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Searching for firmer footing

Searching for firmer footing

Photo by Cora Markowitz

As the prestige of the Gund Gallery increases, so too, its directors hope, will the amount of money flowing into its endowment. As the gallery looks to the future, director Natalie Marsh and its board of trustees are seeking to expand its exhibitions and educational programs, as well as assert the independence of the gallery from the College, a goal it hopes to achieve through greater financial stability.

This fall, the gallery will instate a new membership program called “Friends of the Gund,” the latest step in the gallery’s increased efforts to generate its own income and extend its reach beyond the Hill.

“Part of what we will be seeking to do [with the membership program] is introduce some of the different kinds of teaching programs that we do [at the Gallery],” Marsh said, “as well as some of the artists and curators and scholars we work closely with, to members who will probably be alumni and parents and actually arts patrons who might not currently have a relationship to Kenyon College.”

“Friends of the Gund” will have a tier system that grants donors different benefits for different amounts donated, though Marsh declined to say what the tiers will be. David Horvitz ’74, chair of the board of trustees of the Gund Gallery, suggested there may be additional benefits for those who donate to “Friends of the Gund” at different levels. “We’re going to have visits sometimes to New York, visits to our artists’ studios and maybe some cocktail parties and do things in Columbus and try to provide an element of fun for the people that are going to pay whatever it is to be a friend of the Gund,” Horvitz said.

By establishing the program, the gallery is following in the steps of other college galleries and museums, such as at Oberlin and Bowdoin Colleges, in expanding outreach through collection of donations, and is on track to become a more self-sustaining entity.

While the gallery, like Kenyon itself, is a nonprofit, it is still dependent on the College for much of its funding.

In 2012, the Gund Gallery had a total revenue of $761,529, according to its 990 form, an Internal Revenue Service document that nonprofits are required to make public. (The 2013 form, which covers the 2012 fiscal year, was the most recent available.)

That year, more than 68 percent of the gallery’s funds came from the College, which donated $519,626 of the $761,529 in total revenue. The difference is made up through endowments and contributions and may soon be supplemented by the “Friends of the Gund”.

Marsh said the gallery always intended to find other sources of revenue.

“Our operating budget necessarily needs to grow in order for us to expand our service,” she said. Marsh also predicted that in the next 10 to 20 years, the amount the College gives to the gallery may decrease as the gallery accumulates its own endowment with donations from other sources.

Isabelle Brauer ’16, a student associate at the gallery, said expanded independent funding for the gallery could assist it in diversifying its collection, which would connect student curators like herself to new experiences in preparing artwork for presentation.   

“A lot of our collection pieces have come from Graham Gund’s private collection,” Brauer said. “I think part of the role in becoming more financially independent is that the gallery will have more freedom to put on the shows that they want to do, and purchase collection pieces that they want to purchase.”

The gallery’s 2015-2018 strategic plan, available on the Kenyon website, states its hope of achieving a “Gund-controlled” endowment, or money that the gallery holds independently. It aims to boost this figure to $15 million by 2018, with a long-term goal of $40 million. The gallery also intends to increase its donor numbers by 25 percent annually and increase the number of trustees from 17 to 20 by 2018. The 17 members include Marsh, President Sean Decatur and Brackett Denniston, chair of the Kenyon Board of Trustees, as ex-officios.

The gallery operates similarly to two other tax-exempt organizations belonging to the College: The Kenyon Review and the Philander Chase Corporation, which seeks to preserve the rural environment surrounding campus.

But each organization relies on the College differently, according to Vice President for Finance Todd Burson. “The ultimate goal is just like all the other related organizations … they do become self-sustaining eventually,” Burson said. At this point in time, the Review is almost financially self-sufficient.

While the gallery’s reliance on the College is not unique among galleries and museums which have their homes on liberal arts campuses, the gallery differs from most in having its own board of trustees.

“One of its primary missions is to raise supplemental money so that the gallery can fulfill its mission and do what it thinks is the best for the College,” Horvitz said of the board.

Horvitz also said that the Board plays a crucial role in decision-making. “Everybody on our board was selected because they know something about art,” Horvitz said. “And truthfully, a lot of people, most of the people on the Kenyon College board, it’s not their interest. That’s another reason why we keep that separate.”

Oberlin and Bowdoin Colleges have only advisory boards, rather than boards of trustees, for their museums. Advisory boards, often comprised of alumni, faculty and others, provide insight to a museum’s director, but the director ultimately holds greater influence, while the College itself maintains financial control. Andria Derstine, director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) at Oberlin, praised Oberlin’s advisory committee.

“A board ultimately has a fiduciary responsibility, whereas an advisory committee is simply that: They give advice to the director of the museum,” Derstine said. “It’s been very important to us to have that kind of advisory feedback from people involved in the art world.”

The AMAM receives considerable funds from Oberlin, according to Derstine, but also generates its own revenue from donors and a membership program. However, the financial control of the organization remains at the College level, rather than with the museum itself.

Having a board of trustees places fiduciary power in the hands of the gallery’s board members, rather than with the College, yet Marsh defended the system and the financial independence. “We weren’t really unique in Kenyon terms,” Marsh said. “We may seem a little unique compared to some other colleges. We’re separate structurally so we can best fund the operation, but the operation itself is completely embedded and integrated into the College.”

Horvitz believes in the mission of the gallery, but acknowledges there have been tensions between the gallery and the College in its time. “There’s a balance that’s not there yet,” Horvitz said of the relationship. “The Gund Gallery is as much a part of Kenyon College as the political science department is a part of Kenyon College; I don’t think Natalie would agree with that, but I think we’re still a little separate, like The Kenyon Review is separate. It’s got its advantages and its disadvantages.”

Although greater outreach to other funders may signal an eventual detachment from the College, Marsh said the gallery intends to remain a part of the College.

“We’re separate structurally so we can best fund the operation, but the operation itself is completely embedded and integrated into the College,” Marsh said. “Its mission is fundamentally to support the operations of the Gund Gallery, and the Gund Gallery is meant to support the education mission of Kenyon College.”

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