A Foundation Celebrates its Grantees in Commissioned Art

March 13, 2018; Fast Company

Giving Gallery: Community in Process, a first-of-its-kind art exhibit, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. Since 1992, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation has given more than $320 million, $87 million of which has been received by the 25 nonprofit partners highlighted in the exhibit. The art commissioned by the foundation debuted in mid-February and is free to the public in the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons for one year. The art will then travel to cities including New York, Philadelphia, Tucson, and Phoenix. Seventeen artists with Wisconsin ties completed the art funded by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.

The artwork spans a variety of media, including an 8-foot pigeon sculpture representing the Milwaukee Public Museum, a serigraph print for Milwaukee Succeeds, and a digital slideshow capturing personal journeys of children with cancer. The purpose of the art exhibit is to inform the public about the beneficiary charities and to consequently inspire donations, volunteerism, or other forms of support.

For instance, to represent the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, artist Mutope Johnson painted a pair of children confidently crossing a busy city street while a metro bus emblazoned with the organization’s logo idles in the background. “They are completely surrounded by older adults while passing under the watchful protection of a police officer that is directing traffic and providing them safe passage,” Johnson writes in an artist’s statement. “We see the positive effects of being in a safe community environment that promotes education, leadership, and self-reliance at such a young age.”

For City Year Milwaukee, a student tutoring in the mentoring group associated with AmeriCorps, artist Della Wells created a collage featuring a red AmeriCorps jacket emblazoned with many badge-like smaller collages over overlapped drawing and cutout imagery, to represent scenes in the lives of different kids and volunteers. The work also includes cutouts of buzzwords (like “hype”) along with pictures of butterflies and other ephemera.

Ben Paynter, a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact and the future of philanthropy, references, as does NPQ, other ways the arts have been engaged by donors to advance the missions of the nonprofit sector. For example, there is the $100 million Art for Social Justice Fund undertaken by Agnes Gund and the Ford Foundation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge (and here) intended to revitalize neglected communities. The Giving Gallery likewise offers the public a communal experience to discover new opportunities for engagement. This is art that can help people feel the causes it conveys.—Jim Schaffer