grew up in a house filled with blue-chip art--names you've
heard of at unheard-of prices: Breughel, Kandinsky, Dubuffet,
and Munch among them. Consulting his own taste and the
expertise of dealers and curators, my father has developed
a remarkable collection, one that has rapidly grown in
financial value since the art market skyrocketed. Yet,
like all collectors who consider themselves connoisseurs
rather than investors, he purchased these works out of
love, not hope of financial gain.
my father, collecting is a thrilling game of acquisition.
He delights in researching a piece, contacting dealers,
traveling to see the work, bidding on it at auction--all
in hopes of capturing the gestalt of a certain artist
or body of work. Often I've heard him express pride in
the fact that his collection of this artist is the largest
in the United States, or that the only other known edition
of that print is owned by the Metropolitan Museum. Like
many collectors, my father has a passion for filling in
blanks, completing a set. If Breughel created a series
of engravings on the seven virtues and the seven vices,
my father would not be truly happy until he had a complete
set of each.
I have no doubt about his great love for these works,
I have less often heard him exclaim over a work's formal
properties, its intellectual context, or the life of the
artist who created it--all the things that give art meaning
for me. A number of years ago, I remember standing with
my dad before a beautiful but disturbing assemblage by
the surrealist Lucas Samaras. When I asked him why he
liked the piece enough to buy it, he was surprisingly
suppose my own career as a documentary filmmaker leads
me towards a greater focus on the process that produces
objects worth collecting. In purchasing a piece of art,
my father interacts almost exclusively with dealers, whereas
I am much more likely to deal directly with the artist.
Many of the works I own are by artists who are personal
friends of mine. Getting a window on someone else's creative
process--be it technical, formal, or psychological--is
often worth the price of the artwork itself. Not that
I would ever buy a piece I wouldn't be happy living with,
but investing in the development of a growing artist is
much more satisfying to me than simply building a collection
of respected artworks.
only factor which might lead my father to deal directly
with an artist (the prospect of a discount) is the one
instance in which I usually prefer to buy through a dealer.
Because my small but growing collection of photographs,
prints, and paintings consists of works by emerging artists,
I often make a point of buying through their galleries,
in the belief that public sales will boost their careers
more than a sale from the studio. I also support my artist
friends in other ways--through commissions, rent subsidies,
and investing in projects (like films in which I'm an
difference between my father's approach to artistic production
and my own is perhaps mirrored in our approach to fine
dining. Often when my father comes to New York City, we
will get together for dinner at a nice restaurant. Having
worked at a wine store in college, I'm always eager to
test out the sommelier. Upon ordering a bottle, my tea-totaling
father will shoot me a look of subtle disapproval, as
if to say: "Forty dollars for a bottle of wine?!!"
some probing, my father once admitted that the fleeting
experience of fine service, fine ambience, and fine food
wasn't his cup of tea. He doesn't have a problem spending
money, he'd just prefer to spend it on something more
durable--like his art collection. To me, the
of fine wine is its attendance at the elevated
moments which bring people together for special meals
in special places. A complete aesthetic experience demands
an appreciation of all the elements which go into its
production. At the table and in the gallery, I guess you
could say I'm an appreciator first and a collector second.
- anonymous author
in 1968, after riots erupted in response to Martin Luther
King's assassination, I started to do volunteer work in
one of the poorer neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. at
the Church of the Savior. The pastor there is a no-nonsense
Jeremiah who thinks affluent people should be attending
to the poor,
so that no one in our midst
is starving, homeless, or without care. My work with the
Church has forced me to ask some tough questions about
what is important in my life.
used to want my house decorated perfectly. It was my presentation
to the world and I loved having it be an artistic showcase.
