Philanthropy Press - Arts to Philanthropy
Art collector's sales and influence used to advance social justice
Art collector and patron Agnes Gund recently sold her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” for $165 million, including fees, placing it among the 15 highest known prices ever paid for an artwork. Ms. Gund sold the piece for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.
The new Art for Justice Fund will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein. “This is one thing I can do before I die,” Ms. Gund, 78, said in an interview in the New York Times. “This is what I need to do.”
Ms. Gund, together with the Ford Foundation, which will administer the fund, has asked other collectors to do the same, in the hopes of raising an additional $100 million over the next five years.
Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever.
“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation’s president. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”
Those who have already committed to the fund and are being called founding donors include Laurie M. Tisch, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive of American Express, and his wife, Kathryn; the philanthropist Jo Carole Lauder; the financier Daniel S. Loeb; and Brooke Neidich, a Whitney trustee.
“I was moved by her passion,” Ms. Tisch said of Ms. Gund, adding that she would contribute $500,000 in proceeds from a Max Weber painting she recently sold. “It’s ambitious, but when Aggie puts in a $100 million, that’s a real signal that it’s important and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
The fund will make grants to organizations and leaders who already have a track record in criminal justice reform and will also support art-related programs on mass incarceration.
“There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”