Sure, Money's Great, But Are There Better Ways to Boost Emerging Artists?

We have a theory about emerging artists.

Call us crazy, but as much as these individuals appreciate grant money, the ego boost that comes with receiving a grant, and, of course, the obligatory celebratory dinner, many, we surmise, would be even more stoked if someone actually purchased their paintings and hung them on a wall somewhere.

This rather basic logic undergirds the new Sam Hunter Emerging Artists Fund. Launched by Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum and named in honor of the museum’s founding director, the fund was created to carry on his legacy of "supporting promising artists" who have not yet received widespread recognition.

More specifically, by "supporting promising artists" the fund means "buying their work and adding it to the museum's collection."

This isn't a revolutionary idea.

Back in the 1960s, a $50,000 gift enabled Sam Hunter to purchase work for the museum's nascent collection. But rather than splurge on one or two pieces, Hunter set a self-imposed cap of $5,000 per work. This allowed Hunter to get the maximum bang for his buck while simultaneously supporting artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly.

The new fund adheres to the same principles. The museum sets a (still unspecified) financial ceiling and purchases work from emerging artists accordingly. Director Christopher Bedford calls this approach a "fun, experimental exercise in institutional collecting," and we tend to agree. Committee members, each contributing a small sum to a collective pot, met monthly to discuss work by artists of interest, and eventually selected an artist who they believed to be the most promising of the group, and the best fit for the Rose collection.

The new fund comes on the heels of another IP post looking at grantmaker support for "emerging artists." Back in April we learned that the Leonore Annenberg Foundation announced the winners of its Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts, whereby artists who have "demonstrated great talent and are on the cusp of a professional breakthrough" received awards of $50,000 a year for up to two years.

It kind of makes you wonder. What's the best way for an "emerging artist" to enjoy maximal exposure—hang one of their paintings on a wall (the former approach), thereby exposing their work to buyers and other industry-types, or award them "career development grants" (the latter) to allow them to create work, develop studios, buy materials, pay for living expenses and health care, and pay down student debt?

Of course, we imagine artists would be perfectly content with either option. Or better yet, both.