Part of my faith journey has been to give that up. I just
don't have the time or the heart for it anymore.
my quilting has changed. I've started to make pictorial
quilts that convey stories about faith, justice, prayer,
and giving. For example, I recently did a series of hanging
quilts about the closing of the Foggy Bottom Shelter showing
the tremendous battles facing the homeless. For me, art
and faith have become intertwined.
to my surprise, the quilts I make are much in demand in
D.C. art circles and sell for large sums of money. Yet,
because I also like my pieces to be seen by people who
can't pay those prices and don't often go to a museum
or gallery, I've donated some of my quilts to the Church
and sold others for half price. The Church even commissioned
me to create a piece for their "Festival Center," where
we teach various classes to parishioners and community
people. The quilt, based on a parable in Luke,
portrays a great feast with pilgrims emerging from the
foreground and beautiful hills behind. In it, I try to
offer a compelling vision of abundance and sharing.
kind of quilting is much harder than the traditional patterned
ones I used to make. I spend weeks sketching, reading,
and praying to find the images that tell the story in
the most powerful way. Sometimes I'll spend eight to ten
hours a day in this design mode. Part of me wants to run
away from each new quilt and focus more on my family foundation
or my volunteer work instead, but something deep inside
tells me to stick with the quilting and tell these stories.
I always go back to the traditional use of art--to communicate
the deepest values of community life. This is my calling.
- anonymous author
Oliver and Me
receive over $50,000 in dividends each year from my family's
company stock--the equivalent of getting a MacArthur Genius
Grant for the rest of my life. This confronts me with
a question best expressed by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild
and precious life?" I am dogged with qualms and depression
about this question. Sometimes I think the most moral
position would be to hand over what I spend on art school
tuition to artists who lack economic independence, but
so far I haven't had quite enough nerve or generosity
(or self-loathing) to do that.
have made performance art pieces about my struggle with
this "poor little rich boy" paralysis of, "hmmm, what
should I do now? What's the best way for me to assume
my God-given ability and responsibility to save the world
this year?" In my first piece in performance class, I
sat among the undealt-with piles of financial papers I'd
brought in from my bedroom and offered a biting monologue
about all the years I have spent at my desk paralyzed
in fear and confusion about how to be a good rich person.
Then I gave the audience four hundred dollars in cash
(for keeps) divided completely unequally into envelopes.
I wanted to convey the lottery of class by birth, the
unearned nature of my wealth, and a bit of the scale of
it. Interestingly, the person who got the largest amount
didn't feel right about receiving $182.50 for doing nothing.
He tried to give the money back to me and, when I refused,
tried to give it away to students who had only received
a dime or a quarter in their envelopes.
a few semesters of such performances, I finally had the
nerve just to play with color as a painter, to give the
crayon box back to the five year old in me before all
the rules poured in. It was a self-loving act of wanting
to see that pink next to that orange. I let myself paint
it just that way. As Mary Oliver says:
do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees,
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
- anonymous author
seems to be a cliché in film and fiction that people with
money are universally unhappy. In the movie
for example, the first-class dining room is like a morgue,
while down below is one long all-night party for the poor
people. We all know that this kind of generalization inhibits
real understanding, but somehow it finds its way into
art again and again.
parents, sister, and I are heirs to my great grandfather's
consumer products fortune, but our lives are filled with
creativity, challenge, and good friendship. Instead of
being uptight, my parents are life-loving iconoclasts
who value their personal integrity more than maintaining
an image agreeable to everyone.
father is a highly respected sculptor who founded a world-renowned
sculptor's school and foundry, and my mother is a novelist.
As a result of their interests, they encouraged any artistic
inclinations in my sister and me. Conversations around
the dinner table almost always focused on artistic or
philosophical issues. Friends of the family--frequently
writers, composers, or painters--were around for me to
I was fourteen, my folks gave me a Super 8 camera that
I had a lot of fun with. But it wasn't until I took time
off from college to enroll in the filmmaking program at
NYU that I thought seriously about making films as a career.
By the time I graduated from college, I had founded a
production company and written, directed, and produced
a film that was shown in festivals and got foreign distribution.
on that film was a wonderful experience. We were a bunch
of friends shooting the movie while we camped out in an
old farmhouse together for the entire summer. We cared
deeply about what we were doing and used the production
as an opportunity to grow as people and artists. Most
of my friends--then and now--fall into the "starving artist"
category, but, perhaps due entirely to their character,
I have never perceived envy from them, only appreciation
for my role as a creator, producer, and patron.
role models as a patron is not easy, but one person I
respect is George Soros. I admire his independence and
how he analyzes the targets of his giving as thoroughly
as he analyzes his investments. He helps build institutions
that have real impact. I try to take this attitude into
all my activities.
