On philanthropy in the arts: Why everyone wants to be Komal Shah – cialisdfr
On philanthropy in the arts: Why everyone wants to be Komal Shah
On philanthropy in the arts: Why everyone wants to be Komal Shah

Komal Shah stands in front of an Elizabeth Murray painting at her home in Atherton, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Shah is an avid art collector, and she and her husband will fund a new art lecture series at Stanford University.
Komal Shah in front of a painting by Elizabeth Murray. Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Lord Jacob Rothschild, a philanthropist who did a lot for the arts in his lifetime and recently spoke of his disappointment to find that today’s richest philanthropists “don’t care about art as much as they once did,” died this February. His frustration is shared by many organizations and creatives who cannot understand why it is such an uphill struggle to convince, say, the Silicon Valley tech community of the value the arts can have in a society.

One answer is to recognize and perhaps even embrace the fact that making art can be a lot of fun, extremely social, and often very glamorous. Lord Rothschild, for all the work he did for art, did not radiate fun and glamour. Hence the appeal of a new generation of philanthropic role models who are young, glamorous and even a little sexy. We have entered the era of philanthropists like Komal Shah who are redefining what it means to support the arts.

In the past year, Komal Shah was the art world’s collector. In 2023, the foundation she and her husband run launched a catalog of her personal art collection, titled Making Your Mark: Art by Women in the Shah Garg Collection. This was followed in November by an exhibition of the same name in New York, which is due to close at the end of March.

Shah seems to have struck a chord in the art world. Not only is she surrounded by influential thinkers – the catalog was edited by curators Mark Godfrey (formerly of Tate Modern) and Katie Siegel (of SFMOMA), and Cecilia Alemani, artistic director of the 2022 Venice Biennale, is curating the exhibition – but every medium of The New York Times to Harper’s Bazaar to the Financial Times have interviewed her and continue to court her for keynote speeches. We are often asked by potential clients who want to establish themselves as patrons of the arts if they too can be like Komal Shah. “What should I do? How much should I give? Who should I cooperate with?”

SEE ALSO: What is the art world missing? Retaliation

While it may seem superficial to some traditionalists that others would want to shine the spotlight on Shah, we believe there are two important lessons to be learned. First, whatever Shah is doing is encouraging others to be interested in philanthropy in the arts, and that’s a good thing. Second, Shah’s rise did not happen overnight.

More than twelve years ago, Shah first became a trustee of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Since then, she has gradually developed her giving and collecting, largely out of the public eye. In 2014, she joined the board of directors at SFMoMA and helped finance acquisitions. After a few years, she became a trustee of SFMOMA and also the Tate Americas Foundation. She has provided support for exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum, supported Cecilia Alemani’s major exhibition at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and perhaps most interestingly, created Stanford University’s annual Future Artists talk series featuring leading women in the arts such as Lorna Simpson, Thelma Golden and Linda Benglis. The point is that Shah devoted herself to art long before much of the world noticed—before magazines started asking for interviews, before “The Shah Garg Collection” started being mentioned in artist biographies, and before it was listed. of ArtNews’ Top 200 Collectors.

Shah may have been under the radar for so long because Silicon Valley, where she is based, has long been a blind spot for the art world. But beyond that, what history shows is that it took more than a decade of consistent commitment and dedication for others to see what she was doing and want to emulate it.

There is a real need today for more positive role models for future arts philanthropists. Arguably, any nation that wants to give its cultural landscape a real boost could do a lot worse than assemble a board of experienced and committed philanthropists and development professionals to implement PR strategies to make philanthropy into the arts “cool” again. Shah’s journey would be a perfect case study.

But although Lord Rothschild and Komal Shah seem as far apart as two philanthropic icons can be, they both share important traits: passion, patience and perseverance. You don’t just wake up like Komal Shah; you grow, through years of engagement, into a role that shapes the future of the arts.

On philanthropy in the arts: Why everyone wants to be Komal Shah

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