December 8, 2020; Wall Street Journal
For the last eleven years, a nonprofit called Advancing Women Artists has surfaced, rescued, and sometimes restored hundreds of overlooked paintings by Italian women of the 16th through 20th centuries. But this particular labor of love from philanthropist Jane Fortune will be closing for good in June 2021, after it ran out of the money it needed to operate.
Executive director Linda Falcone said AWA had been unable to find a benefactor to succeed Fortune, who died two years ago. “A lot of the groundwork we needed to continue, we just didn’t have,” Falcone explains.
Instead of leaving an endowment with AWA, Fortune left her art collection and a transformative estate gift to the Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington, Indiana. Allowing that institution the to establish an Endowment for Women Artists. Ms Fortune was from Indiana.
Falcone says that “Indiana Jane,” who brought passion, energy, and a good amount of cash to the AWA, apparently believed that her work was done and that she “wanted others to take on this mission. She really thought, ‘This is valuable and I’ve done my part. I’ve launched it, and if it’s going to survive, it’s going to survive based on the will of others.’”
Also suspended is a sister program named the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici. That program’s director, Sheila Barker, says:
We have very few works by women during the Renaissance that have survived in museums in acceptable condition, and these works are in danger of being lost forever if they are not periodically conserved. I really feel that this is a mission that needs to be taken on by the World Monuments Fund. We are in danger of losing a precious body of work that attests to women’s contribution to civilization.
If the aptly named Fortune did indeed warn these endeavors that they were to develop on and after sunset, or following the end of funding, we hope she also gave them the money to do the fundraising to make that happen. Funder-driven institutions always carry these dangers, but it’s hard to focus seriously on an uncertain future when you carry the name—and, presumably, the passion—of your wealthy benefactor. Like the rest of us, donors are fickle.—Ruth McCambridge