Funding the Future of the Arts

Funding the Future of the Arts

A new wave of philanthropic efforts across the globe are fighting to keep the arts thriving.


T here is nothing quite like a pandemic to bring out the best in people. In March, the artist Matthew Burrows set up an online support system for artists with his #ArtistSupportPledge initiative. The Instagram scheme has proved a lifeline in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, providing thousands of arts professionals with income. This philanthropic campaign has so far generated more than £60 million in sales, gaining momentum as the world shut down.

The concept is simple: artists are invited to post pictures of their works for sale for £200 or less on Instagram using the hashtag #ArtistSupportPledge. Every time an artist makes £1,000 in sales, they then pledge to spend £200 on work by another participating artist (pledges are made using the hashtag). Burrows now plans to launch the platform in Chinese and hopes to team up with technology companies, “going forward as a sustainable model”, he says.

Artist Keith Haring, early 1980s.

Other profitable and impressive ideas have also taken off as the economic reality of the pandemic bites. In September, Sotheby’s New York hosted an online auction of more than 140 works from Keith Haring’s personal collection, all on offer from the Keith Haring Foundation. “Nearly 450 bidders, 29 artist records and an average of 33 bids per lot drove Sotheby’s white-glove sale of Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring, which achieved an outstanding $4.6m,” a Sotheby’s spokesperson says.

The idea for the sale was conceived and set in motion before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, says Gil Vazquez, acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation. “Through other organisations that we work with, we recognised that needs were increasing within vulnerable communities because of the pandemic. We all knew that the sale could not be postponed indefinitely. The timing could not have been better and was crucial to the sale’s success,” he says.

Andy Warhol’s Keith Haring and Juan Dubose , 1983, which sold for $504,000 at Sotheby’s Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring auction.

Sotheby’s has also organised other noteworthy benefit initiatives such as their MayDay charity auction, a collaboration with Google that raised money in aid of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) work during the pandemic. Lots comprised once-in-a-lifetime virtual experiences ranging from a coffee with Hillary Rodham Clinton to an opportunity to record a song with Sting, and a total of $450,000 was raised. Other Sotheby’s highlights from this year included Team Works, an online sale featuring works by artists such as Jenny Holzer with all proceeds going towards six New York-based non-profit arts organisations such as Creative Time and Socrates Sculpture Park. Sotheby’s is also a long-time supporter of the New York Academy of Art (the auction house is backing the school’s Artists for Artists appeal which helps fund school scholarships).

Fundraising is not always easy in the current climate.

Meanwhile, supermodel Christy Turlington is marking the 10th anniversary of Every Mother Counts (EMC), her maternal health and childbirth advocacy organisation, in a special way. The annual LoveEMC fundraising gala will this year be accompanied by an online auction at Sotheby’s; coveted lots include a private fireside audience with legendary fashion designer Donna Karan and a virtual cooking class for 12 led by chef Dan Kluger.

(left to right) a street in Beirut following the explosion in August; ArtRelief4Beirut founder Mohamad Kanaan.

Fundraising is not always easy in the current climate, however. The Netherlands-based artist Mohamad Kanaan founded ArtRelief4Beirut after the devastating explosions in the city on 4 August, which resulted in more than 200 deaths. Artists including the joint winners of the 2019 Turner Prize – Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani – donated works to the project, bringing in more than $200,000. All proceeds go towards the Lebanese Red Cross and the Impact Lebanon disaster relief fund.

Kanaan highlights the more daunting aspects of his philanthropic efforts. “I would say the main challenge was to navigate between this initiative and my own work… The main challenge for me now is how to continue this, especially given that I’m an artist and I have my own personal challenges to face. And there’s also the fact that the overall momentum has faded a bit,” he says.

Eva and Adele’s Futuring For Beirut I, 2020, one of the works donated to the ArtRelief4Beirut fundraiser.

Fortunately, other organisations are on hand to further support this cause. Sotheby’s is partnering with two organisations established following the disaster, Creatives for Lebanon and Art for Lebanon, to generate funds and support through the arts. A charity auction titled To Beirut with Love will comprise donations from leading contemporary artists and fashion and jewellery designers, with proceeds to be distributed among related charities. The aim is to “improve lives” and contribute to the repair of the “financial, structural and emotional damage to the citizens and the city”, according to a statement.

