Sunday, 8 June 2008

The state of higher education philanthropy

The Economist writes about trends in University funding, especially France, in an article which celebrates the growing autonomy of educational institutions and increased funding from the private sector. No surprise there: encouraging free markets or, in the case of education, operating models based on free market mechanisms, is their self-confessed raison d’ĂȘtre (full disclosure: I also kneel at the altar of Milton Friedman). The famous generosity of the American philanthropic system comes in for praise. In the past, this has been credited to Europe’s deep-seated belief that the role of government is to provide social services (In 1948 over 90 percent of Britons ‘felt there was no longer a need for charities in the country’!). The Economist associates this state of affairs with a grim but oft-quoted statistic: only 2 of the top 20 Universities in the world are in Europe (Cambridge and Oxford) according to Shanghai Jiao Tong University's rankings. They also point out ‘Only 24% of working-age Europeans have a degree, compared with 39% of Americans.’ Has Europe’s and, of more concern to us, Great Britain’s welfare state put them miles behind America?

Not so fast.

The Guardian points out that ‘annual spending by Europe's top 25 corporate foundations last year outstripped the US by over €500m (£335m), distributing €1.7bn (£1.14 bn) compared to €1.1bn (£738m) in the US’. Furthermore, America’s hyper-rich distort the picture: although ‘US charitable foundations as a whole still give more than the Europeans - €7.3bn (£4.9bn) compared to €4.4 bn (£2.9bn) ... The Bill Gates Foundation alone accounts for more than $1bn (£527m).’

Meanwhile, in the UK, education is increasingly the beneficiary of private donations. Of the causes for individual charity in the UK, ‘Education is the only cause to see a significant growth in the share of total amount given’ between 2004/5-2006/7, according to the Charities Aid Foundation.

More important, some are questioning whether increasing funds from charitable organizations can have an adverse effect, especially in primary education. Here America serves as a deplorable example. According to executive Director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Rick Cohen, ‘in President Bush's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2007, the administration justified proposed cuts in its small schools programme by citing the availability of funds for the same purpose from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That made a foundation programme, where the decisions are made by a few administrators and the foundation's two trustees, a potential substitute for a federal government action. The foundation programme was not delivered uniformly nationwide, and unlike the education department programme, there are no mechanisms for complaint or administrative review.’

It seems the UK is stumbling toward a middle ground between the stifling environment in France and the problematic American model. As students at the Courtauld, I think we can agree on the need to keep moving toward the latter; perhaps we should let others know how they can help us get there.

-Joanna M.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Anne d'Harnoncourt, 64

The art world and the Courtauld community suffered a devastating blow yesterday with the death of the great Anne d’Harnoncourt, 64, a scholar of modern painting and the much-loved Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the past 26 years. The daughter of renowned Museum of Modern Art director Rene d’Harnoncourt, she took an MA at the Courtauld in 1967. As a former intern at that museum, I can attest to the degree to which she was loved by the staff. She presided over a period of scholarly rigor, fiscal success, and expansion of facilities during which the museum’s standing and collections grew. I had hoped that she would be considered for the vacant directorship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she, like Philippe de Montebello, had a record of navigating the increasingly treacherous waters of museum administration, between scholarship and fundraising. This comes as a second major blow to American museums in 2008: the two last great scholar-directors are no longer atop their institutions. Very sad news.

Update: The cause of death has finally been released: cardiac arrest. There has been some mention of a recent mastectomy but that seems to be unrelated. The Philadelphia Inquirer's obituary can be found at this link.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Cuno Controversy

Art Institute of Chicago (and former Courtauld) Director James Cuno's new book Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage has been causing a bit of an uproar. Critic Lee Rosenbaum responded scathingly on her blog CultureGrrl a few days ago. The best response yet has come from the Times today, in an article well worth a read here.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Robert Rauschenberg, 1925 - 2008

Robert Rauschenberg died yesterday evening. The New York Times obituary can be found here.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Exciting discovery

Researchers have discovered the world's earliest known use of oil paint in Afghanistan caves. Story here.

Florez at the Met

Check out this video of a Vienna performance of the the aria "Ah! Mes Amis" from Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." When this tenor, Juan Diego Florez, performed the same aria at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, he earned a rare mid performance standing ovation and gave the Met's first solo encore since 1994. It's a weak aria in a weak opera that displays everything that's wrong with the artform, with artistic expression sacrificed to technical fireworks, but is a sight to see nonetheless.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Bad art writing

There's an interesting column today in the Wall Street Journal on the embarrassingly weak curatorial prose that cripples the Whitney Biennial. I'm sure this kind of writing will be familiar to many Courtauld students. It doesn't belong in a museum any more than it belongs in our essays. Density and opacity do not amount to quality, despite the urgings of our weaker periodicals. Crisp, cogent, effective scholarship lacking in jargon has come to be seen as insufficiently academic/abstract. This has resulted in a serious decline in the quality of art writing in and out of the academy. Perhaps this generation of Courtauld students will bring about an improvement.