Getty Trust hires a fundraiser

The J. Paul Getty Trust, the visual art world’s ultimate one-percenter with about $8 billion in net assets, has decided that it can’t get by on investment income alone and will begin raising money in earnest to pay for special projects.

J. Timothy Child, a fundraiser for the University of Chicago since 1989, will assume the newly created position of vice president of institutional advancement on June 11 — the first time in its 30-year history that the Getty has hired a chief fundraiser.

James Cuno, president of the Getty Trust, said Wednesday that its stepped-up plans to court donors doesn’t mean it will be poaching support from L.A.'s other cultural organizations, and that he has reassured other local arts leaders about that.

Unlike other arts nonprofits, Cuno said, the Getty doesn’t plan to set an annual fundraising target or aim to cover a set percentage of its overall budgets with donations. Instead, it will identify specific initiatives or projects and make pitches to donors who share those interests and might be expected to support them.


Fundraising will mainly be geared toward projects involving art research, art conservation (including projects overseas) and visiting scholar programs, he said, and fundraising the Getty already does for exhibitions will continue. Cuno said the Getty will concentrate mainly on courting donors nationally and internationally rather than locally.

Despite its huge endowment, Cuno said, the Getty’s ambitions have “grown to the point where the expansion of our programs will soon outstrip the growth of our financial resources,” making fundraising imperative.

In an interview, he said the bid to bring in more cash won’t affect the general public: the free admission policy at the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Malibu will continue, and he foresees no hikes in the $15 parking charge.

The Getty spent $270 million in 2010-11, according to its audited financial statement for the year, of which only $6.8 million was donated and about $25 million came from parking, museum stores, food service and ticketed events. For the rest, it depended on investment earnings.


Operating the two museum sites — the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa near Malibu — cost $157 million. The Getty’s other core programs, grantmaking and institutes for art research and art conservation, cost $102 million combined. An additional $11 million covered general administration.

Overall spending in 2010-11 was down 4.3% from the previous year; as a foundation, the Getty gears its spending not to its current holdings, but to the average of its holdings over three years. Consequently, investment losses during the recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009 posed a drag on spending in 2010-11 — and for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

The Getty’s earnings and investment gains totaled $1 billion for 2010-11, of which 95% came from investments. Even so, the Getty’s $7.9 billion in net assets remained $1 billion below their mid-2007 peak. Cuno said 2011-12 has been an up and down year for the markets and that he doesn’t expect the books to reflect substantial gains.

But even a somewhat diminished Getty towers above the rest of the L.A. cultural scene — or, for that matter, most of the global scene. In 2010, the last year for which a full comparison was immediately possible, the Getty was worth $7.1 billion — and L.A. County’s five most prominent museums and its four leading performing arts organizations were worth a combined $1.3 billion. TheHuntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardenshad a net worth of $376.5 million; LACMA $290 million and the Norton Simon Art Foundation $289 million. The Getty was bigger than USC, which reported net assets of $4.5 billion.


Cuno said he wanted to reassure leaders of other top visual and performing arts groups in L.A. that their fundraising will not be overrun. He said he alerted them when the Getty began its search for a fundraising executive, and again when it was about to announce Child’s hiring.

“I wanted to emphasize we are not going to be focusing our [fundraising] efforts in Los Angeles, but will be looking broadly — nationally and internationally,” he said.

The Getty went part of the way down this road in 1998, then turned back. Barry Munitz, then its president, floated a trial balloon, saying he was gearing up a fundraising component. Munitz made some of the same points that Cuno is making now: that the Getty needs to have an effective fundraising operation so it won’t be completely at the mercy of unpredictable financial markets.

Andrea Rich, who was then head of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, criticized the idea at the time, reflecting widespread arts community sentiment. The Getty didn’t follow through.


“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Rich said of Munitz’s plan to launch a fundraising effort. “The philanthropic pool of the arts is not very abundant … this will have an effect. It’s not a level playing field.”

A LACMA spokeswoman said Wednesday that museum director Michael Govan was not available, but in any case he didn’t want to comment on the Getty’s fundraising plans.

For most cultural institutions, charity begins at home: Their board members are expected to donate or raise substantial amounts each year, with annual dues sometimes topping $100,000. Cuno said that won’t be the case at the Getty, whose 14-member board isn’t required to make contributions.

“The Getty board is very different — it’s not a fundraising board but a governance board, and it’s purposely kept small so it can concentrate on fiduciary responsibilities,” he said.