FUNDING AREAS: Access to collections, art history, and conservation
CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)
IP TAKE: Marrow is a superstar of the arts preservation and grantmaking world. Her decisions send ripples across our cultural waters, and sometimes make waves.
PROFILE: Deborah Marrow serves as director of the Getty Foundation, the arts grants wing of the palatial J. Paul Getty Trust. She's kept a rock-solid grip on that position since 1989. There are few arts administrators as broadly connected, widely revered, and unquestionably powerful as Marrow.
"No one is trained to be a grant maker," said Marrow in 1990. "Everyone falls into the field from somewhere else. I fell into it from art history." Marrow was quite a successful art historian, specializing in 17th century French and Italian art and writing a book on Florentine arts patron Maria de Medici, the woman who effectively made grants to Peter Paul Rubens. Now Marrow is emulating her subject — only she fosters other historians. Her first years as a grantmaker were focused on projects such as the study of Japanese hand scrolls and the repair of crumbling murals in Mexico City.
Marrow has been with the Getty since 1983, when she joined the foundation to launch a publications program that underwrote and published scholarly works on art history. Throughout the years, she has stepped in as interim director of the Getty Research Institute and interim president and CEO of the Trust. During her tenure, she has since overseen the distribution of some $300 million in arts grants to institutions worldwide.
Friends and colleagues of Marrow's describe her as sincere and a natural networker who loves meeting people from all walks of life. She doesn't hide out in her office hunched over a desk—she leads by walking the building, visiting with her colleagues, and starting conversations. She values relationships, collaboration, and democratic competition. At the Getty, she's responsible for transforming its fellowship program from insular and elitist to open, competitive, and panel judged.
Marrow is both L.A.-centric and globally minded. The contradiction makes sense when you consider that Los Angeles itself is a sprawling Petri dish of cultural encounter and globalization. When the Berlin Wall came down, Marrow responded with the Central and Eastern European Initiative, a fund for the region's libraries and scholars. When Hurricane Katrina broke loose, she created the Fund for New Orleans to rebuild damaged collections and historic sites. An ongoing program, Connecting Art Histories, aims to draw art historians in impoverished or oppressive countries into conversation and collaboration with other scholars.
Of all her grantmaking overtures, Marrow's magnum opus is Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945-1980. She spent a decade seeking to "[rescue] the endangered history of art in Los Angeles in the postwar decades, and [share] its stories with the public." She distributed millions of dollars to museums and centers to create books, archives, and permanent collections. Her labors came to fruition in 2012, with a six-month long festival of exhibitions, shows, performance, lectures, public art, and more. Hundreds of sites and millions of visitors participated in her vision. In a statement released in January 2013, Marrow indicated that the momentum of Pacific Standard Time and the model of "large regional collaboration" will continue to inform the Getty Foundation's interests, activities, and grants.
A Los Angeles Times staff writer described Marrow as "an arts administrator who knows how to keep her balance and sense of clarity." This was exactly what the Getty needed when, in 2006, then president Barry Munitz resigned over allegations that the museum was holding looted antiquities. That was Marrow's first foray as interim Getty president (her second would come in 2010), and both times all of Los Angeles breathed a sigh of relief when she took the helm.
Believe it or not, Marrow did have a life before the Getty—she has lived multiple lives, in fact. She is an art historian hailing from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her undergrad degree and completed her PhD, punctuated by a master's from Johns Hopkins. She worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, taught art history here and there, and continues to serve as trustee of UPenn and a board member of Town Hall Los Angeles. In one incarnation she was on the National Trust for Historic Preservation committee of the White House Millennium Council. Even harder to believe is that, on top of it all, Marrow has remained happily married for 41 years and raised three children.
At the Getty Foundation, Marrow and five other senior staff steer Getty Trust funds toward individuals and institutions that "strengthen art history as a global discipline, promote the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increase access to museum and archival collections, and develop current and future leaders in the visual arts."
Take a look at this clip to hear Deborah Marrow describe some of the Getty Foundation's funding priorities, and online arts journalism, in her own words.