Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

When Patrons and Donors Clash

Yesterday, there was a small protest outside of the Met in New York City over the charitable contributions of one of the museums trustees and donors, David H. Koch (of the Koch brothers). Hyperallergic sums it up nicely. Protestors are against having the newly renovated plaza in front of the museum carry the Koch name, as they are against the conservative and anti-environmental causes Koch is known for endorsing (when he’s not donating $65 million to the Met). Met Director Thomas Campbell is quoted in the New York Times saying that based on the generosity of Koch’s donation, having his name on the plaza fountain seemed appropriate. Sure, I agree. If we couldn’t put names on buildings, we wouldn’t be educated or work in (or eat in, sleep in, live in, etc.) such gracious and maintained architecture.

But as an art manager, how do you balance the lifestyles of your donors with the lifestyles of your patrons and regular visitors? Can you? Should you?  I can see how this situation could play out on a smaller scale than the Met and a $65 million contribution, and that makes it no less complicated or delicate. To illustrate my point, you need only to read the comments on The New York Times post. I realize that I raise more questions than answers in this post…what would you do?


4 comments on “When Patrons and Donors Clash

  1. benjamendouglas
    September 10, 2014

    I would make my board decide! Seriously. It’s a really tough one. Let’s just say the Kochs and I are on completely different pages (except for me being grateful for their support of the arts.)

    For the literary organization I worked for, we had a TINY “endowment” (not an actual endowment, but money we intended to use to start one.) Anyway – we had several board members who wanted me to line up investment managers to make presentations about how they would invest our money using “socially responsible investments.” Although this conversation came up from time-to-time for about six months, fortunately, there were several level-headed people in the room who were able to acknowledge that it’s a good idea, but fraught with problems.

    We were, however, able to spin that conversation to one about sponsorships. If Kraft Foods wanted to underwrite something, is that okay? What about an individual product line? Then, we got down to a more concrete conversation, and were able to make decisions like not soliciting/accepting sponsorships from alcohol or tobacco companies for youth programs.

    So, I think it’s an important conversation, probably for a board retreat, or some other time when everyone can really take time to reflect on an issue, and then ultimately develop some policies around it.

    In truth, none of that would’ve led our organization to a decision like “we don’t take money from the Kochs.” But at least you have a precedent, and a sense of the direction the board is likely to lean.

  2. emkais
    September 11, 2014

    I agree that this decision is a hard one. When considering the massive donations it does seem like the right (read: norm), and it’s important to weigh the small donations, or memberships or volunteers with serious consideration. As one of the commenters to the NYT article says, don’t look a gift horse in the name. I am curious of the tide that turned the naming decision. That would be of interest considering our discussion this week regarding board members and their influences within non-profits. Regardless, at the core of it, I find that Koch has the free will to support his personal believes and donate is money as he pleases as a form of expression just as the patrons who are in opposition to his beliefs have the freedom to boycott the fountains and/or the museum. It’s also possibly a case of no press is bad press in that some may walk away, but “other customers” may be drawn to the cause.

  3. jaredchamoff
    September 11, 2014

    I think that two comments before me are kind of a mix of what I wanted to say. I think that it would be up to the board to really weigh the pros and cons of the situation, and how it would effect them supporting the mission of the organization.
    Pro: $$$ Con: not so great affiliation with a guy that patrons don’t like.

    But I kind of feel as though donors across a wide array of artistic mediums have conservative views that the more liberal lower income patrons would frown at. This is an issue that we will have to deal with as arts managers for SURE.

    Also, I think this IS a case of no press is bad press for sure. While some people might be in a stink about the Koch Plaza, at the very least the Met is being discussed in the media!

  4. yaoge2016
    September 12, 2014

    To solve concerns of the author, I think we should ask two main questions. The first is could we( managers of nonprofit arts organization) accept the donate from donor whose standpoints are against standpoints of most our patrons and visitors? The second question is that should we name or speak for those donors for their generosity? The answers become more easier for me.

    For the first question, my answer is YES. For many arts institutions, who don’t have abundant financial support, the board have to make the decision to accept that donate in order to maintain the operation of the institution. For other more well supported institution, like Met, they have many more alternative choices, so they can choose their preferred ones, and of course they also can choose donor like Koch based on the will of the board. And I think the protest from patrons and visitors will be mild if they recognize those donors just do the good without broadcast themselves or standpoints that they strongly against.

    For the second question, my answer is NO, even for small arts institution struggling to survive. Nonprofit organization should speak for its mission, not for its donors. Of course, donors seek to maximize its benefits, however, the board should focus on its mission but not advertising the donors. People sometimes become confused of the intrinsic quality of our institution as nonprofit organization if we speak for those donors.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on September 10, 2014 by .
%d bloggers like this: