PATRICIA ANN BANKS

Associate Professor of Sociology, Mount Holyoke College

Philanthropy

A Legacy of Collecting: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

African American museums, Philanthropy, African American art, CollectingP. B.
Kevin E. Cole,  Increase Risk with Emotional Faith  (2008) / © Patricia. A. Banks  Donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture by Greg and Yolanda Head.

Kevin E. Cole, Increase Risk with Emotional Faith (2008) / © Patricia. A. Banks

Donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture by Greg and Yolanda Head.

by Patricia A. Banks

I recently participated in a Smith College teaching and learning event "American History as African American History: Visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture." Here is a post that I wrote about the visit for a reflection and resource blog about the visit:

When I walked into the visual art gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) my attention was immediately taken to Kevin E. Cole’s work Increase Risk with Emotional Faith (2008). The sculpture references neckties used to lynch African American men and is composed of highly patterned and brightly colored strips of wood that twist and turn under and over one another. It is not only the formal properties and conceptual content of this work that caught my eye, but also its resonance with my scholarship and teaching. To complete research for my book Represent: Art and Identity Among the Black Upper-Middle Class (Routledge 2010) I conducted ethnographic research on art collecting by African Americans in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA. While New York is widely recognized for art collecting, it is less well known that Atlanta has a rich legacy of collecting among African Americans. This legacy is partly rooted in the institutional base for African American art that is provided by museums at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's) in the city such as Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. Cole lives and works in Atlanta and several collectors in the city own his sculptures and display them in their homes. The work that is on display in NMAAHC was donated by Greg and Yolanda Head who are based in Atlanta. The couple are among a critical mass of African American art collectors in the city who center work by artists from the African Diaspora in their patronage.

Much attention has been paid to the fact that the collection of historical artifacts at NMAAHC was partly brought together by reaching out to the public through its Save Our African American Treasures program. However, Cole’s sculpture donated by the Head family throws light on how public collections rely on private collectors. In this case, NMAAHC's collection grows out of a long legacy of private collections focused on work by African American artists.

For professors and other instructors who are interested in bringing insights on the history of collecting into the classroom NMAAHC provides a useful case for examining the intersections of identity and collecting. As I work on my new monograph on philanthropy at African American museums, I feel as if I have come full circle.

 

 

 

Major MLK Memorial Donors Gave Millions to African American Museum

African American museums, PhilanthropyP. B.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial / © Patricia A. Banks

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial / © Patricia A. Banks

Half of the major donors to the MLK Memorial also gave million dollar donations to the NMAAHC.

by Patricia A. Banks

On October 16, 2011, the life and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored at the dedication ceremony for his memorial on the National Mall.  Five years later, on September 24, 2016, King’s legacy and the legacies of other pioneering African Americans were celebrated at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAAHC and the MLK Memorial are not only linked by standing as “firsts” on the National Mall—the NMAAHC is the first African American museum on this tract of land and the MLK Memorial is the first monument honoring an African American there—but also by the philanthropy that helped to pay for them. In my research on black cultural philanthropy, I find that this museum and monument are connected through common patrons: Half of the major donors to the MLK Memorial also gave million dollar donations to the NMAAHC (1).

When the General Motors Corporation donated $750,000 to support the MLK Memorial in June 2000 they became the first major sponsor of the campaign. Over the years the automaker continued to provide support—for example, they made two separate $1,000,000 gifts in 2002. By the end of the campaign GM had given over $10,000,000 to the cause.  In 2013, two years after the MLK Memorial opened, the company made a half-million dollar donation to the NMAAHC that was part of a bigger seven-figure gift.

The NMAAHC’s major gifts campaign was kicked off by a million dollar pledge by Aflac in 2002. Over the course of fulfilling this pledge from 2003 to 2006, the company also gave a one million dollar donation to the MLK Memorial in 2005.

Inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial 

Inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial 

While both philanthropic campaigns overlapped, the MLK Memorial donors who supported the NMAAHC generally gave to the King campaign first.  Along with GM, other corporations such as The Walt Disney Company, Prudential, and Hyundai followed their million dollar donations to the MLK Memorial with million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC. The gifts of individual donors such as financier Robert F. Smith and filmmaker George Lucas (whose NMAAHC gift was also from his spouse investment manager Mellody Hobson) followed this pattern as well.

