US and UK museums and galleries face protests over ethics of philanthropy gifts

Major art galleries and museums in the UK and US are being challenged to consider the ethics of their gift acceptance policies following a wave of protests.

In the UK, 350 protesters occupied the British Museum to protest the Museum’s sponsorship relationship, and particularly its sponsorship of its I am Ashurbanipal exhibition which features Ottoman artifacts removed from modern day Iraq. Campaigner Yasmin Younis is reported as saying: “When I saw there would be a special exhibition on my culture and my history I was ecstatic … but finding out the sponsor was BP was a massive slap in the face. These are the very same sponsors who advocated for the war which destroyed my homeland and slaughtered my people all in the name of oil.” ¹

Meanwhile in New York, the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Art Museum were both targeted by protests against their policies of accepting funding from the Sackler Family whose money comes from the pharmaceutical manufacture of the drug Oxycontin a product which is currently the subject of lawsuits and public outrage as a significant contributor to the US ‘Opioid crisis’. ²

The Met has instigated a review of its gift acceptance policy and promised to report back.



Giving not Given

Offering a tax-exempt twelve-month stipend of US$50,000, international institution fees for an academic year, return airfares, insurances and assurances of exposure and professional connection, a Samstag Scholarship is often labelled a ‘golden passport to success’ in Australian art circles. Undoubtedly, in the 25 years since its inception, 140 Australian visual artists have benefited from this generous philanthropic bequest - many becoming household names.

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The art of giving (and receiving): Philanthropy and the university art museum

Every year Australian university art museums (UAMs) are enriched by the generosity of individuals and philanthropic bodies who share a passion for the visual arts. This includes giving in the form of cultural gifts, cash donations, bequests and endowments that are critical to the development of university collections, art museum programs and facilities.

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Realising the impact of a $4 million endowment

In 2014 Paula Kinnane made an $8 million gift to the University of Queensland. 50% of the donor’s contribution was made to create an endowment for the UQ Art Museum and an equal amount was given to create an endowment for the UQ School of Music. It is estimated that together these two endowments constitute the largest private gift to the arts in the history of Queensland.

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$9 million Indigenous Art donation to ANU

Aboriginal art collector, lawyer and ANU Alumnus Craig Edwards has gifted what is believed to be the most significant single donation of indigenous art to an Australian University. The collection is valued at over $9 million and comprises works by influential indigenous artists including Nyurapayia Nampitjinpa , Yannima Pikarli, Tommy Watson, Naata Nungurrayi, Tjawina Porter Nampitjinpa, George Tjungurrayi and Queenie McKenzie. ANU is planning a major exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery to celebrate the gift.