NEW YORK (AP) — The American Folk Art Museum, unlike many other art institutions, has managed to avoid layoffs and other cutbacks in the two years since the pandemic through a mix of fundraising and increase in donor contributions.
On Tuesday, the museum plans to announce its largest and most unusual recent gift – a $5 million gift from Arkansas arts supporters Becky and Bob Alexander to help fund the exhibition program of the museum and its operation as one of the few free museums in New York. .
In honor of the Alexanders’ donation, they will receive naming rights to the position title of the museum’s CEO, who will become Becky and Bob Alexander’s Director and CEO of the American Folk Art Museum.
The Alexanders, longtime philanthropists and investors, have supported the museum for years, including making donations to its “Popular Art and Modernism” exhibition in 2015 and “American Made” in 2016. They are active art collectors and patrons of the arts, particularly in Arkansas, where Becky Alexander served on the board of the Peel Museum and Bob Alexander served on the boards of the Walton Arts Center and the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.
“It’s really encouraging to see how much people are giving back, as individuals who have realized how much they have benefited from an institution like ours,” said Jason T. Busch, Director and Chief from the management of the museum. “I want us to be a resource for engagement, without barriers. Nothing costs the American Folk Art Museum anything for anyone. And it has an impact even for people who might pay.”
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York and elsewhere in the spring of 2020, the Alexanders were the first donors to reach out to Busch to offer financial support to the museum, which was forced to close for five months during the pandemic. . Although admission to the Folk Art Museum is free, it receives donations from visitors as well as proceeds from sales in its gift shop.
Donations to arts and culture groups fell 7.5% in pandemic year 2020 as some donors redirected their donations to what they perceived to be more pressing issues, a Giving USA report found. Foundation. In 2021, donations to these groups rebounded 27.5%.
Early in the pandemic, Busch said, he and the museum’s board decided there would be no staff cuts to make ends meet.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I would give back whatever I took in order to keep my staff intact,” he said. “With an annual operating budget of $3.7 million, we are increasing our clout. Every soul matters.”
The museum, he said, has received funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, as well as increased donations from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other groups, including the New York Community Trust and the Art Bridges Foundation.
But the museum has also informed its patrons and members of its intention to diversify its audience and attract more people for its exhibits – discussions that resulted in a $350,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to present exhibits. in the museum’s Daniel Cowin Gallery until 2024. The resulting discussions focused on how donors could help the museum maintain momentum from its 60th anniversary last year and from its 30th anniversary to its Lincoln Square location in 2019.
The Alexanders decided they wanted to provide long-term support.
“What started as an interest in advertising art and commercial signs has blossomed into a lifelong passion for folk art,” the Alexanders said in a statement. “We can think of no better place where the significance, brilliance, and full scope of folk art can be showcased, studied, and celebrated than the American Folk Art Museum.”
The Alexanders declined to comment for this article. Busch said the couple, who tend to avoid the spotlight, weren’t really interested in receiving much recognition for their $5 million donation, one of the largest in the museum’s history. Still, he said, they liked the idea of having the naming rights to his title.
“It’s unexpected,” Busch said. “They said, ‘This is something important to us, because if the museum can leverage our name, coupled with your position, for greater financial benefit and long-term resources, we want to do that. . “https://www.magnoliabannernews.com/news/2022/jul/02/folk-art-museum-offers-donors-naming-rights-to/”
Universities, of course, have long used donor names in specific faculty or department head positions to lend prestige and show commitment to the work being done. The practice is not as widely used in other sectors, which generally prefer to name buildings or wings after donors rather than positions.
Busch thinks that can change. He says he hopes the Alexanders’ donation demonstrates their confidence in the museum and its work, and he’s happy to have the opportunity to have their name in his title.
“We’re talking about a couple who have been so philanthropic and are based in the middle of the country, not New York or the East Coast,” he said. “It represents the impact that our museum has nationally. And even internationally. That’s where I want to see the museum.”