What Element of Museum Funding is the Luce Foundation Getting Into Nowadays?

Most philanthropic groups that we look at here at IP are generally quite transparent in terms of their goals and what they're looking for in grant applicants. However, every now and then, we come across a foundation that homes in on a very specific segment of the funding world such that they instantly whittle the field of possible applicants. There's no mystery, no intrigue, just a highly focused funding vision that plays out for all to see without the element of surprise.

Such is the case with the Henry Luce Foundation. IP readers are likely familiar with the organization and its American Art Program in particular, which focuses primarily on American fine and decorative art. (For a more thorough analysis of the foundation, check out our take here.) The foundation has awarded 13 grants in 2014 thus far, ranging from $25,000 to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD. to $1.5 million to the Yale University Art Gallery.

But the foundation has been concentrating recent funding priorities on a specific element of museum management as of late. It's like when you run into a friend at a party and ask them, "What are you reading nowadays?" and they respond, "Well, actually, I've been really getting into Dickens as of late." (That said, we don't imagine this conversation would actually take place in the real world.)

Nonetheless, the Luce Foundation's American Art Program has been getting into a specific element of museum funding: reinstallations, or the act of either renovating a space or physically relocating an existing collection. And don't just take our word for it. The foundation's American Art Program has been focusing on funding reinstallations this year, according to program director Ellen Holtzman.

Which brings us to news out of Charleston, where the Gibbes Museum of Art will use a $100,000 Luce Foundation grant to support a 16-month, $13.5 million renovation that calls for a 30 percent increase in gallery space. Practically speaking, this renovation will do two things. It will enable the museum to move its collection to a larger and improved space that is located upstairs from its existing location. And once moved, the curators will 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."

Holzman and the foundation was clearly impressed. "The building is very beautiful, and the fact that they were renovating the beautiful dome and the art would be showcased in a nicer environment...it seemed like an opportune moment," she said.

So, museums out there that are running out of space while contending with growing attendance, take note: The Luce Foundation is in a reinstallation frame of mind.