Tate woos US patrons with cocktails at 10 Downing Street

Guggenheim director says US institutions cannot compete with such incentives


Tate’s US fund-raising organisation is offering its members the opportunity to attend a reception hosted by Tony and Cherie Blair at 10 Downing Street.

Supporters of Tate, who spend at least $25,000 booking tables at a gala dinner in New York on 8 May, are being invited to have drinks with the British Prime Minister and his wife in London on 16 June. This presupposes that Mr Blair will not have left office by then.

The Chair of the American Patrons of Tate, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who is married to British financier Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, secured Mr Blair’s support.

“She knows the Prime Minister and he was thrilled to discover that Americans were supporting our fundraising gala in New York so he offered to host a drinks party,” says Richard Hamilton, director of the American Patrons of Tate.

Tickets for the gala dinner at the Riverfront Pavilion Midtown at 39th Street and West Side Highway cost $25,000 for half a table or $50,000 for an entire table. To date, 30 tables have been booked. All of the money raised will be used to purchase art for Tate.

Those who have secured tables include Latin America’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecoms tycoon whose fortune is estimated at $49 billion by Forbes, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the widow of Morgan Stanley chairman Richard B. Fisher, Donald Marron, founder and ceo of private equity investment firm Lightyear Capital, who built one of the largest corporate collections in the US when he was ceo of Paine Webber, Richard Fuld, chief executive of the investment bank Lehman brothers, dealers Larry Gagosian and Arne Glimcher, and MoMA trustees Ronald Lauder, Agnes Gund, and the oil tycoon Sid Bass.

As well as private drinks with Blair, Tate patrons who book tables at the May dinner are being offered a group portrait by Annie Leibovitz, the Vanity Fair magazine photographer. According to Mr Hamilton, the picture will be used to illustrate a Vanity Fair story about the American patrons of Tate, another perk arranged by Lady de Rothschild through her friend Graydon Carter, editor of the magazine.

Phenomenal success

Tate received its first major private funding for the acquisition of US art in 1987 when the late Sir Edward Manton set up an endowment, today worth $30m.

The American Patrons of Tate was set up in New York in 1999. To date it has raised some $45.6m for the London gallery. According to Mr Hamilton, around $10m of this has been used to purchase contemporary art by US artists.

The group raised $18m of the $33m provided by US donors towards the opening of Tate Modern in 2000—25% of the total private funding raised for the conversion of the former power station on the River Thames.

“Since 1999, we have raised an average of $5.7m per year in cash gifts. Sums were highest in 1999 and 2000 as a result of gifts towards the opening of Tate Modern,” says Mr Hamilton. “We also receive on average gifts of art worth $2.6m a year. Last year, we brought in $10.4m,” says Mr Hamilton.

“When we started we thought people would support us because they wanted American and South American art to be displayed at Tate Modern where over five million people a year would see it,” says Mr Hamilton. “At least 50% of our patrons have links to London. They either have houses there or went to school there, or run businesses there. They buy art there.”

Trouncing the competition

Some US museum directors say that they are struggling to match the successful fundraising efforts of the American Patrons of Tate.

Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison raised the issue of competition between museums chasing limited funding at a recent panel organised by ADAA, “The museum as collector”, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on 24 February.

Speaking at the panel she said: “There’s a new phenomenon...which is the American Friends of…Tate, the Centre Pompidou, the Hermitage Museum. Now if you join the American Friends of the Tate you get to go to dinner at Tony Blair’s house. You get to have your picture taken by Annie Leibovitz. And you get to keep it. These are compelling, compelling incentives that speak not of true philanthropy, but of ‘give us some money, give us some art’, and we are going to give you something back that’s really, really enticing. I know this because my board members come to me in deep conflict, ‘I want to be part of this group, I want to be a friend to Tate, to the Pompidou, to the Hermitage, to the Pushkin...’. What’s a poor American museum director to do?”

Tate director, Sir Nicholas Serota, responded: “Lisa, I’m flattered you feel so threatened by an institution that has a fraction of your resources.”

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Ms Dennison said: “What could we tell our supporters in comparison? You’re going to go to the White House and have lunch with Laura Bush?”