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From Donors To Patrons: A Conversation

Source: Comment magazine (August 2, 2018)

In a detailed interview for Comment magazine, Roberta Ahmanson is interviewed by the President of The Gathering, Fred Smith, about the difference between being a ‘donor’ and a ‘patron,’ why such a difference matters, and how to think about the art and craft of patronage. In the interview, Roberta says that a patron “is not only one giving financial support but who gives influential support, favour, encouragement to a person, institution, work, or art.” Historically speaking, Roberta goes on to say that

. . . From ancient times to the present, governments, institutions both secular and sacred, and individuals have been patrons of the arts. They have done it to deify themselves, to entrench social order, to maintain or increase status, to feel good, to benefit others, to foster the art they love, to speculate on investments, to absolve themselves of guilt over how their money was made, to find identity, to win honour, to gain heaven, and sometimes even to glorify God.

But a patron can also be a kind of talent-scout. Roberta says, “good patrons love to identify talent, but a patron believes in somebody once they have identified their talent.” Roberta goes on to describe the patron’s role this way:

You recognize the talent and encourage the person to develop and go with it and to contribute it to the world because it is a gift, from the point of view of a Christian as the patron. It’s a gift of God to the world to be nurtured. It’s my gift to be able to see it and to help. That’s what a patron does. A patron is someone who can identify people with talent and the drive to work and then help and encourage them. Things that would not happen do happen because of a patron with the ability to see. I think that’s what a good patron does. You can see. You work to look at the big picture. You look to see where there are needs and who has the talent to fill them. That’s the basis of our philanthropy. Like right now, Howard is deeply involved in the housing crisis in California. He’s involved in it politically because there are vested interests that don’t want to build. It means that the people who clean your toilet or serve your food in the restaurant have to live two hours away from where they work. Howard is deeply concerned about that. He’s looking for people who are working on positive solutions to that out in the political realm as well as people in the building realm.

For more on this topic, see also Roberta’s 2013 Comment interview with Editor James K.A. Smith, “The End of Patronage.”

Category: Art & Culture,

Tag: Art, Interview,


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