Despite gloomy economic forecasts, arts funding at Penn is staying afloat.
In early October, Penn’s School of Design received a $2.5 million gift from 1969 College graduate Katherine Sachs and 1967 Wharton graduate Keith Sachs to fund visual arts. The donation will create a visiting professorship and support fine arts programs throughout the University.
PennDesign has began to brainstorm a potential list of artists to bring to Penn. Fine Arts Department Chairman Joshua Mosley, PennDesign Dean Marilyn Taylor and the Sachs family are all part of the conversation, according to a PennDesign statement.
Nationally, however, funding in the arts has been steadily declining.
“Arts funding in the United States to small nonprofits continues to decline and, simultaneously, has become further restricted in support of programs rather than operating costs,” Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Slought Foundation Aaron Levy wrote in an email. “For these reasons and others, it is a particularly precarious moment in the arts community, with many organizations and artists struggling to get by and stay alive.”
Levy, who is also an English professor, said this national trend will cause an increased privatization of culture, a diminished collective imagination and the further breakdown of trust between publics and institutions.
Fortunately, arts at Penn have not been severely affected.
“While there has been some downturn in funding from organizational sources, individual support has stayed strong and in some cases increased,” Assistant Vice President for Development Linda Schleifer wrote in an email.
She also explained that $200 million has been raised for the arts and culture through the Making History Campaign, which showed increasing support both in number of donors and total dollars raised.
Still, with these ongoing trends, the Sachs fund came in the right time for the Penn arts community.
Julie Schneider, the undergraduate Fine Arts director, explained that arts programs are relatively expensive compared to other programs at Penn. This is because arts programs are taught in small-classroom settings with five to 20 students and also because they often require up-to-date technologies.
Visual arts, especially, require technical tools, such as camera lenses and video cameras, she said.
“I am grateful for the generosity from various gifts — including one from Sachs — because we wouldn’t have what we have now,” she added. “I am also looking forward to the Sachs gift because it will open up possibilities for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Penn Fine Arts Department and Art History Department to work together,” Schneider said.
Elizabeth Hessmiller and Maurie Smith, PennDesign second year master’s degree students who are co-chairs of the PennDesign Student Council, also appreciate the significance of the Sachs gift.
“I think it’s great and amazing that they are supporting fine arts,” Smith said. “It allows more interaction and more visibility of fine arts at Penn.”
“Funding across the country is suffering, and attention is usually paid to science and business schools,” Hessmiller said. “It’s great to see funding specifically for arts, and it will help the Art Department at Penn to be called out as something specifically worthy for funding.”
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