The Renaissance Society this morning announced three major gifts to its Next Century Fund, totaling around $1.5 million. The fund supports exhibitions, programs, educational initiatives and publications for every Renaissance Society exhibition, but it focuses on collaborating with artists to produce new work. “This is where the Renaissance Society can play an important role in the institutional landscape today, to be a platform for production where artists can test out new ideas,” executive director and chief curator Solveig Øvstebø tells Newcity.
The Next Century Fund was announced in the fall of 2015 in connection with the Renaissance Society’s Centennial celebration, a season-long commemoration of the institution’s hundred-year legacy of bringing modern and contemporary art to Chicago. “Looking back, the Renaissance Society has always been at its best as an engine for creation and artistic production,” Øvstebø says. “There remains a need for smaller institutions like the Renaissance Society who can put resources into new production and work closely with artists on realizing new ideas. So, the content came first, and then the initiative to raise the funds followed.”
The donations, which make up a third of the $5 million fund, were given by Chicago-based donors. The Edlis Neeson Foundation, the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, and the Zell Family Foundation have each pledged $500,000. These donations represent the largest gifts in the Renaissance Society’s history. None of the donors are currently members of the Renaissance Society board, though board members have also contributed to the fund, which is more than halfway toward raising its goal.
In addition to supporting the commissioning of new works, the fund will ensure that artists who collaborate with the Renaissance Society have the option to produce programs and a publication for each exhibition. “When you do these collaborations that start from scratch, the discussions around the artworks are also new, so it’s important to record that knowledge and make it available,” Øvstebø explains.
“It’s a major fundraising initiative that goes to artists and their projects, not to buildings or collections,” Øvstebø continues. Although the Renaissance Society has an extensive archive of its hundred-year history, highlights of which were on display during the centennial season, the institution does not collect artworks.
Øvstebø continues, “It’s an investment that secures the risk-taking for the artists. That’s the beauty of being a small institution: We are nimble and able to move in the direction that best supports artists. We have no manifestos.”
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana Unversity, and Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition. Formerly, he was Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.