Area of Opportunity: A Museum Gets Backing to Acquire African American Art

Pérez Art Museum

Pérez Art Museum

As museums continue to scramble to beef up their contemporary art holdings, often lost in the rush is the mechanics that drive such efforts. Museums—particularly those frantically playing catch-up—need an infrastructure in place to facilitate the acquisition of such works and establish a funding pipeline.

One institution leading the way is Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which recently netted a $200,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for its PAMM Fund for African American Art.

The program was established in 2013 with the donation of a $1 million grant, funded equally by Jorge M. Pérez—who, back in December gave $10 million in cash and a collection of more than 200 works by Cuban artists valued at some $5 million to his own museum—and the Knight Foundation, for the purchase of contemporary art by African American artists for the museum’s permanent collection. Knight will match donations to the program until August 21st.

Before I dive into the details of the program, I'd first like to establish further context around this gift, starting with what is good news for museums.

While contemporary art is clearly a finite commodity, certain segments remain under-leveraged. Take contemporary Latin American art. Back in October, collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and her husband, Gustavo A. Cisneros, announced they would give 102 pieces of Latin American Art and establish a research institute for the study of said art at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Commenting on Latin American art, she said the region "was one of the great centers of Modernism in the '50s, yet hasn't been taken into account."

Similarly, PAMM's fund acknowledges that the field of African American art represents a huge area of opportunity for the museum. Since its inception, the fund has acquired works by Al Loving, Faith Ringgold, and Xaviera Simmons. And at an event celebrating the Knight matching grant and fund ambassador and trustee Dorothy A. Terrell's $100,000 donation towards the match, PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans announced that the fund acquired major works by artists Kevin Beasley, Theaster Gates, Sam Gilliam, Martine Syms, and Juana Valdes.

Which brings me to the mechanics of the fund itself. As you can see here, donors become Ambassadors for African American Art and in the process, enjoy a litany of benefits, ranging from free admission for 12 months to a complimentary invitation for two to PAMM's official Miami Art Week/Art Basel celebration, plus select talks and tours with art connoisseurs and curators throughout the year.

The cumulative effect of an engaged donor base is self-evident: strong relationships with grantmakers and collectors. As previously noted in a piece looking at a Knight-brokered donation from the collection of Ruth and Marvin Sackner to PAMM, these kinds of deep relationships are one of the museum's core competencies.

Of course, each contemporary art donation is a unique development with multiple moving parts, so applying universally applicable set of rules can be a fool's errand. That said, PAMM fund provides a nice model, in both strategy and execution, on how institutions can effectively tap under-leveraged corners of the contemporary art market.