It’s been a good week in the Development department. Today I got an email from a foundation in Chicago saying we made it to the second stage in their application process, and on Monday we heard from the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative (PEI) that we’d got a planning grant for a proposed exhibition on the late American overload artist, Jason Rhoades. If it happens, the Rhoades exhibition will be huge—literally. It’s going to take over the whole museum and maybe spill into other Philadelphia spaces as well. This PEI grant is the first competitive application I wrote when I started working at ICA last fall. It’s a slow process, this foundation grant cycle. A little faster than gestating a child, but not much.
Of course, gestating an exhibition takes much longer. Ingrid Schaffner, the curator of the proposed Rhoades exhibition, would be working on it for years. This grant will allow her to “travel to the cities where Rhoades lived, worked, and exhibited his art: Los Angeles, New York City, Zurich, and Germany. Schaffner will immerse herself in the work and in the archive, sorting through papers, sketches, notebooks, correspondence, boxes, collections, photographs, and so on, developing a sense of the most useful and persuasive way to organize them into an exhibition that will engage, inform, and animate visitors.” That’s a (heavily edited) version of what I wrote in our application last October (long sentences work better in grant applications than in blogs), and now Ingrid is making plane reservations! It makes me feel prophetic, writing these words and watching them come true.
Of course, most of the time one doesn’t get the grants. It’s a numbers thing, a horse race, a zero sum game. Having a good project helps, of course, and writing a compelling narrative helps, and having a good relationship with the funder helps; but in the end—as with pretty much everything in life—there’s a lot of luck involved.
The grant from PEI is significant, but it isn’t huge, and the other one won’t be either, if we get it. ICA’s budget is made up of hundreds of little pieces–$25 dollar on-line donations, $40 individual memberships, $5,000 tickets to our annual benefit, interest from endowment gifts, foundations grants for $2,000 or $20,000 or—once in a blue moon—as much as $200,000. This is what we do in our little development department of four: cast our lines into the sea and try to pull in a little cash to keep the bathrooms clean, the curators (and ourselves) paid, and the art on the walls (or the floor, or the video screen, or drifting down from the ceiling-mounted speakers as in our current exhibition, Queer Voice). The museum suspended admission in 2008, so development is pretty much the whole game. ICA is free, but if you drop a little something in the donation box—or buy a Maira Kalman T-shirt—we’ll be grateful.
Go one step further and become a museum member, and we’ll be thrilled.
Once last fall, when I was new here, one of my colleagues, perhaps half-jokingly, called me a “suit.” It was a bit of a shock (I don’t even own a suit), but I’m over it. Writer, prophet, fundraiser, fisher, suit: what’s in a name?
I’m interested in the intersection of art and money (though we don’t use the word “money” much in development, but rather funding, sponsorship, gift, support). Art and money seem like they should be worlds apart, but really they’re tightly bound. I’m still getting my mind around the crazy wealth floating around the art world—and also the crazy disparities, so that a handful of artists sell works for seven figures and the rest are struggling to heat the studio. I don’t know of any museums that haven’t seen budgets slashed, staff laid off, and exhibitions scaled back in recent years. Raising money to support good art and good exhibitions seems to me a worthy way to earn a living.
If you agree, perhaps you’ll consider making a donation. You can click here.