example, I founded the Filmmakers Collaborative, a center
for low-budget independent filmmakers and video artists,
with production and post-production space here in New
York. No commercials are made here, and no feature films
with a budget over $3 million, so we end up with an atmosphere
created by artists and filmmakers rather than attorneys
and accountants. Great things have come from the synergy
of the Collaborative, including the creation of The Reel
School, which brings seasoned professionals to teach filmmakers
just beginning their careers. I also founded and direct
Eyebeam Atelier, a not-for-profit studio for digital artists
with headquarters in downtown Manhattan. While at the
end of the day I consider myself a writer/filmmaker, I
also work for a family-affiliated oceanographic institute
in Florida, where I am overseeing the opening of a multimillion
dollar Museum of Ocean Sciences.
also try to be savvy when using my money to further my
own creative work. I may have access to more financial
resources than many independent filmmakers, but the basic
concerns and challenges are still the same. Whether you're
using a state-of-the-art 35mm camera or a battered old
16mm model, you still have to keep a clear head and remember
that you have a budgetary frame to work with. If you exceed
it, you might not be able to finish the film. And, as
most of the films coming from Hollywood over the last
twenty years show us, the answer to the artistic challenge
of filmmaking is certainly not more money.
- anonymous author
come from a long line of women theater artists who have
used their performance success as a means to "marry well."
Following family tradition, I was groomed by mother to
go into theater (and presumably to marry well too). By
my twenties, I was earning a living working in classic
repertory theater in Minneapolis. At that time, I became
active in the peace and justice movements of the 1960s,
and then involved in the feminist movement in the 1970s
when I came out as a lesbian. My artistic goals shifted
as a result. For the next decade, I did political theater
and women's music. This was an exciting, creative time
for me, but some years I only earned two or three thousand
I suddenly needed to provide my son's sole financial support
after his father died, I knew the life of a hand-to-mouth
political artist wasn't going to cut it. I went back to
school, got a social work degree, and helped to set up
a healing center for children using my theater skills
as the basis for play therapy work. I've worked in social
services ever since, making adequate money to support
financial situation changed completely ten years ago when
I inherited a million dollars from my mother. I was stunned
at the size of this inheritance, but it was only the first
wave of my new wealth. Later the stock I inherited split
and earned me another million dollars. Now, I'm a wealthy
woman--a wealthy woman whose long-time and closest friends
are poor political artists like I used to be.
has been wonderful about having money is that I can support
artists who don't have access to family money or much
of a shot at getting regular arts grants. Out of my first
million, I endowed a small fund for emerging and underfunded
women artists, particularly lesbians and women of color.
With my second million, I started using a donor- advised
account to give to women artists whose work I respected.
I would give through nonprofit organizations so I could
take the tax deduction. Lately, I've felt that I have
so much money now that it doesn't matter whether I get
a tax deduction or not and have started giving directly
to artists without taking the deduction. I've also created
a charitable remainder trust with three quarters of a
million dollars, which will be added to my original arts
endowment when I die.
basic idea is to support deserving artists without making
them jump through hoops or dictating what they can do
with the money or their art like many arts grants do.
The artists can use their money to live on, to pay school
tuition, or to take a trip back to Africa as one artist
recently did. No need for budgets, project proposals,
or final evaluations, the money goes directly to artists.
I haven't quit my social work job to go back to being
a full-time artist. My old theater friends and I do about
two shows a year now. Every one of us has a day job so
we can't hustle or tour. While some of the old crew are
still professional performance artists, we do these particular
shows for the sheer love of, and belief in, the work.
No one gets any money out of it. This level of involvement
satisfies the artist in me. But I don't feel comfortable
with this alone; I need to be working directly in service
to people. The counseling work satisfies the healer in
me. I am fulfilling my own dreams now and expanding on
the dreams of my foremothers.
- anonymous author
wanted to be an artist since as far back I can remember.
Yet, when I was growing up, people always said of me,
"What fine hands he has, how well-spoken, look at the
pictures he makes; he should be a surgeon, a lawyer, or
a minister." They never pictured me as an artist. My dad
was a factory worker who spray-painted refrigerators.
