It isn’t easy to give away the J. Paul Getty Trust’s money, but the Getty Grant Program has managed to disburse $20 million during its first five years of operation. Five hundred and thirty grants have been awarded to art historians, conservators and art museums in 18 countries.
Ministering to a wide range of needs, Getty grants have helped to repair earthquake-damaged murals in Mexico City, to develop a user-friendly display of Native American art at the Denver Art Museum and to publish books on French daguerreotypes and Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Scholars have used Getty money to study Japanese hand scrolls, Tuscan stained glass and the social history of German modern art. Museums around the world have catalogued their collections and hired interns, courtesy of the Getty.
Twenty million dollars has covered a lot of ground, but the road to scholarly philanthropy is tortuous, according to Deborah Marrow, director of the grant program. An art historian whose specialty is 17th-Century French and Italian art, Marrow joined the Getty seven years ago as a publications coordinator. She took over the Getty Grant Program at its inception, in 1984, and now heads a staff of eight, which is housed in a Santa Monica high-rise but eventually will move to the J. Paul Getty Center under construction in Brentwood.
“No one is trained to be a grant maker. Everyone falls into the field from somewhere else. I fell into it from art history,” Marrow said. While she has had to put a practical edge on her academic skills, the program she administers also has faced challenges.
First came the task of introducing the program through brochures (printed in five languages), public appearances and published announcements to inform qualified applicants about grant opportunities. Now the program is so well known in the United States and Western Europe that 250 scholars have applied for 21 fellowships to be awarded in 1990, but Marrow and her staff are still working to give the program a broader international reach. That means traveling and directing information toward scholars and institutions in countries that are out of the loop of Western art history.
Once potential applicants make themselves known, they are given grant guidelines and counseled to help them qualify. In general, the program supports projects that “promote research in the history of art and the humanities, the understanding of art, and conservation,” according to the guidelines. Grants are not given for operating expenses, endowment funds, building construction or maintenance, or acquisition of works of art.
“Much of our time is spent explaining the program and helping people who have eligible projects to prepare applications,” Marrow said. When applications are ready, they are subject to peer review by independent scholars and specialists. Most proposals are judged by two field specialists and an advisory committee of four to eight people who serve three-year terms. Reviewers are paid an honorarium--say $150 for reading a proposal and submitting a written assessment. The payment is essentially a token of appreciation for work done in the spirit of “service to the field,” Marrow said.
The program aims to give grants to the most deserving and feasible projects. No quotas apply to subject matter or applicants, and the Getty doesn’t advocate particular projects. “We just respond to the applications that we receive,” Marrow said. Applications tend to reflect current developments, however. Conservators are increasingly attuned to technical processes, while the study of art history has become more theoretical and interdisciplinary, she said.
The J. Paul Getty Trust’s wealth has been so widely publicized that people often expect Getty grants to be much larger than they are, Marrow said. The trust’s first priority by law is to create and administer its own nonprofit programs, such as the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute.
As an operating trust, the Getty can spend up to 0.75% of the $3.2-billion market value of its endowment on gifts and grants, however. The Getty Grant Program was established under this provision.
Grants so far have run from $640 for the publication of a book on two 14th-Century Dominican altar paintings to $1 million for a five-year research project on the effects of new information technologies on research, scholarship and teaching, administered by the Council on Library Resources in Washington.
“We usually don’t pay for an entire project. We try to leverage our support,” Marrow said. Conservation grants generally require recipients to raise matching funds, for example. Instead of picking up the entire tab for publications, grants may provide for additional illustrations or allow a book’s purchase price to be lowered. Postdoctoral fellowships of $23,000, on the other hand, are intended to replace the recipients’ salaries for a year so that they can concentrate on research and writing.
One unusually large grant of $250,000 was recently awarded to the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and the Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome. The Italian organization will use the funds in Africa to train local museum staffs to care for their national treasures. This program follows a Getty-funded pilot project for Africans who spent a year in Rome learning conservation techniques. In the pilot project, the African conservators learned practical methods, “not just how to use a lot of fancy equipment that they don’t have at home,” Marrow said. The next phase of the project is intended to ensure that entire museum staffs understand concepts of conservation and work together to care for their collections.
Such projects are exciting to Marrow because they provide models that are likely to be emulated by other organizations and they are graphic illustrations of what Getty grants can accomplish. Verbal explanations of the grant program are never as effective as models that can be seen and experienced, she said.
Marrow plans to go on talking about the Getty Grant Program, however, and five years haven’t dampened her enthusiasm. “It’s a great job. Having an international overview of what’s going on in all these fields and seeing the shape of art history is a real privilege. It’s frustrating not to be able to help everyone who applies, but that’s an inevitable part of the process,” she said.