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Chapter 2: The Coming of Age of Media as Art


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Challenge
Artists working in media, and the curators who regularly showcase their work, view the funding of artistic expressions in media as integral to our culture. As John Hanhardt, senior curator of Film and Media Arts at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, asserts, "If one is not supporting film and the media arts, then one is not supporting the leading edge of transformation of our culture."

Nevertheless, many funders do not understand the value of funding media-based art.

Strategy
Successful projects undertaken by funders have included media-based art such as:
  • Film
  • Video art and installations
  • Experimental film
  • New media
Funders have utilized a variety of strategies and approaches to funding media. Merrill Lynch funded the retrospective of Nam June Paik's video art that took over the Guggenheim in 2000. Anita Contini, first vice president, senior director of Global Sponsorships, saw the exhibition as an opportunity to associate Merrill Lynch "with technological innovation, particularly because Nam June Paik is one of the greatest originators and innovators of contemporary multimedia art." Beyond this, Merrill Lynch used the Paik retrospective as a chance to educate its employees about video art.

St. Paul-based Jerome Foundation, a small private foundation, funds "emerging" makers, which it defines as:
  • Professional-level artists and
  • Early-to-late-career artists whose work is not yet substantially recognized by their peers
The Directors of Jerome Foundation chose this strategy because they "always try to find a niche in the arts funding environment in which a small foundation like Jerome can make a difference." In addition, Jerome provides support for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to purchase a number of works funded by the foundation.

The Rockefeller Foundation has funded groundbreaking feature films such as:
  • Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, a poetic evocation of a time of transition in the culture of the Gullah, descendants of slaves living on the islands off South Carolina and Georgia.
  • Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie's Smoke Signals, the first feature film written, directed, and acted by Native Americans.
Although these films achieved a certain commercial success, it was not as important as artistic success. Joan Shigekawa, of The Rockefeller Foundation, explains, "Foundations ask a different set of questions than for-profit investors. We ask if the production will reach its intended audience? We hope that as many people see it as possible, but our net return on a supported project is that the audience engages the issue, and not how much money was made on ticket sales. That's why we're a grant making institution and not a cinema production company."

The Daniel Langlois Foundation, based in Montreal, has been an important funder of new media since its founding in 1997. Jean Gagnon, the president of the foundation, believes that it is incumbent on all foundations to support leading-edge work, "I think that given the fact that new technologies are becoming increasingly dominant in society as a whole, it is crucial for private foundations or those involved in philanthropy to be able to grasp that phenomenon."
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Impact
In the beginning of the 21st century, it is crucial for foundations interested in furthering an artistic culture to fund media. According to John Hanhardt, "The sustained confident attention to these media art forms is absolutely essential, and it should come from foundations, both the large ones and well-known as well as newer ones."

According to Merrill Lynch's Contini, media is "an important art form to support, as important as supporting any of the visual or performing arts."

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