For him, art was something women did on weekends, off
hours. It was not a way to support a family.
I was eighteen, I wasn't looking to support a family.
All I wanted was the time and materials to make art; this
was my obsession. I wanted to be able to pursue every
idea that came into my head, so that if one day I felt
the urge to write poetry, that's what I would do. If the
next day I wanted to make furniture or a drawing, I would
do that. I wanted to surrender myself to all of these
such creative time was hard. I left the Rhode Island School
of Design after one semester to come home and help support
my folks. I worked in a personnel office during the day
and as a grocery clerk stocking shelves at night. For
the longest time I could only work on my art projects
"off-hours" so I learned to live on very little sleep.
Living like this, I was able to complete my degree at
Howard University. Finally, in 1968, I started a silkscreen
printmaking business that became financially successful
beyond my wildest dreams. Now I can do my art full-time,
feel like I am touching people with my prints and poetry,
and, much to my father's (and my) surprise, live in a
beautiful house worth almost a million dollars.
I firmly believe that if you are financially successful
and don't go back and pull someone else along, you're
selfish. For me, this means taking precious time out from
making prints to serve on numerous arts boards and commissions.
For instance, I'm a board member of the PEN/Faulkner Writers-in-Schools
program. Besides helping to raise funds for them, I also
volunteer in the schools. I love it when a teacher introduces
me to her class and says--"This is (anonymous author), a silkscreen
artist who lives and works in the District. Today, he
has brought with him Jamaica Kincaid who will read her
stories to you." There we are, two successful black artists
for these students to talk with. Usually when people in
suits visit the school, it's to criticize the kids and
tell them how to become different people. No one affirms
the creative fire within these kids, but that is what
we try to do.
me, artistic success is now measured in four ways: freedom
to do the work, financial reward, touching people through
my work, and volunteer work within the community. I'm
proud to have achieved a large measure of success in all
- anonymous author
was after I talked my parents into sending me to public
school that I first became a patron of the arts. I was
about twelve or thirteen, and started going out at night
with my new friends to paint graffiti. It only seemed
fair that I buy the spray paint.
I am a patron of about ten friends who excite and inspire
me. I want to extend to them some of the privileges I
had growing up--mainly money and encouragement. While
it is not a solution to the world's problems, it's a good
start. I'm trying to find the next generation's artists
of the caliber of James Baldwin and help them make their
dreams come true.
couple of years back I ran across this xeroxed, self-published
'zine. It was a riveting and hysterically funny chronicle
of the adventures of a "poor white trash" girl--really
brilliant stuff. I sent the author a check and told her
to keep putting out 'zines. Cynthia and I soon got to
I met her seventeen-year-old sister Deb. With Deb, I really
had my work cut out for me--Deb didn't trust anyone. She
had been through a meat grinder of sexual and emotional
abuse. I loved her spirit, though, and decided to become
an adult she could trust, the older brother she didn't
have. I even pushed her to quit smoking. I told her, "I
need you to stay alive. If you can't quit smoking and
take care of yourself, then how the hell are you gonna
be there for me?"
also pushed Deb about her life dreams. She is an amazing
fashion designer. People are always coming up to her saying,
"Where did you get those clothes?" When they hear she
designs and makes them herself, they ask her to make clothes
for them. I asked her, "What do you need to start making
a living as a fashion designer?" She told me a sewing
machine, some start-up materials, and a catalog of her
designs to show potential customers.
asked her how much all that would cost, and she came up
with the figure of $700. Seven hundred dollars! It angers
me that the dreams of talented kids are on hold because
of a lack of a paltry amount of money. I said, "Guess
what, I want to invest in your company." That sparked
our first fight. She was like "NO WAY!" She had a long
history of people using money to control her. She just
couldn't believe I would give her money for her business
just because I thought she was a great person and would
do good things with it.
explained to her that I hadn't earned the money either,
that it was given to me by my family with love and no
strings attached. She told me that she didn't trust anyone
to do that for her. I replied, "Then how are you gonna
have any friends?" We fought for hours, but she finally
decided to trust me and take the money. Her business is
already taking off.