Not only did half of the major MLK Memorial donors give million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC, but at least close to 15% of them have also given million dollar donations to other African American museums and related organizations. In particular, there is overlap between major donors for campaigns to build the MLK Memorial, the NMAAHC, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Corporations such as Hyundai, Toyota, and PepsiCo gave million dollar donations to all three fundraising efforts. Another case of million dollar gifts to the MLK Memorial, the NMAAHC, and another museum focused on black culture is philanthropy by Lucas and Hobson. In 2005 Lucas' donation to the MLK Memorial was announced. In 2013 Lucas and Hobson gave a $1,000,000 gift to the NMAAHC, and the next year in 2014 the couple donated $1,000,000 to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.  

Identifying the donor links between fundraising campaigns at the MLK Memorial and the NMAAHC (along with other African American museums and related insitutions) offers a richer understanding of these cultural projects.  Studying high-impact patrons of black culture (e.g. donors who provide major support for the institutionalization of black culture across multiple sites) is not only important for documenting the history of black monuments and museums, but also for understanding the factors that drive black cultural philanthropy. 

National Museum of African American History & Culture / © Patricia A. Banks

National Museum of African American History & Culture / © Patricia A. Banks

Donors Who Gave Million Dollar Gifts to the MLK Memorial and the NMAAHC (2)

AARP
Aetna
Aflac
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
BET Networks/Viacom
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation*
Coca-Cola Foundation*
Exelon Foundation
FedEx*
The Ford Motor Company Fund*
GE*
General Motors
George Lucas*
Hyundai Motor Company
JP Morgan Chase
Macfarlane Partners/Victor and Thaderine MacFarlane and Family
McDonald’s Corporation
MetLife Foundation
Michael and Susan Dell
Nationwide Foundation
PepsiCo Foundation*
Prudential Financial Inc.
Target
The Boeing Company*

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation
The Walt Disney Company
TOYOTA*

United Health Group
Verizon Foundation
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Walmart
Zoelimax Foundation/Robert Frederick Smith

 (1) This is based on analysis of the million dollar donors for both building campaigns who are memorialized on donor walls at their respective sites. Documents such as 990-PF’s, annual reports, and press releases were also consulted.

(2) See footnote 1. Also, donors designated by an asterisk have not only given million dollar donations to the MLK Memorial and NMAAHC, but also to another African American museum. In cases where the donor name is followed by a forward slash, the name of the associated donor that appears on the NMAAHC donor wall is listed. 

High-Impact Black Cultural Philanthropy: Million Dollar Gifts to Multiple African American Museums

African American museums, PhilanthropyP. B.
National Museum of African American History and Culture / Alan Karchmer / NMAAHC

National Museum of African American History and Culture / Alan Karchmer / NMAAHC

More specifically, I find that over 10% of the donors that have made million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC have also made gifts of one million dollars or more to other African American cultural institutions across the United States.

by Patricia A. Banks

The dozens of million dollar donations to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) have been widely reported. However, in my research on philanthropy and African American museums, I find that these gifts are part of a broader pattern of large gifts made to other African American museums and related institutions across the United States. More specifically, I find that over 10% of the donors that have made million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC have also made gifts of one million dollars or more to other African American cultural institutions across the United States (1). I describe these donors as high-impact patrons of black culture (and their gifts as a form of high-impact black cultural philanthropy) because they provide major support for the institutionalization of black culture across multiple sites. These gifts reveal that neither high-level philanthropy among black donors to African American museums nor a cluster of million dollar gifts to an African American museum are isolated phenomena. (To do a search for museums that have received a million dollar donation from a major NMAAHC donor see the African American Museums Database (AAMD) and read this).

This is not the first time in the history of philanthropy that an African American museum has attracted a long list of million dollar donors.  Over a decade earlier when the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, Ohio) opened in 2004, over three dozen million dollar gifts were given to support the institution. Several of those donors, such as The Boeing Company and Coca-Cola, would go on to also give million dollar donations to the NMAAHC. Also among those donors were wealthy African Americans including media mogul Oprah Winfrey and Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert L. Johnson. The Links Incorporated, a black women’s social and civic organization, also made million dollar gifts to both museums.

Among other high-impact patrons of black culture are The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation.  Founded by tech entrepreneurs Bill and Melinda Gates, The Gates Foundation is based in Seattle, Washington. Like other major cities, Seattle has a local African American museum, the Northwest African American museum. While The Gates Foundation gave a $10,000,000 gift to the NMAAHC in October 2009, that year in April they also gave a $1,000,000 million dollar gift to the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). Three years later in 2014 they gave another grant of over $1,000,000 to NAAM and over the course of 2009 to 2016 have made several other smaller gifts to the organization.

