Giving like Herb and Dorothy

They weren’t born rich. They didn’t get rich either. Quite the opposite in fact. But they are major American philanthropists. They’re Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

I hadn’t heard of the Vogels until a couple of weeks ago when I was scanning the shelves of my local video shop for something to watch (why do we still call them video shops?!) and a title caught my eye: “Herb and Dorothy. The incredible true story of a postal worker and a librarian who built a world-class art collection”.

Using Herb’s salary alone (they lived on Dorothy’s) the Vogels managed to amass what is described in the film as “one of the most important contemporary art collections in history”.  They did this using just two selection criteria:

  1. they had to be able to afford the work, and
  2. it had to fit into their rent-controlled one bedroom apartment in Manhattan!

While the artists represented in the collection now reads as a who’s who of major Minimalist, Conceptual and post-1960s artists, the Vogels bought the works when no one else was interested, which meant they were able to buy them for virtually nothing. They bought passionately and compulsively for almost 30 years and by the early 90s their apartment was busting at the seams with works of art estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

In 1992, after being courted by some major art museums and made many lucrative offers for their collection, the Vogels gifted it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But what motivated them to do this? Why did they gift it? They may have been asset rich but in real terms they had no money!  They explain it as being because they’d both been government workers and they liked the idea of giving it to the American people.  Gorgeous!

Amazingly, they then went on to continue to collect art…..mainly using the small annuity the National Gallery had given them as a token of thanks for their gift (I love their story!!). Once again, the artworks outgrew the Vogels’ capacity to properly look after them and they decided to make another major gift to the American people. Unfortunately the National Gallery was unable to accept any more works, so instead they brokered an initiative which in the last couple of years has seen the distribution of 50 Vogel collection art works to 50 art museums around the US.  NY Times Vogel 50×50

Clearly it was all about the art and giving others the opportunity to gain as much from it as they had: learning from it and getting a huge amount of pleasure out of experiencing it. It’s such a human story and it’s so inspirational!

In the last week Australia has celebrated two major philanthropic gifts – one from John Kaldor and one from The Felton Bequest. The Kaldor Family Collection of 200 international contemporary art works was unveiled in its new home at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The collection, which John Kaldor gifted to the Gallery in 2008, is valued at AU$35 million and is the single largest donation of art to an Australian public gallery. John says that his benefaction was driven by the fact that he sees art as an essential part of life and that he felt selfish having the art in his own home where only he and family were able to see it. As he has demonstrated via his commissioning of major public art works in Australia since the 1960s, he has a deep commitment to enabling public to learn from, have access to and enjoy art. It’s a hugely important gift.  ABC Kaldor Gift feature

The Felton Bequest was left to the National Gallery of Victoria by Alfred Felton on his death in 1904. He left £378,000 in trust (about $30 million in today’s money) for the NGV to use for the purchase of works and objects judged ”to have an educational value and to be calculated to raise and improve public taste”. Hmmmm. Since his death over 15,000 works of art valued at over $2 billion have been purchased, accounting for 80% of the NGV’s collection, and growing….the purchase and commissioning of a further 170+ art works was announced yesterday on the Gallery’s 150th birthday! It’s such a shame Felton didn’t give in his lifetime, so he could have seen the very value of his benefaction. In fact with such a categorical goal to improve public taste, I’m surprised he didn’t want to be around to know if he’d achieved it!  NGV at 150/Felton Bequest

It is these gifts and those of the Rockefellers, Guggenheims, Besens, D’Offays and Duffields to name but a few, that give so much to the public in terms of their capacity to create opportunities to learn and give enrichment and pleasure. Long may they continue! The Vogel’s story makes it feel possible that it could be any one of us that can give a gift which makes all the difference. I wonder if I have it in me to “do a Vogel“?!

If you want to see the trailer for Herb and Dorothy directed by Megumi Sasaki, click here: Herb and Doroth 2008 movie


Arts funding – Federal budget follow-up

Well despite all of the doom and gloom, the Federal budget wasn’t as dire as we were led to believe it would be. Included in the Government’s key pledges to the Arts were:

  • $10m in new funding to the Aus Co to distribute (over five years) to artists across all artforms
  • continuation of funding to support its Contemporary Music Touring Program to the tune of $400,000/yr (bad pun!!) and;
  • $56m in support of TV and film production.

In terms of the new $10m funding, this will be used to support artists to produce new works, undertake fellowships and give additional presentations of their work to audiences around Australia. Grants of up to $80,000 will be made available for new work and up to $50,000 to support presentations. For a government with stretched resources to find an additional ten million dollars to support this kind of work is testament to the community value of the Arts in this country.

The shift in funding focus away from arts organisations towards individual artists appears to be a response to Aus Co’s 2010 Artist careers research. The research identified that for artists to create inspiring new work they need time, space and financial support. It also responds positively to the  New Models New Money paper, launched in early 2010 by the Queensland Government and the Centre for Social Impact, which highlighted the value of the arts in Australia and the importance of the individual artist to the growth and health of the sector. For funders with an interest in supporting artists the New Models New Money full discussion paper is well worth a read.

