If you're reading this post while, say, eating a nice omelette , I'd like to call your attention to the parsley adorning the plate. We can all agree the parsley makes the meal more enticing. Presentation is everything.
We can also agree—beyond the fact that the omelette analogy was rather forced—that presentation is critical in the curatorial space. There is an art to displaying art. So why don't funders devote more attention to it?
The short answer is that it lacks pizazz. Inside Philanthropy is chock full of posts looking at expensive capital projects, multi-million-dollar donations of collections, and impressive endowment gifts, but we've reported on very few grantmaking efforts toward making the art itself look enticing.
One exception is the Henry Luce Foundation, which just awarded a three-year grant of $825,000 to the Worcester Art Museum to support a series of projects focused on the museum's collection of pre-contemporary American art.
No one should be entirely surprised by this news.
All the way back in 2014, I wrote a post titled "What Element of Museum Funding is the Luce Foundation Getting Into Nowadays?" The element in question was "reinstallations, or the act of either renovating a space or physically relocating an existing collection," through its American Art program.
For example, a previous recipient, the Charleston-based Gibbes Museum of Art, netted a grant to help it increase its gallery space and arrange the art in chronological order to "allow viewers to see the progression of artistic trends and styles, as well as get a peek into Southern history."
The gift to Worcester, meanwhile, supports a new series of installations and rotating exhibitions that will highlight works that "have received less attention for research and exhibition in the last 20 years," to quote Jon L. Seydl, the museum's director of curatorial affairs and curator of European art.
This is important stuff. After all, many big-time collectors create their own galleries because they don't want to see their prized Cezanne sitting in a climate-controlled storage locker due to lack of space in an established institution. And given the current curatorial landscape, it's a valid concern. With the contemporary art boom showing no signs of abating, acquisition departments may create a situation where their institution has too much work and too little space.
The gift is yet another big windfall for the Worcester Art Museum. As previously noted, the museum has been able to carve out a successful role for itself as a "small town" institution without the "big city" trappings of high-risk capital projects.
In an interview with IP, the museum's director of philanthropy, Nora Maroulis, made it clear that hunting such big game isn't the top priority for WAM's development operation. Although large gifts are wonderful, “It’s really about garnering the constancy of individual support, either through annual giving plus campaign giving” that matters, she said.