The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation also provides an example of high-impact black cultural philanthropy. Lewis, who passed away in 1993, was a wealthy African American lawyer and businessman. His foundation was established in 1987. During his life the Lewis Foundation made million dollar donations to institutions such as Harvard University and Howard University. Honoring a wish to support an African American museum that Lewis made before his death the Foundation pledged $5,000,000 to the Maryland African American Museum Corporation in 2002. After the donation the Baltimore museum was renamed The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture. In the ensuing years, the Foundation committed to a million dollar donation to the NMAAHC and has continued to support the Lewis Museum. For example, in the fiscal year ending in June 2015 a $250,000 contribution to the NMAAHC and a $50,000 donation to the Lewis Museum were granted by the Lewis Foundation.

Grafton Tyler Brown, View of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, 1882, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Curtis E. Ransom in memory of Julia Turner Ransom  Letterhead featuring Brown's work was donated to the NMAAHC by Wells Fargo.

Grafton Tyler Brown, View of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, 1882, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Curtis E. Ransom in memory of Julia Turner Ransom

Letterhead featuring Brown's work was donated to the NMAAHC by Wells Fargo.

Notable examples of high-impact black cultural philanthropy in the banking sector are Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Each bank gave million dollar donations to the NMAAHC and the recently opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Along with funds, Wells Fargo and Bank of America donated work from their corporate collections to the NMAAHC. 

Put in this broader context philanthropy at the NMAAHC is perhaps most notable not for establishing wholesale new patterns of philanthropy but rather for accelerating existing patterns. For example, from the AAMD we can see that there is an established pattern of major corporate philanthropy in the African American museum sector and a history of large gifts by blacks to these institutions. However, in my ongoing research, the NMAAHC stands out for the number of these types of gifts. It appears that the NMAAHC has been able to galvanize high-level supporters at an unprecedented level.

Examining these large gifts to African American museums casts light on how the NMAAHC is embedded within a broader network and history of black cultural philanthropy. Recognizing this network and historical precedent are important because they arguably created a context that made the especially high philanthropic engagement at the NMAAHC possible. How the embeddedness of the NMAAHC in this culture of philanthropy will play out in the future is an important question. While the NMAAHC is the largest African American museum it is just one among at least 300 other black-focused cultural institutions across the United States. A robust African American museums field will require deepening understanding of the scope and motivations underlying high-impact African American cultural philanthropy.

(1) As part of my research on philanthropy and African American museums I have collected data on
selected public gifts to these institutions. This includes gifts reported in documents such as museum annual reports and 990-PF Tax Forms. This post refers to million dollar NMAAHC donors as of 9/13/16.

The African American Museums Database (AAMD)

African American museums, PhilanthropyP. B.

Background

Exhibition ad at The Museum of the African Diaspora (  MoAD), San Francisco, CA   /  ©  Patricia A. Banks

Exhibition ad at The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco, CA © Patricia A. Banks

by Patricia A. Banks

The African American Museums Database (AAMD) is a digital humanities project that brings together information about African American museums and related institutions across the United States. It includes over 300 organizations that fall under this category. The AAMD references selected institutions included in the 2003 National Survey of African American Museums and the 2008 AAAM/IMLS African American Cultural Organizations survey, as well as selected organizations receiving IMLS Museum Grants for African American History and Culture. It also includes other cultural organizations that I have come across in my research on philanthropy and African American museums. Information about the museums is garnered from publicly available sources such as 990 Tax Forms and museum websites. The “Search Categories” section of this blog post discusses the searchable fields and other information included about each organization.  Since the boundaries of what constitutes African American museums are flexible, a brief discussion about this term is warranted.

The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco, CA    /  ©  Patricia A. Banks

The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco, CA © Patricia A. Banks

 

What is an African American Museum?

The boundaries of “museum” are notoriously fuzzy. For example, while some definitions are narrow and exclude broad swaths of institutions such as those that are non-collecting or without a physical location others are more inclusive, including organizations as diverse as zoos, planetariums, and historic sites. The flexibility of the concept is perhaps best captured by a statement in the 2008 National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums (The American Association of Museums) guide that "We may have to live with the fact that 'museum' as a concept is the intersection of many complex categories, resulting in an organization that people can identify intuitively but that cannot be neatly packaged in a definition' (pg. 3).

The fact that “African American” museums are also distinguished in reference to race and ethnicity further complicates their definition. The racial dimension of African American museums not only has to take into account questions of who is African American, but also what about the museums is African American, and how much African Americanness is sufficient to warrant inclusion. For example, while “African American” could presumably refer strictly to history and culture related to people of African descent within the context of the United States, the 2003 National Survey of African American Museums includes organizations that are African focused, such as the National Museum of African Art and the former Museum for African Art.