This provides a good segue to an interesting recent development in philanthropic funding of the Arts in Australia…. the new Sidney Myer Fund Arts and Humanities funding model. Full details aren’t due to be announced until later in the year, but what the Fund has revealed is that from 1 July 2011 it will give about 15 artists from around the country $80,000 per year for two years, seemingly with very few ties and binds. For a funder that has for so long supported Arts orgs via commonly used grant-making protocols, this is a huge change in direction. It’s great to see a big philanthropic taking risks and changing direction. I’m sure many artists, arts organisations and grantmakers will be watching with great interest.

Going back to Government funding of the arts in general, though, this time looking to the longer term. I mentioned in my last blog ( Arts Funding: England vs Australia ) that in April this year Harold Mitchell was tasked with leading a major review of private sector support for the Arts in Australia. The review will report on current Government arrangements for encouraging private sector support for the arts, consider potential new models for encouraging private sector support and develop policy options in the context of the long awaited National Cultural Policy. It doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the type of stuff happening in the UK that I talked about last time, where government is trying to leverage greater private support to try to take financial pressure off itself.  There’s been a broadly positive reception of their actions, and no doubt the same will be true here too.  The review is scheduled to be reported on in late October 2011.

It looks like there are some interesting times ahead!



In a recent blog post, Jennifer Barry, CEO of Footscray Community Arts Centre ponders “how useful the multi-year business plan is as a management tool in a super-charged, fast changing world”.  While acknowledging that business planning is essential to understanding where you’re headed as an organisation, she questions whether our obsession with KPIs and outputs is necessarily the best use of our time.  Jen suggests a middle ground, “an intelligent and intuitive balance between Control and Chaos”.

As Jen rightly says, the need to find the balance between control and chaos is not just true for arts organisations, but across the entire spectrum of the not for profit, and for profit, sectors.  And I think it’s something particularly pertinent for philanthropic funders to consider.

I’ve been pondering the same questions as Jen recently, but from the other side of the fence.  While Jen talks about the reporting requirements of government funders, I’ve been thinking about the reporting we expect as philanthropic funders, and wondering if we could look at things differently.

When we’re assessing grants it’s necessary to do the due diligence.  We look at an organisation’s business plan, the leadership, the financials, and the nuts and bolts of the project we’re being asked to support.  While I think this is perfectly reasonable – we want to be sure we’re supporting good organisations – I think we could perhaps be a little more flexible when the project is actually in funding, and in our expectations at the completion of the project.

At the Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago last year, Joi Ito, soon to be Executive Director of MIT Media Lab, gave a presentation entitled ‘Living the Pivot’. Pivot is the capacity to change direction when things aren’t working out as you’d planned.  And more than that, it’s the ability to use the things you’ve learnt along the way to inform your change of direction.  The Pivot concept is currently hot in techno-land.  Some well known techno-pivots include Flickr, which was originally an online game, and YouTube, which was originally a video dating site.

I like the thought of applying the Pivot idea to philanthropy.  Much of the time we expect our grant recipients to report against the objectives stated in the funding proposal.  But what if we encouraged the organisations we support to be creative?  What if we said that it’s ok to fail, or ok to change direction?  What if we allowed for the possibility of a Pivot mid-grant?  Both Jen and the Pivot-geeks acknowledge there’s a much bigger risk of failure when you don’t stay on the prescribed path, but that’s the beauty of it.  As Jen says, “the failures aren’t a waste of time… they just bring us closer to a better solution.”  If we allow for, and even encourage, creativity and flexibility, there’s a possibility we might stretch some boundaries.  We might start to think about things in different ways and create new possibilities.  And we might fail more often.  But isn’t philanthropy the perfect vehicle to take some risks..?

You can follow Debra Morgan on Twitter @debmorgan22

Arts Funding: England vs. Australia. Musings from Claire Rimmer

Still hurting from the global financial crisis, the UK government announced further drastic spending cuts in its 2011 Budget.  Shortly afterwards Arts Council England (ACE) revealed the impact Treasury’s decisions would have on its support for English arts orgs this financial year.  These are some of the stats:

  • more than 200 arts organisations lost their funding.
  • of the 1,330 organisations that applied for funding for 2012 – 15, 638 organisations were not funded of which 206  had been regularly funded by ACE.
  • while some orgs had their funding cut – either partially or completely – others were given an uplift in funding
  • 110 new organisations were funded.

Overall, ACE passed on government cuts of 15% to the sector.  For more information click here.

As the press reported, it was a day of mixed fortunes – obviously there were some very disappointed organisations out there but, equally, there were some very happy ones.  It seems that ACE was aiming to strike some kind of balance of support to make sure that the sector, despite an overall reduction in funding, wasn’t forced to go into a shut down period, but instead is able to grow and progress.

In the face of the cuts, the UK Government has been quick to point out how much it values arts and culture and keen to highlight that it’s doing it’s best to provide adequate support to the sector whilst dealing with the challenges of addressing a massive budget deficit.  Recognising the limitations of their own funding, part of this support has come in the form of them working to mobilise philanthropy; encouraging it to step in to plug the gap that Government cuts have created.

