submitted by James Agapitos on 05.11.2006
Look. [Magazine of the] Art Gallery Society of New South Wales.
CALL OF THE BENEFACTOR
IT’S IN GIVING THAT WE RECEIVE! SAYS JAMES AGAPITOS
James Gleeson, Australia’s most senior living artist, celebrated his 90th Birthday in November 2005. The occasion was recognised at Government House, Sydney, with a luncheon party organised by the AGNSW Foundation.This was when the establishment of the hugely generous Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation for the exclusive benefit of the Art Gallery of New South Wales was officially announced though Look broke the story three weeks before in its November issue.
Ray Wilson and I are proud friends of the artist and Frank O’Keefe, James’ life partner of 55 years. Either because of our friendship or Ray’s appointment as a trustee of the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation, since the announcement in Look we have had to address more questions than usual on the subject of benefaction.
The most frequently asked question is “what do you think motivated James and Frank to set up a foundation?” The answer to this is quite easy as we quote James’ own words. “I have had an exciting and fulfilled life as an artist, critic, lecturer, author and curator.
I decided to set up a Foundation to enable others, during my lifetime and afterwards, to enjoy the marvellous pleasure that art can provide. It is my way of paying back to society what it provided to me over the years and enabled me to devote my Life to art.”
To parties who continue with persistent questions like “Are you giving away your estate for the same reasons?” I have a standard reply. “When my time comes, I will be expressing my gratitude to Australia for the opportunity to come and settle here when millions were suffering in many other parts of the world.” This is a point I wish migrants of my generation would accept and adopt. I also feel that by giving, I’m investing in Australia’s ones and coming generations.
I am adding some other important questions I have been asked relating to benefaction and the arts, with my answers.
Q. Being single without children, would you be disappointed if people were sceptical of your motive of using your estate to invest in the future for generations to come?
A. Very much so. If sceptics beiieve that men and women in Australia who are not married with children are lesser citizens, who do not have a reason to value the future of our society, they are sorely misguided.
Q. Can you give examples to support this view?
A. Besides the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation, another current philanthropist is Ken Reed who has recently given one million dollars to the Australian Ballet. Australia enjoys extraordinary benefits from many single people including Margaret Olley and James Fairfax, who has made significant gifts to nearly every major art institution in Australia. Galleries are named after him in Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide. In my modest view, the desire to practice civic duty has nothing to do with marital status.
It is interesting that the City of Melbourne is positioning itself as the cultural capital of Australia. They don't have our beautiful harbour but they do have art. To a large extent this has come about through the generosity and foresight of a single man, the inimitable Alfred Felton, who in 1904 bequeathed the income from half of his estate to fund acquisitions by the National Gallery of Victoria. The Felton Bequest purchases are now worth in excess of i.7 billion dollars.
Q. Why do so many benefactors concentrate on the visual arts?
A. For Ray and I, it is the area we understand best and where we get the most pleasure in our daily lives. It is also because we believe in the civilising influence of the arts generally on the community at large. It has been proven time and again that children exposed to the arts are less likely to lose their way in society and I believe parents should encourage their children to follow music, theatre, dance and the visual arts with vigour equal to their other interests.
Q. Why do people give money and things away instead of spending it on themselves? Why not replace the old car with a new Mercedes and get years of enjoyment from that?
A. The act of giving is in itself a source of immense enjoyment; it is a particular feeling understood by all benefactors and philanthropists — and not dissimilar to the pleasure you get from driving a beautiful car.
Q. What is it about the visual arts that you enjoy the most?
A. As far as we are concerned, the actual artworks and the social invalvement are inseparable. We enjoy the exhibitions and the functions, but most of all we enjoy the friendship of the many wonderful people we have met through our interest in the visual arts. Thanks to the Gallery’s inspiring director, the staff, the Society’s extensive and interesting programs and the influence of new Society and Foundation members, the elitism of the past has been replaced with a most congenial atmosphere.
At every opportunity we urge friends, relatives and acquaintances to join the Art Gallery Society of NSW, and if finances permit to become members of the AGNSW Foundation. We guarantee that it is a decision people won’t regret.
The Generosity of Giving
- Editor, Look Magazine.
When news of the Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation was broken by Look in its November 2005 issue, we couldn't at the time talk specifically about the money. The decision by 90-year old James Gleeson and his partner Frank O'Keefe to leave their combined estates to the Art Gallery of NSW to spend through a foundation in their names means an immediate sum of $6 million to draw on. Eventually this is expected to grow to $15 million. Income from the foundation will be used to acquire works for the Gallery's collection.
The foundation has three trustees who will approve the Gallery's request for acquisition funding. Each has a long and close association with the Gallery: Lou Klepac, Michael Gleeson-White, and Ray Wilson.
James Agapitos, author of the accompanying article, and Ray Wilson have also confirmed their bequest to the AGNSW of $10 million from their estate. This is to be spent mainly on aquisitions, but a percentage is to go to conservation , where they have been very active in fundraising and encouragement. We hope their gift won't be realised for many years, but the knowledge of their bequest is an inspiration for us all.
Inspired by an article Agipatos wrote for Look last year, Isa Jones has pledged a bequest to the Gallery, which she says she and her late husband, Hal Jones, always loved. Maurice Cashmere has pledged a significant bequest. James Giffen, decided last year to give it to the Gallery immediately.
Bequests and other gifts to the Gallery are gratefully received on behalf of the people of NSW and visitors from the rest of the world.
For more information about giving to the Gallery, phone Jane Wynter on 02 9225 1818.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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