A Landscape of Fine Arts Fundraising

By Alexandra Palmer

An interesting fundraising market to explore will be Europe, England specifically. Historically, art institutions in the United States and Europe developed in opposition, so their fundraising tactics diverge, as well. On the one hand, being supported by the State in Europe, people feel like the art is theirs. Whereas in the United States museums and similar institutions are primarily supported by generous private donations.

While this has its benefits, it can be perceived as elitist. Adding that to an unfortunate suspicion of education, there is no space for a unified or required art curriculum in our schools. Because of this, there is no baseline from which we can communicate about art, and no general feeling of ownership over our collections: art is considered rarified and not democratic. Which actually couldn’t be farther from the truth.

On the flip side, however, American cultural institutions have the advantage in these tough times. European institutions have always thought that the State would take care of them, but with the austerity measures now in place and it cannot continue at the same historic rate.

As a result, European institutions are looking to America for guidance in setting up American-style fundraising. In fact, at the Institute in London where I received my MA in Art History, they hired an American girl from my graduating class to be an alumni/ae development officer. Prior to her that position didn’t exist and she has done an absolutely astounding job getting it started and running it. No one other than an American could have pulled that off.

Two good books to read to explain these binary approaches are ‘The Curator’s Egg‘ by Karsten Schubert, and ‘Religious Literacy – What Every American Needs to Know—but Doesn’t’ by Steven Prothero. The former discusses the divergent development of museums in America and Western Europe, and the latter explains where this aversion to intelligence, education and by extension, arts and culture came from in America.

There will be diverging approaches to fundraising in India and China. Not necessarily to the same effects as in Europe and America, but perhaps because of similar causes. In India there is a stable democratic government and a ranking importance of family, education and religion. In the same way that microfinance has taken hold there will be similar opportunities for art funding.

Alexandra Palmer is a Cataloguer in the Prints Department of Sotheby’s in New York City. She was formerly a Prints Researcher at The Whitney Museum of Art. She holds two Masters in Art History from The Courthauld Institute of Art and Christie’s, and a B.A. in Art History from Wellesley College.

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