The Top Photography + Philanthropy Stories of the 2010-2020 Decade
Updated: May 12, 2022
It’s been quite a decade in the world of photography that’s made possible or enhanced by philanthropy. The recognition of photographs as a major force in advocacy, art, communications, education, science, and social change has never been higher, driven in part by the fact that there are now so many more people taking/making pictures than ten years ago. The latest estimate is that at least 1.5 trillion photos were taken this year alone (although there’s no way of knowing how many of these were of cute cats and dogs).
Both private and corporate philanthropies are increasingly stepping up to support photographers, photographic centers, and museums that are growing their photography collections. With so many success stories to choose from, it’s been hard to pick just ten that really stand out. I’ve tried to balance my list between stories marked by mega-dollars and stories that indicate new or different trends in the field. I know there are many more deserving stories, and if you feel I’ve missed something significant, please let me know.
10. The Birth (and Death?) of Pier 24
Andrew and Mary Pilara bought their first photograph in 2003, and they never looked back. Through their Pilara Foundation, they amassed a collection of more than 4,000 images that span the history and breadth of the medium. In 2010, they opened Pier 24, a free, 28,000 square-foot photography gallery on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. Throughout the decade, Pier 24 offered a series of innovative exhibitions with images selected from the Pilara collection, and it instituted visiting artist and photography awards programs as part of an educational series. This year, however, came the news that Pier 24 is being evicted after efforts to resolve a dispute about a major rent increase have failed. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the end of this amazing venture.
9. The Herzfeld Foundation’s Gifts to the Milwaukee Art Museum
Richard and Ethel Herzfeld began supporting photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1985. Their children and family members have continued that tradition, and, as the public’s interest in photography grew through the 2010s, so did the family’s generosity. In 2015, the Herzfeld Family Foundation made a major commitment to establish the new Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts at the museum. It has since become one of their most popular programs. Three years later, the foundation pledged an additional $3.5 million to the museum in support of the Herzfeld Foundation Curator of Photography and Media Arts. In all, the foundation’s support of photography at the museum totals more than $10 million.
8. The Re-Rebirth of the International Center for Photography
You have to give the International Center of Photography a lot of credit for thriving in a decade that saw them plan and execute not just one but two gutsy (and expensive) moves. In 2014, they announced they would split their teaching and exhibition program into two different buildings. They spent $24 million to redesign and build out a beautiful gallery location in New York’s Bowery district, only to see attendance in their programs suffer a significant drop.
Not to be deterred, they went back to the drawing board and took the bold step of moving to yet another location, this time in the new Essex Crossing center on the Lower East Side. The new building, scheduled to open in early 2020, will allow ICP to recombine its galleries, educational programs, library, and large collection of photographs under one roof. It takes a highly dedicated board of directors and a very faithful group of donors to pull off two audacious moves in the same decade, and fortunately, ICP has proven to have both.
7. Creation of the Pritzker Center for Photography at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
In 2016, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opened the John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography thanks to the core generosity of its namesake donors. The 15,500 square foot Center is the largest museum exhibition space devoted solely to photography in the country and fills most of the redesigned museum’s third floor. In addition to the exhibition space, the Center includes a large print study center and an innovative photography interpretive space that encourages activity-based and self-directed explorations of the medium. Support for the new center also came from San Francisco philanthropists and photography enthusiasts David Mahoney and Winn Ellis; Nion McEvoy; Kate and Wes Mitchell; and Mary and Andrew Pilara.
6. The Marin Community Foundation’s Gift to the University of Santa Cruz
In 2016, the Marin Community Foundation gave the University of California, Santa Cruz the complete Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch Collection, consisting of over 12,000 prints, 25,000 negatives and thousands of transparencies created individually by Jones and Baruch. Valued at $32 million, it’s the single largest gift in the campus’s history and includes the transfer of all of the intellectual rights to the couple’s work. Both Baruch and Jones were directly involved in documenting the Black Panther movement and the California social and cultural scenes that have since become icons of the 1960s and ’70s. In addition to the Jones and Baruch works, the collection also includes additional prints by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and Minor White.
5. Creation of the Canadian Photography Institute
In 2015, a new collaborative effort led to the creation of The Canadian Photography Institute at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The effort to create the Institute was financed in part by philanthropist David Thomson, a long-time supporter of photography at the National Gallery, along with major corporate support from Scotiabank, which pledged $10 million over 10 years to support programming and research at the new facility. Thomson has also promised significant donations of additional prints, photographic equipment, and related objects. The Institute now houses more than 50,000 prints and 145,000 negatives, and it anticipates that the collection will grow even larger as new gifts from Thompson and others are received.
4. The Hall Family’s Amazing Support of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum
There is no way to understate the impact that the Hall Family Foundation of Kansas City has had on photography collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. During this decade alone, they have gifted more than $40 million exclusively for the photography program at the museum, including an endowment to support their long-time photography curator, Keith F. Davis, and many millions of dollars for acquisitions. As a result, the museum has a world-class collection of 19th- and 20th-century American masterworks. The family support began in 1957 with a gift from patriarch J. C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards.