Questions concerning what about a museums should be African American in order to garner this designation are brought to fore in the 1988 Association of African American Museums (AAAM) report Profile of Black Museums.  Noting that it was challenging “to define those characteristics that made a museum distinctively a ‘Black’ museum” they settled on not only a mission focused definition, but also one that referenced black leadership.  “Your museum must have significant representation in both its operations and governance by Black persons (i.e., person(s) of continental African descent),” the report explains (pg. 15). However, a decade later the 2008 AAAM/IMLS co-sponsored survey on African American cultural institutions only refers to mission in defining what about a museum makes it black. Yet, even with mission there can be questions about the degree of focus that is required to merit inclusion.

The 1988 AAAM survey and the IMLS grant criteria designate African American museums (or black museums in the case of the AAAM report) as those having a “primary” focus on the group. The 2008 AAAM/IMLS survey report further clarifies the issue of quantity by establishing a specific percentage necessary for inclusion. The report notes that “an organization’s mission needed to be at least 50% focused on African American history or culture to qualify" (pg. 1).

This discussion highlights the complexity of defining a subset of cultural organizations as “African American.” The AAMD takes a broad view of this designation. A broad scope allows researchers and others interested in this type of institution to explore the full range of organizations that can fall under this category.  Ultimately, the cultural institutions included in the database are linked by having missions with a significant focus on the history and/or culture of people from the African Diaspora.

Search Categories and Other Fields

Searchable categories include museum name, region, state, city, focus, budget, Smithsonian Affiliate, Google Cultural Institute, Bank of America-Museums on Us, and Million Dollar Donation From Major NMAAHC Donor. While not searchable, museum profiles also include other information such as address and website. Below are brief notes about selected fields:

NMAAHC Survey, AAAM/IMLS Survey,  IMLS Grant: If there is a “1” next to the NMAAHC Survey or AAAM/IMLS Survey fields in a museum profile then the organization is included in the publications reporting findings from these surveys--e.g. the 2003 report in the case of the former and the 2008 report in the case of the latter. If there is a "1" next to IMLS Grant in a museum profile then the organization has received an IMLS Museum Grant for African American History and Culture.

Bank of America-Museums on Us: Museums on Us is a Bank of America corporate philanthropy program where they offer free admission for cardholders to selected museums on the first full weekend of each month. These museums can be searched in the AAMD. A "1" in the results fields indicates that this organization is part of this program. For more information about black cultural philanthropy see the blog post High-Impact Black Cultural Philanthropy: Million Dollar Gifts to Multiple African American Museums.

Budget: With the exception of Smithsonian Institutions all budget information is from recent 990 Tax Forms. For example, if the “budget source” field for an organization reads “2014 Form 990” then the budget information was garnered from this source.  Budget information is only included for organizations where it is publicly available. Also note, any search that includes budget will only pull up results for the subset of museums where budget information is present. 

Focus: While it is not uncommon for African American museums to have a broad charge encompassing history, fine art, and other forms of culture, the focus field allows institutions to be searched according to whether they primarily seem to concentrate on history, fine art, both history and fine art or are an interdisciplinary cultural center. The latter category includes organizations that focus on visual culture along with other cultural disciplines. The other category includes organizations that do not fall into any of these categories such as many music centered museums.

Google Cultural Institute: As part of their Cultural Institute, Google partners with organizations to present high-resolution images of their collections online. These organizations can be searched in the AAMD. Links to their Cultural InstItute profiles are also listed. 

Million Dollar Donation From Major NMAAHC Donor: This field searches for selected museums that have received a million dollar donation from a donor who has also given a million dollar gift to the NMAAHC (as of 9/13/16). Donor Name, Donor Amount, Donor Year, and Donor Source are reported. If donation fields are blank in the results page for a museum then this information is unknown. Year generally refers to the date that the gift was announced or the date that is listed in a report of donations.  It should be noted that in some cases a million dollar commitment is announced in one year made but the gift is actually made over multiple subsequent years. See the blog post High-Impact Black Cultural Philanthropy: Million Dollar Gifts to Multiple African American Museums for more information about these shared donors. 

Smithsonian Affiliate: Smithsonian Affiliates are museums that collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution. Affiliates can be searched in the AAMD. However, the following three museums will not show up in the search because they are actual Smithsonian Museums: The Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Finally, while the goal is to be as accurate as possible, there may be errors in the AAMD. Also, the database may undergo periodic updates.  If you would like to suggest a cultural institution or share information about a project that draws on the AAMD please contact [afammuseums]@[gmail.com].