Artists as Philanthropists

Amidst the deluge of year-end solicitation letters from arts organizations asking for support, two events last week stood out in sharp contrast.

On Friday, December 5, I participated in a meeting organized by a Berkeley-based artist Edith Hillinger. Hillinger brought together a group of artists, curators, and arts administrators to explore the idea of developing a Bay Area regional repository for the work of women artists. The idea of a collective regional repository is very worthwhile and all meeting participants were excited to continue the conversation while agreeing that it will take masterful planning and strong financial backing to develop a successful, sustainable project.

Meanwhile, Hillinger herself is taking on a philanthropic role. She is making generous plans for her estate to benefit an artist residency program at UC Berkeley. It is truly rewarding to witness the generation of women artists make a difference through significant financial support of institutions and individual artists.

The next day, on December 6, most of the Friday meeting participants reconvened at the De Young for a panel discussion on artists becoming a force in cultural philanthropy. The panel was organized in conjunction with the Aspen Institute, which recently published National Study of Artist-Endowed Foundations, documenting the rise in private foundations created in the United States by visual artists. The Aspen Institute's study, the first research effort to examine this fast-growing field, has documented more than 360 foundations, many created in the past two decades, holding $3.5 billion in assets, including $2 billion in art and intellectual property. 

Women still constitute a very minor part of the field but, summoning their collective power, they may bring about change.