3. The Phenomenal Rise of Crowdfunding
It’s hard to believe that Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding platforms only came into existence a few years before the start of this decade. It’s estimated that since 2010, these platforms have helped to raise at least $75 million for photography gear, projects, books, calendars, and more. Photo gear has been the biggest financial recipient, with companies such as Peak Design raking in $6.5 million for new camera bags in a single campaign, and photographer Ryan Stout making use of both Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise $3 million for his “intelligent camera assistant.” Individual photographers have not done so badly, either, with Kirsty Mitchell bringing in $465,00 for her Wonderland Book, and Margot Raggot earning $254,000 for her book Remembering Rhinos. Many projects brought $40,000 to $50,000, but astoundingly almost all of the more professional projects raised their monetary goal and more within 30 days. Of course, none of this is easy, and anyone who wants to jump into this arena should be prepared to plan well and work hard every day of their campaign.
2. An Unprecedented Decade of Giving to Museums
Public museums across the globe were the fortunate beneficiaries of some outstanding private collections of photography thanks to the generosity of their owners. Here are some of the most notable of those philanthropic gifts:
In 2017, Toronto real estate entrepreneur Chris Bratty bought a massive archive of 25,000 photos taken in Canada with the express purpose of gifting them to the Ryerson Image Centre at Ryerson University. The archive includes photos from every decade of the 20th century and includes everything from visits by the Queen and American Presidents to sporting events.
Through the generosity of the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust, the Art Institute of Chicago was able to acquire the W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Collection of nineteenth-century American photographs. Assembled over five decades, the Lundberg Collection includes nearly 500 Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and other early photographic images.
Brothers David W. “Buzz” Ruttenberg and Roger F. “Biff” Ruttenberg of Chicago announced they have given a major gift to the Art Institute of Chicago for their photography programs. The gift will endow the Ruttenberg Associate Curator of Photography position and the Ruttenberg Contemporary Photography exhibition series. The brothers’ parents, David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg, endowed the Institute’s first gallery dedicated solely to photography.
Massachusetts collector and philanthropist Dr. Anthony Terrana donated 500 important contemporary photographs to the small Fitchburg (MA) Art Museum. Included in the gift are prints by Abelardo Morell, Olivia Parker, William Wegman, Lynne Cohen, Yasumasa Morimura, and Laura Wulf. Terrana, who has also donated photos to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, chose Fitchburg because of his admiration for Stephen B. Jareckie, the Fitchburg Museum’s consulting curator of photography.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa received major gifts from the Roger Ballen Foundation and the Eiger Foundation to establish and support a Centre for Photography. Additional support for the new center has been provided by M&C Saatchi Abel to endow the M&C Saatchi Abel Photography Gallery. Azu Nwagbogu, Founder and Director of Lagos Photo Festival, has been appointed as the museum’s Curator at Large of Photography
The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles received two important groups of photographs from collectors Leslie and Judith Schreyer and Michael and Jane Wilson. The Schreyer’s gifts include 50 photographs by major 20th-century artists, including Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, W. Eugene Smith, Bruce Davidson, Jo Ann Callis, Graciela Iturbide, Helen Levitt, Arthur Leipzig, and David Vestal. The Wilson’s gifts are concentrated on contemporary photographs, including Darren Almond, Robert Flick, Seung Woo Bak, Wang Jingsong, and Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has received a new gift of 54 important photographs from philanthropist Robert B. Menschel. The prints span more than a century of photographic art and include iconic images from William Henry Fox Talbot, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, James Van Der Zee, Brassaï, Roy DeCarava, Robert Frank, and Cindy Sherman. Menschel, a passionate collector of and advocate for photography, has also made major gifts from his collection to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1. LUMA Arles Resets the Future of Recontres d’Arles
In 2020, we’ll see the 50th anniversary of one of the oldest on-going photography festivals in the world, Recontres d’Arles. The festival was struggling under a crippling debt earlier in this decade, but then came news of a miraculous benefactor: Maja Hoffman, heir to the vast Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical fortune. She purchased a crumbling 20-acre railyard in Arles and turned it into one of the most extraordinary arts venues in the world.
The new site, named LUMA Arles after Hoffman’s LUMA Foundation, is now home to a towering new Frank Gehry-designed arts resource center, a series of immense galleries in former industrial buildings, and a public park. Altogether, Hoffman has contributed more than US $175 million (€150 million) to turn the site into a world-class arts center, with the hopes (of many photographers, at least) that Recontres d’Arles would be a centerpiece.
Hoffman’s generosity has not been without controversy, however. François Hebel, the former director of the festival, claimed that Hoffman wanted to absorb the annual event into the new arts center’s brand. Perhaps this issue has been resolved, though, for as of now, Recontres 2020 is scheduled as usual from July through September of this year. Regardless of the final name, it’s likely that photography will remain an important part of the new center’s raison d’etre.