Henry Clay Frick and Pierpont Morgan, the Gilded Age businessmen, are long gone, but the Frick and the Morgan Library are vital presences. Assume nothing, though. Once arts donors were buying a niche in history, but times change. Sarah Arison, creator of the Arison Arts Foundation and board member of the YoungArts Foundation, thrives on the human connectedness she gets. “For me it’s about being able to meet artists at a young age and then watching, seeing the impact that it has on them, getting to grow with them,” she says. “What we hear most often is that YoungArts changed my life.”
Micky Wolfson, who funded the Wolfsonian, the remarkable museum of art and design in Miami Beach, says, “I’m a preservationist, not a collector.” He adds, “I did it for my pleasure and my education and my mission to understand.” Dennis Scholl, who is also Florida-based, is the kind of art collector who collects in depth, and he and his wife became donors as an extension of this.
“Six years ago, we gave 300 pieces of international contemporary art to the Pérez Museum,” he says. That is the former Miami Art Museum, renamed for Jorge Pérez, a collector and major donor. Was their gift memorialised by the museum? “We are listed. But we don’t do it for that. What the Pérez did do was name a lecture series after us. And we like that. That extends the gift.”
About 10 years ago, Scholl came upon contemporary art made by aboriginal artists in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. He and his wife built up a significant collection. “We looked around and saw that very few museums had examples. The Met had work by aboriginal artists but none of it was contemporary.” A few months ago, they began donating pieces to museums, beginning with the Met. “We try to put the works in a place that’s right for them,” Scholl says.
Patrick Rolandelli, a New York-based entrepreneur in his mid-30s, puts energy and money into arts projects for reasons that include visual stimulation and career opportunities. “I’m just curious,” he says. “There’s a limit to what literature or philosophy can do for you as stimulation. At some point you have to venture out into the real world of tangible objects.” Recently, he did a pop-up show on the Lower East Side. “It was a good way of developing business relationships,” he said. “And it’s a good way to engage in a conversation with somebody who spends their working day poring over documents. Also, the only way to understand art is to engage with artists.”
J. Steven Manolis, a successful businessman, now an equally successful working artist, has started a Miami-based arts project and is lucid on the subject of collectors, donors and patrons. “There are those who are in it to advance themselves. It’s all about them,” he says. “It’s something that can help their careers. If they got the same accolade from giving to a sports team, they would give to a sports team. There’s a second category that are legitimately trying to help. They do care about the art but they also want it to be noted. And there’s a third group who give almost anonymously, just because it gives them satisfaction. It’s identity-less. They just like to see four ballerinas on stage and know that they are supporting them.”
Anthony Haden-Guest is an author and critic whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and The Sunday Times.