Snowball Effect: How a Local Gift "Nudged" a Donor Towards Arts Philanthropy

In a recent post examining the formation of the Davyd Whaley Foundation, we likened the Southern California arts philanthropy scene to Swiss cheese, noting that while "the region may be (aesthetically) enticing, savory, and fulfilling, it's nonetheless riddled with holes."

And so the foundation set up shop to address a blind spot—the lack of direct funding to "under-recognized, mid-career artists" and teacher-artists in the Los Angeles area. 

The provocative (and delectable) analogy aside, we don't want to give the impression that Los Angeles grantmakers don't support their native artists and organizations. Take the Hammer Museum's Mohn Awards, funded by Jarl and Pamela Mohn, for example.

Totaling $150,000, the awards, which are granted for artistic excellence to a Los Angeles artist featured in the museum’s biennial, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only,are among the largest art prizes dedicated to emerging and under-recognized artists in the region. 

And the winner is?

That would be Adam Linder, an Australia-born, L.A.-based dancer and choreographer, whose Klein Paradiso "pokes a stick at the abstract." "It’s a big deal," Linder said, because "[dance] is definitely not at the top of the disciplinary pinnacle in [museums]. But I think performance and dance have had a resurgent invitation into the visual arts and museological practice in the last decade to two decades."

But there's more. The museum also announced the winners of its Career Achievement Award ($25,000) and the Public Recognition Award ($25,000). The former went to Wadada Leo Smith while the latter went to Kenzi Shiokava.

"The Hammer's Made in L.A. biennial has quickly become known as a definitive source of recognizing brilliant new emerging artists and long time under-recognized creators of innovative art," said the award's namesake and funder, Jarl Mohn. "This biennial is the early forecast system for creative genius in Los Angeles."

We recently published an extensive profile on Jarl Mohn here. In short, he's best known as the CEO of National Public Radio and for his support of Southern California Public Radio and KPCC-FM. But what, precisely, was the impetus for funding the awards?

For an answer, we turn to a variant on the domino theory that stipulates that "past giving leads to more giving." To hear the LA Times tell it:

The Mohns were inspired by the Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions, funded by the Getty Foundation, which have brought local arts organizations together to explore subjects such as the history of art in California or the region's role as a hotbed for cutting-edge architecture.

Their funding of the prizes, Jarl Mohn says, is an attempt to support a handful of emerging artists from Los Angeles with something that is "meaningful and impactful."

And so emerging and under-recognized L.A. artists now have another avenue for direct funding, the beneficiaries of a motivating and (quite possibly) competitive dynamic whereby innocuous and isolated gifts can, over time, snowball into impactful funding for the region at large.

"I was so impressed by what the institutions had done in Southern California, that everyone would work together," Jarl Mohn says. "It was a gift to the artistic community and that nudged me."