Public Institutions: Working With Private Foundations and Galleries

Thursday morning (5 October 2017), Cromwell Place and Vastari, co-hosted the fourth panel of the Blueprint Breakfast Briefings. Thursday’s subject was the cooperation between museums on one hand and private foundations or galleries (the private sector) on the other.

The panel consisted of four seasoned experts, used to handling the relationship between the private and public sector: James Knox, the director of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, Jo Baring, director of The Ingram Collection, Javier Lumbreras, the CEO of The Charitable Museum Endowment Fund as well as Collector & Director for Artemundi, and Lara Wardle, director of both the Jerwood Foundation & the Jerwood Collection as well as an Independent Curator of Modern & Contemporary British art. Moderated by Thomas Marks, Editor of Apollo Art Magazine, they discussed the nuances of the museum/collector relationship and how to set up an effective succession plan that can balance the sometimes contradictory interests of a private museum.

One of the topics that were discussed by the panel was to what extent they are bound to the ideology of their founder or collector. As a private collector, Javier Lumbreras has a specific vision for his collection. Any new additions to the collection or projects of artistic patronage, as he calls it himself, need to work within his vision of usefulness. For the art in his collection has to inspire or educate. James Knox contributed to this sentiment from a foundation’s point of view, stating that the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation similarly has a set of restraints. The foundation was created, not only to protect the collection but also to protect the Fleming family name. So even though the collection is regularly reshaped in order to keep it interesting to the modern audience, it stays true to its core message to promote a prestigious Scottish family, beyond Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond. The Ingram Collection is still not a foundation and is still working on juggling the collection’s versatile contemporary art focus with the requirements of a foundation. In comparison, the Jerwood also focuses on contemporary art but already established itself as a foundation and non-profit organisation.

“The collection is the way in which the Fleming name will continue.”
– James Knox

As all members had different experiences with philanthropy in the art world, they discussed the advantages and restraints that come into play when art becomes the focus of philanthropy and how the nature of this focus has changed. Lara Wardle, and James Knox agreed, that there has been a recent change especially for regional museums where funding cuts from the government and the Arts Council meant that private initiatives had to stand up and support these smaller museums outside of London. Jo Baring further added that museums have become more accepting of trusts and foundations. Previously, these public institutions were often reserved and suspicious of the ulterior motives of private collections and the potential conflicts of interest. James Knox did acknowledge that these hesitations from the museum sector are certainly justified, as certain works show up on the market right after an important museum show.

Luckily, the museums are starting to see the benefits of getting help from private organisations such as the Ingram Collection, that have the funding and connections to arrange the insurance and transportation that comes into play with the temporary exhibition or educational programmes that they offer to museums - or even the “unsexy” stuff that needs to be paid such as leaky roofs or electricity bills. Despite these advantages for museums and the recent change in their attitude, most museums are still hesitant towards cooperation, resulting in specifically catered projects, where additional funding etc. is arranged on a case-per-case basis.

“…contacting museums is more like a road trip as you just get into the car and visit all of these regional museums to see if they are interested.”  – Jo Baring

The individual character of each of these cooperation projects makes it difficult to arrange long-term sustainability for private institutions that are dependent on public institutions for their exhibitions. In other words, foundations must be transformative to stay relevant, yet are hesitant to do so as they have no guarantee that the institutions will remain open for cooperation as they change. Javier Lumbreras also pointed out that foundations are restricted in what they can do by taxes, and the changing political climates as governments change. In the UK for example, the tax breaks against charitable organisations are much lower than in the US. Yet, the UK based foundations weren’t lobbying for a change in tax regulations. When asked what changes they wanted to see all three desired better communication and promotion rather than better tax breaks.

James Knox stated that both systems come with their advantages and their downfalls and that as foundations may come and go, it is understandable that the government doesn’t want to waste taxes on foundations that may disappear. He was therefore happy that the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation could be considered a strong and solid organisation and thus in the position to aid smaller regional museums. Recalling one of his personal experiences, he explained that these museums are overstretched beyond their capacity and that as a result, it takes them weeks to reply to emails, simply because they have to check with several committees before making any decisions on the collection. Jo Baring expressed similar sentiments, in that she wished for better education for museums in order to familiarize them with the possibilities that private institutions, such as the Ingram Collection, can offer. After all, these organisations, often founded by entrepreneurs, have a certain nimbleness and business sense that these public institutions may lack.

“An entrepreneurial attitude is something the private sector can bring to public institutions” - Jo Baring

In conclusion, there are many possibilities for cooperation between the private and public sectors of the art world and these types of cooperation have become more frequent over the years. One of the major challenges for these private institutions will remain the double role that they must perform in these types of occasions and the conflicting interests that result from this double role. However, the art world is not the only industry where public and private overlap and these types of conflict arise, nor are these conflicts necessarily bad. For the public interest can very well align with the those of the institutions. When all parties remain alert for possible conflicts and are aware of each other’s needs than these types of cooperation can still benefit the public.