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CULTURE ON THE ROCKS Black, Hispanic Museums Fight Tougher Fund-Raising Battle With AM-AP

May 15, 1991

CULTURE ON THE ROCKS Black, Hispanic Museums Fight Tougher Fund-Raising Battle With AM-AP Arts: Museums

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ At the edge of Fisk University’s campus sits an aging brick building that holds works by Degas, Cezanne and primitive African sculptures of which the Fisk community is very proud.

The problem is that the African art works are seldom seen by the black community Fisk historically has served. There’s no room.

Works by such renowned American artists as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Aaron Douglas are seldom displayed due to limited gallery space and are in danger of deteriorating due to poor storage.

The new director of Fisk’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery needs $1 million to get the museum and its collections ready.

″I don’t even have any clerical assistants. I’m talking about salaries for an administrative assistant, money for a registrar, a curator,″ says Minnie Marianne Miles.

That’s not to mention a planned restoration of a gallery for the African- American works or publicity costs to advertise The Alfred Stieglitz Collection donated by artist Georgia O’Keeffe. That collection is on permanent display and contains works by O’Keeffe, Degas, Cezanne, Diego Rivera and Stieglitz, and was valued at $8.7 million in 1984.

The museum has an annual budget of about $90,000 a year, mostly from the state. It received a $100,000 grant from AT&T to renovate a gallery for permanent display of African-American works and a $50,000 grant from The Ford Foundation for conservation and gallery management.

The museum, on the campus of a traditionally black college which has itself struggled to survive, shares many handicaps endured by other black and Hispanic intitutions.

The Ford Foundation found in a 1989 study that museums with collections focusing on the art of particular ethnic or minority groups faced worse problems than general museums.

The study found most were established in the last 30 years and had a high level of government support and a low level of individual contributions.

″The most significant difference with minority arts organizations is that the availability of private, individual and patron support is less,″ said Ruth Mayleas, program officer for the Education and Culture Program of the Ford Foundation.

The philanthropic organization is in the final year of a three-year grant program aimed at helping black and Hispanic museums upgrade collections, acquire new works and strengthen museum management.

″One finds often in black and Hispanic communities that the habit of giving to the arts is less developed and also, the resources are less,″ Mayleas said.

On the other hand, she said many of the museums are good at serving their own cultural communities, but have more difficulty attracting general viewers.

″We tend to be institutions rooted in a community and become part of stabilization in an economic sense, an oasis for a broad community of school children, senior citizens and families,″ said Kinshasha Conwill, the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, one of the nation’s oldest and most well-known black museums.

She said many minority museums are younger, less visible and don’t have endowments or major private donors. They were formed because major institutions gave little attention to the works of Hispanic, black, Asian or American Indian artists.

Marie Acosta-Colon, director of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, says the art and culture of people of color was considered second class, a reflection of the overall status of the community.

But she and Conwill believe minority museums and the growth in ethnic populations are changing that.

″Our own efforts to bring to light the work of African-American and Latino artists have vastly increased the knowledge and interest in that work,″ Conwill said.

The experience of the Mexican Museum suggests location can be a problem, too.

A move in 1985 from the Mission District of the city, basically a Hispanic community, to the more white, suburban Fort Mason area, and aggressive fund- raising efforts turned around the finances of the museum of Mexican and Hispanic art.

″We went from operating at a deficit and having a staff of two people to operating in the black with a staff of 14,″ said Diane Robey, publicist for the museum.

Acosta-Colon said the budget is now about $1.5 million a year. And she was startled by a recent survey which found membership isn’t Hispanic.

She attributes that to the move and San Francisco’s close proximity to Mexico, which makes residents more aware of the art of Mexican and Hispanic artists.

The drawback, she said, is that the museum is no longer easily accessible to the community it was formed to serve.

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