The Race is Not to the Swift: A Quick Look at Grainger's Big Give for Art Conservation

There's an old song by Queen called "I Want it All." The lyrics are pretty straight-forward:

I want it all
I want it all
I want it all
And I want it now

We can relate. Who wants to wait around two years, five years, even 10 years to get what they want? 

Well how about 60 years? That's the case with the Art Institute of Chicago, which recently received a hefty $10 million in endowment funds to realize the "long-term vision and ambitions of the institute's Department of Conversation." How long-term? The department began with a single conservator way back when Eisenhower was president.

In the intervening years, the department has grown slow and steadily. According to the institute, it now includes specialists across all media types, conservation scientists, and world-class scholars working on special exhibitions, publications and educational offerings.

Grainger's give underscores an obvious but nonetheless critical element of arts conservation: As conservation technology improves, museums need to keep pace by investing in cutting-edge equipment and recruiting world-class talent. And that takes money — sometimes lots of it.

The grant, which represents the single largest gift made in support of the Department of Conservation in the museum’s history, establishes the Grainger Fund for Conservation and enables the department to "attract and retain talent to our program, and to serve as a training ground for emerging talent in the fields of conservation and conservation science," said outgoing Director Douglas Druick.

As for Grainger, the grant represents its second big gift to a Chicago-based museum within the last year. As previously reported, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History's $250 million capital campaign got a $20 million Grainger cash infusion, earmarked for the support of new science learning programs and research technologies. 

Grainger isn't alone in its support for art conservation. Another big player in space is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which supports conservation at the university and museum levels. Click here for our take on Mellon's work in this space, which includes a $1 million challenge grant to provide University of Delaware Art Conservation graduate students, and a $1.75 million grant to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the creation of its Artist Initiative project, which incorporates living artists in its approach to art conservation and collections research.