Arts & Business (the UK version of the Australian Business Arts Foundation which forges partnerships between the two sectors) will take a key role in connecting philanthropists with arts orgs, to try to leverage funding.  A&B’s been quick of the blocks in fact and has already launched a new “challenge fund” , the Big Arts Give – a pilot fund with an initial pot of £500,000 which A&B hopes can stimulate £3m of new funding for the arts.  The Art Fund also announced plans to increase by over 50% its funding for museums and galleries to buy and show art – an impressive increase in commitment from £4.5m to £7m per year – as well as news of a National Art Pass scheme which will give special access to art all over the UK.

This is all very positive stuff.  What is perhaps even more positive is the recognition that more needs to be done to ensure that the sector can plan ahead with confidence.  In fact two clear messages come through in the recent announcements and they are that:

  1. Government, in partnership with philanthropy, wants to fundamentally change the way people think about giving; and
  2. long-term thinking is critical, for example via the creation of endowments, development of legacy programs, fostering life-long giving, and strengthening fundraising capacity across the sector.

It’s not about quick-fix fundraising and that’s a significant step forward.

In reading about UK government funding cuts to the arts in England, I started to wonder what the score was in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, whose governments have devolved responsibility for arts and culture portfolios (the governments being the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly).  I think people outside of the UK often forget about this important nuance in the UK’s power structure.  Interestingly it doesn’t appear that they will be passing on big budget cuts to the arts in their countries.   But I’ve digressed down a slippery slope here…. essentially, I’m going to end up questioning whether this is an indication that the arts and culture are more valued in these countries than they are in England when it’s not a level playing field to analyse (only some portfolios are devolved to the Scottish, Welsh and Irish governments leaving the rest, and their funding, the responsibility of the UK Treasury).  Possibly something for another day.  Just throwing it out there.

And now to Australia.  It’s hard to make any major comparative commentary at this point because the 2011 budget is not due to be announced for another couple of weeks.   What is certain is that Wayne Swan is going to have to make “savage cuts” to his budget after Treasury figures showed a $13bn fall in economic growth for the 2010/11 financial year (the $13bn deficit being accounted for by the cost of the Queensland flood devastation – $9bn, the Japanese tsunami – $2bn, Cyclone Yasi – $1bn and the weaker economy – $1bn).

It makes me wonder and worry about what this might mean for government support for the arts in Oz.  Will there be big cuts?  Will they be made with a recognition of the potential damage that they could cause to the sector here?  Will government take steps similar to those taken in the UK to mitigate the impact of spending cuts?  Perhaps.

Business Spectator featured a story on 19 April 2011 which revealed that federal government has set up a review of the arts sector that will look at ways to encourage more private sector giving.   It will examine the extent of individual and business philanthropy and sponsorship within the arts and cultural sectors and will look at the effectiveness of current tax incentives that aim to encourage private investment in arts projects.  Leading communications businessman and arts philanthropist Harold Mitchell will chair the review, which is due to report to government by the end of October 2011.

I wait with baited breath….

You can follow Claire Rimmer on Twitter @ClaireMRimmer

How to scramble eggs. Musings from Debra Morgan

I was never a great cook, or, more accurately, I was never a confident cook.  After undercooking, overcooking, and many years of not enough salt and butter, I realised that I just needed to relax in the kitchen and go with my gut instinct (too early for bad puns?).  I realised I needed to settle in with the froth and bubble, and respond to what my tastebuds, rather than the instructions in the recipe book, were telling me.  I guess it’s been the same for philanthropy.  There are so many rules about how to give and how to give well, and many of them conflicting.  And it’s so easy to be paralysed by indecision.  After four years working in philanthropy, I’m realising more and more that it’s the gut instinct that matters.  We can imbibe all the best practice, all the case studies and all the evaluation outcomes we want in order to inform our practice, but what’s really important is the human stuff.  How we feel about it.  What our heads and our hearts are saying.

My background is in the arts.  I completed an undergraduate degree in Music at the University of Melbourne, then went on to do a Masters of Management (Arts and Cultural Management).  I worked for a number of years in arts management, and then moved into philanthropy.  I’ve been a Program Manager at The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund for just over four years, and still love the daily challenges, the inspirational projects, and most of all, the people.  I look after the Arts and Humanities program of the Sidney Myer Fund, the Sustainability and the Environment program of The Myer Foundation, and the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.  I also manage the Communications Portfolio for the organisations, and Chair the Arts Affinity Group of Philanthropy Australia.

Through my musings on this blog, I hope to share some of the heart moments and some of the head moments in my life as a philanthrocrat – from “in the shell”.    It’s a great opportunity to air some of my ponderings, question my own practice, and to start the conversations with those interested in the sector.

While I’m currently enjoying adding loads of butter and salt to my scrambled eggs, it’s likely that a few of you will remind me to watch my cholesterol and blood pressure.  And knowing my cooking history, I might just revert to the recipe book for the next Sunday brekky.  And that, for me, is what this is about – the conversation, the dialogue, and the push and pull of the complex issues we face in philanthropy.  Or maybe just a chat about how to scramble eggs.

You can follow Debra Morgan on Twitter @debmorgan22