Galleries depend on new generation of philanthropists

Director Chloe Searle has been pondering the importance of personal generosity.

As the director of the Forrester Gallery in Oamaru, I have been reflecting on generosity.

The Forrester Gallery is a public art gallery, funded by the Waitaki District Council, but the gallery exists because of the amazing generosity of so many people.

When John Megget Forrester died at the age of 100, he left a large bequest in his will for a public art gallery to be established in Oamaru.

Thanks to John Forrester, the Forrester Gallery is now celebrating its 40th birthday.

It is not just the heritage building. Once that was secured, there was the matter of developing a collection.

Most artworks in the gallery’s collection are the product of generous giving, whether a one-off donation from the artist themselves or a larger bequest.

It is inspiring to reflect on gifts like the 2005 one from the Parsloe Family Trust of 11 works by Colin McCahon.

A bequest from Ivy Pollard, a local teacher and textile artist, provided funds for the gallery to buy over 100 artworks.

The works purchased from this bequest fund include artists such as Grahame Sydney, Olivia Spencer Bower and Ralph Hotere, as well as a host of works by local Waitaki artists like Peter Cleverley and Burns Pollock.

So many of the wonderful things we enjoy in Otago, be it in the arts, in sports, in caring for the environment, or in education exist because of people’s generosity.

Increasingly it seems this support falls on the same people and funds.

I worry this type of charitable giving is a thing of the past.

In 10 years what will the funding landscape look like?

Where will our younger philanthropists come from and what will motivate them to give?

With businesses increasingly headquartered nationally and internationally this avenue of funding also seems to be narrowing.

The Forrester is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The staff and the Friends of the Forrester, are fundraising to extend the building.

This long-discussed project will create new spaces for education, purpose-built storage for artworks, a loading dock, an accessible bathroom and new exhibition spaces.

The much-needed lift is a part of this project.

Recently, a supporter of the gallery gave $10,000 to the Friends ‘‘lift fund’’.

I hope the giver will forgive me for describing them as older — someone from the generation that understands the value of charitable giving.

Another older person came in and gave $5 which I suspect to them, proportionally, was every bit as generous a contribution.

I was moved by both of these donations and as a millennial decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

Instead of fretting about where the younger philanthropists are, I decided to become one and donated $5000.

We need community help to make this project happen.

Every contribution will help.

Whether it is this project or another, I encourage people, especially younger people, to think about what they can contribute and to get into the habit of giving.

We all benefit from the past generosity of our communities.

Those of us who can, need to get serious about continuing this tradition.

Chloe Searle is director of Forrester Gallery and the Waitaki Museum & Archive Te Whare Taoka o Waitaki. This editorial was first published by the Otago Daily Times, 14 July 2023.
Image credit: Forrester Gallery, Maclean Barker