- anonymous author
met Adam Yauch, the lead singer of the popular rap group
The Beastie Boys, when I was doing a year abroad in Nepal,
studying Tibetan language and culture. Adam was on holiday
by the Tibetan border, trekking with a bunch of musicians
who jammed with the musicians I was living with.
and I started talking about Tibet's long struggle for
independence from the Chinese. He had recently run into
a party of Tibetans escaping the country, and was now
very interested in the situation across the border. I
took him around Kathmandu to visit with more refugees.
He was shocked. In Tibet, human rights abuses happen all
the time. People get dragged away right in front of you.
of Adam's and my travels and discussions grew the Milarepa
Foundation, where I work now. The foundation uses the
Beastie Boys money and influence to do creative work in
support of Tibetan independence and nonviolence in the
took a lot of work to build our organization. The Beastie
Boys weren't known for being involved in causes. Nor did
they have the time to research how to give responsibly.
It also took a lot of work for Adam to become comfortable
speaking about Tibet in public. For a long time, we couldn't
even find Tibet supporters to come talk to kids at our
concerts. The Free Tibet movement was led by an older
generation with an attitude that kids have wild hair and
can't give money so why bother with them. Well, our benefit
concerts have attracted more than 50,000 people at a time,
and Adam dedicated over $100,000 in royalties from his
album "Ill Communication."
people in our generation, the common perception is that
activism is too serious and not much fun. That's why you
need music and art. On the grounds of the concerts we
had Tibetan art and Tibetan temples. We had mandalas and
we brought monks on tour with us. That's very different
than just talking to people about the issues. It bypasses
the heaviness and reaches kids in their hearts.
movement has really blossomed. There are now over 400
Students for a Free Tibet groups on college campuses.
- anonymous author
started at my family's gallery when I was twelve years
old, working on Saturdays for 25 cents an hour, a hamburger,
and an egg cream. Since coming back to the family business
as an adult, I've given myself a bit of a raise.
a gallery did not seem my destiny in my early twenties.
Back then, I was an environmental science student. But
I decided that the environmental movement needed something
more than another competent
biologist: it needed money. By running the gallery, I
believed could help generate those funds.
ever since the 1960s, when the market for American art
began to go through the roof, our business has done exceptionally
well, and I have been able to donate significant money
to causes I care about.
am building on a family tradition; our gallery has been
socially active since its founding back in 1932. A gallery
is a great place to have a party, so we schedule six to
twelve benefits a year for groups working on such issues
as radiation, breast cancer, and environmental conservation.
We've donated the space for fund-raisers for political
candidates we support. We even assisted with making a
televised public service announcement on literacy, filmed
at the gallery, featuring African-American painter Faith
Reinhold, an artist whose work we've represented.
love being able to use the gallery this way, but I've
become increasingly convinced that the art work we represent
is socially valuable in and of itself. Art has the power
to deepen our sense of what it means to be human and to
inspire wonder, outrage, and love for the world and people
around us. As an art dealer, I am a cultural custodian
and proud of our mission of representing the diversity
and highest quality of American art. While we sell our
paintings and sculptures to a relatively small group of
wealthy collectors and institutions, I value how our business
makes this artwork available for free public viewing.
Several of our exhibitions have toured this country and
Europe and Asia.
tensions exist between money and art, of course. A few
years back, I set up a separate gallery devoted to Native
American arts and antiquities, a personal passion of mine.
That project did a lot to raise a better understanding
of Native culture and art in this city. Yet, after a while,
I realized that it took me the same time and energy to
sell a Native basket for $5,000 as it did for me to sell
a contemporary painting in our main gallery for $50,000.
I finally decided to close the Native Arts gallery and
focus my efforts on the more lucrative side of our business.
seen the limits to what the private art market can do
to support the arts, I have become a strong believer in
public arts funding. My kids go to a private Waldorf school
where music, dance, theater, and visual arts are integrated
into the daily curriculum, but what about the public schools?
They rarely have good arts programs. Even in its heyday,
the National Endowment of the Arts provided less support
to artists than the city of Berlin.
What is the spiritual and cultural cost to our nation
of this neglect? The arts could heal much of what ails
us, and bring real cohesion and vision to our culture.
Which would you rather have--more bombers or more community
- anonymous author
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