Back in the UK, campaigns have arisen to protect museums, as a recent report by the Creative Industries Federation outlined that the coronavirus crisis could result in a £74bn loss in revenue for the nation’s culture sector. Earlier this year, Caroline Douglas, the director of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS), asked high-profile artists including David Shrigley and Linder to design a set of limited-edition facemasks to raise money for a new fund supporting UK museums.

Mike Silva’s Jason in Hyde Park, 2020, was purchased by the Contemporary Art Society through the Rapid Response Fund for the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, England.

To date, the fund – titled the Rapid Response Fund – has raised £234,790: £109,000 through a direct appeal to patrons and major donors and £125,790 from the facemask campaign. Crucially, CAS, in partnership with Frieze London, has acquired 106 works by 16 artists for 16 museums across the UK, including a room-scale installation for MIMA Middlesbrough by Sonia Boyce called Devotional Wallpaper and Placards, 2008–20.

“Like all good ideas, it seemed completely self-evident. There was a lot of anxiety at the beginning of the pandemic, so any discussions about contemporary art seemed inconsequential. Our constituency really did understand and got on side with the need to support artists. People really wanted to contribute,” Douglas says.

collector and philanthropist Jorge M Pérez, whose family foundation announced a string of grants and collaborations in October.

Across the board, leading arts bodies and figures have also stepped up. In July, Andrew Lloyd Webber spent £100,000 on a socially-distanced concert at the London Palladium in a bid to prove theatres could open safely. Meanwhile, over the summer the UK charity Art Fund announced £630,279 in funding for 18 projects at museums countrywide as part of its Respond and Reimagine programme.

The philanthropic efforts of some high-profile collectors also stand out. The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, founded by the Miami-based collector, announced in October a winter programme featuring a range of collaborations and grants. Among them is a $250,000 grant given to the non-profit Americans for the Arts, which used it to launch a new prize for individuals working in public art (artist Vinnie Bagwell was revealed as the inaugural winner). Also in Miami, developer and art collector Martin Margulies’ foundation revealed it would donate 400 works to US non-profits to help raise money to support artists affected by the pandemic. While in New York, collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund’s criminal justice fund Art for Justice announced more than $14 million in grants in the spring.

Josh Hagler’s The Sound, 2019, was on view as part of Unit London’s inaugural Platform exhibition.

But the flood of charitable campaigns raises questions about who really benefits in the new “giving” age of Covid-19. Unit London, a Mayfair-based gallery, has announced that “in alignment with the core social principle of [its] programme”, 10% of all sales proceeds from each exhibition held on its new Platform online programme will be donated to a charity nominated by the artist or curator (for the inaugural show, US artist Joshua Hagler will support the Brady Campaign, a US non-profit that advocates for gun control).

Asked who profits from the Platform scheme, gallery co-founder Joe Kennedy says: “The benefits of the programme clearly extend beyond PR; these exhibitions benefit artists by increasing their exposure, they benefit the audience who have the opportunity to gain a different perspective on a matter or learn about something new, and they benefit the charities and the people they help.”

Walker Art Center executive director Mary Ceruti. Bobby Rogers/Photo by Bobby Rogers

How the landscape pans out, and how patrons choose to allocate their funding post-Covid, is a key issue for arts institutions looking to the future. “I think we can look to our experience from prior economic downturns,” says Mary Ceruti, the executive director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis says. “Arts philanthropy may well decline and much philanthropic giving could shift to racial justice as well as public health programmes, food insecurity, housing and other basic economic needs."

Caroline Douglas adds: “I don’t think it’ll be an either/or choice. People are looking at their portfolio of philanthropic giving and working out the best places to put their money. Patrons may have a wide range of allegiances; there will be a shakedown of everyone’s values.”

Matthew Burrows sums up, however, why this moment matters in terms of philanthropic activity. His #ArtistSupportPledge initiative reflected an economic and cultural shift as the world went into lockdown, Burrows observes. “Two things move us to action: fear and love. #ArtistSupportPledge flourished in a context of uncertainty, and it also gave people a context for hope,” he says.

Cover image: Beverley Knight performs at a socially distanced concert organised by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the London Palladium.

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