totally blacked out with the only light on or from the exhibits themselves, and ,wisely, a separate light on the label.  There are about 45 exhibits here that vary in size from quite small to 400 square feet.  Since this includes sets of short films as well as outside venues, approximately 125 artists participate in Currents. 

There can be a disorienting nature to the dark space and ever moving exhibits so there are plenty of places to sit, watch and listen.  In one exhibit you walk onto or is it into a pool of moving water.  One steps rather gingerly if you don’t have a great deal of faith that they are not trying to soak you!  There are earphones so you can hear the water swishing and gurgling around you. In this brief video,  the ambient voice is coincidental.  I left the earphones dangling and you can see my shoes as well.  Titled Pink Noise by Yolande Harris.


While some of the works are purely visual many include sound. On a large screen, here is a detail of the Video “Noise Fold” by David Stout and Cory Metcalf from Denton, Texas.



Some of the exhibits are interactive.  We saw an artist who had a stylus attached to a gyroscope-like contraption, which periodically took images of people looking at the work. It then took bits of the image to draw until the round piece of paper was reasonably full.  According to the artist it would continue until the paper was totally full but he preferred to stop before that point.  The artist is Harvey Moon from San Francisco and he titled his work “Delta”.  He is interested in connecting people with technology through what is new in the field.

Hye Young Kim, originally from South Korea, has created a video experience called Intimate Distance where two visitors are asked to sit opposite each other with their heads together.  Some are related like Aunt and Nephew or Mother and Daughter and others are Boyfriend and Girlfriend.  The artist is interested in the interaction and also whether they will kiss or not!   Some of the videos are exhibited on a screen nearby.


An event like this also allows artists of different nations to get together to exchange ideas, techniques and understand the art of other countries.  The immense effort that goes into such an enterprise makes the project worth being funded by National and State agencies, private foundations and individual contributions. This year 40 artists had their, travel lodging and shipping paid by Parallel Studios and honorariums were paid to local artists.

Currents does not only occur at El Museo but at a number of galleries and other venues in Santa Fe and this year the organization will present exhibitions at four other locations around New Mexico as well.  It is the largest venture of its kind anywhere giving new media artists around the world the opportunity to qualify and participate.

I must admit I find it intriguing but still have trouble reconciling it with how I was brought up as to what art is.  On the other hand there have been so many art movements that have been ridiculed in their own time only to last until they become part of the artistic vocabulary.

The show has a short 2 week run and will close on June 28.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fundraising

I am writing this Missive because my wife and I have joined a number of Boards of institutions here in Santa Fe.  In need of funds, as all institutions are, it is necessary for us to understand fundraising as best we can.  As you know, it is the process by which one solicits donations from individuals, businesses, foundations or governmental agencies.  I believe that most of us find this an unpleasant task and leave it up to professionals called Development officers to bring prospective donors to the CEO of their organizations.   That individual does the final pitch particularly in the case of larger donations.


The question is who does one approach.  The best professionals have gotten out in their communities and been introduced to and met with prospective donors.  In the case of businesses it is usually easier to beat the bushes and meet the appropriate person on their own turf.  In the case of grants it is best to hire a professional grant writer because this is its own skill not only knowing which government agency or private foundation might be interested in a given project but then filling out the complicated and idiosyncratic forms in the appropriate manner.

There is an eternal question that comes up on Boards, “Why is our donor base so old?  How do we attract a younger audience”.  It is my personal belief from observation that people are wired that way.  We spend over half of our lives trying to acquire funds to reach certain goals and then one day we realize it is no longer our only or prime desire.  Witness all the yard and garage sales you find in the suburbs and country: one starts to divest oneself of one’s goods.

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

In my opinion fundraising from private individuals, and I am sure the professionals would amplify greatly on this analysis, falls into two categories: one is the care and handling of the large donors; and the other is the stewardship of the smaller ones.  The latter are those who wish to support an institution but do not wish to or cannot contribute the big bucks.  Why is it important to cater to both?  Because once in a while the regular small donor becomes a very large donor.  I gave such an example last year.

Also, the consistent donor’s smaller contributions add up.  The smart fundraiser realizes that $1,000 a year even has an advantage over the one time $10,000 donation because there is an excellent chance that there will be an equal donation from the $1,000 donor in the 11th and 12th year.


I don’t want to give the impression that young people are uncharitable but they, of necessity, will probably be more modest donors.  Obviously I am not speaking about the young genius who has just sold his company for a zillion dollars.   Thanks to the internet there is a new phenomenon that donors, often the younger ones, donate more easily through the web.  They find it much simpler than writing out a check or filling out a form and finding a stamp and mailbox.  I never appreciated the effort involved in finding a mailbox when I lived in a city with a box every block or two but in the country one needs to drive to it!  There are also crowd sourcing websites that help raise funds for eleemosynary as well as for profit ventures and I have known a few cases where people raised funds for needed medical attention on line as well.  The web is therefore a relatively new source of revenue but again not for the major donations. The latter come through longer term relationships with the institution and probably with one or a few individuals there.

 But where to start the cultivation process?  It begins with the question of what is it worth to have an art museum, a Kunsthalle, or a performing arts center.  Many believe it is so much more important to give to medical research than to the arts.   Well, thank goodness many want to give to such research but it is up to those of us in the arts to show the value of art in society and the preservation thereof.

The Lensic Performing Arts Center
I was tempted to write, “where would the world be without art” but that is ridiculous because since man invented fire he has created art.  So the question is whether it is worth preserving.  The education best starts when we are very young.  Of course, our son Hunter was taken to art institutions from a young age but he had an additional impetus when he was in first grade and won a drawing contest and his “masterpiece” became part of a major exhibition at the teachers’ union offices on Union Square in New York City.   This gave him a sense of pride (not to mention a rare opportunity for a meal at a nearby MacDonald’s. ) It also gave him a sense of preserving an art work. 

School groups are taken to museums but far too rarely, and then all too often there is only a very dry docent giving them facts rather than getting them to use their imaginations and ingenuity.  It becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.  It does not have to be that way. The headmaster, a classicist, in our son’s middle school years took his class to the Metropolitan Museum and let them loose telling them to find an object that spoke to them.  On each of repeated visits they had be able to find their way back to that object.  After studying up on it, they had to bring the rest of the group to tell them about it.  That gave each of them a life long sense of possession.  Still today, Hunter visits his object when he is at the Met. 

Many institutions bring in groups of young financially successful professionals in the hopes that they will someday become donors and trustees.  Too often these are merely social events.  The Museum of Modern Art, however, has a long standing program for Junior Associates, those 40 and under, who come to the Museum and socialize over a glass of wine but then they are taken for a behind the scenes tour.  There is nothing more seductive than being taken to where the public does not usually go or getting access in advance of others.

Anything and everything we can do to get people involved with our art institutions and cultivate their interest as early as possible will ensure that, when they are ready, they will consider contributing in one way or the other.