An Endowment Gift to Support Top Visual Arts Scholars

Recently, Inside Philanthropy published a post that looked at the recruitment frenzy sweeping the higher education art space—and the role deep-pocketed campus donors often play here. Recent news suggests that this trend isn't limited to university campuses.

Earlier this spring, the National Gallery of Art announced a $1 million grant from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation to support the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA). The professorship was created in 2002 to recruit a colleague of "international reputation" for a period of several months to collaborate in research efforts and forge relationships across the gallery.

It's pretty simple. Each year, the gallery invites a scholar working in an area in which it has a significant interest to be part of the CASVA in order to "inspire a younger generation of scholars, curators, and conservation scientists through a variety of meetings, both formal and informal." Fifteen scholars have held the post since its inception.

The professorship, in other words, is no different than the endowed positions we're seeing sprout up all across the country. Colleges and museums alike understandably want to attract world-class talent and become an arts magnet for students, scholars and art lovers. Donors are more than happy to oblige.

The Safra Foundation announcement came on the heels of recent faculty or director endowment gifts to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the St. Louis Art Museum.

The gift also coincided with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's endowment challenge grant to the National Gallery of Art on the occasion of the Gallery's 75th anniversary. Matching funds will permit the professorship to be fully endowed.

And what of Edmond J. Safra Foundation? 

Well, its namesake was a was a Lebanese Brazilian Jewish banker whose fortune was estimated at $2.5 billion in the early 1990s. Following his passing in 1999, and now under the chairmanship of his wife Lily, the foundation has assisted hundreds of organizations in over 40 countries around the world. Its work encompasses four areas: Education; Science and Medicine; Religion; and Humanitarian Assistance, Culture, and Social Welfare.

Recipients of foundation support in the art space include the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland.

By inviting some of the art world's most eminent scholars to D.C., the foundation's global scope undergirds the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship at the National Gallery. Professors "have contributed immeasurably to the work of the Center and the wider scholarly, curatorial, and scientific community in the visual arts," said Elizabeth Cropper, dean of the CASVA.

In related news, check out my take on the Walton Family Foundation's $10 million gift last year to the National Gallery of Art in honor of American art scholar and museum professional John Wilmerding.