In March 2013, the Denver Art Museum received a challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York to establish an endowment for the textile conservator in the museum’s conservation department. This prestigious award also included funds to create the first-ever fellowship in textile art conservation at the DAM.
What is a challenge grant? When a foundation makes a challenge grant, what they are saying is “We will give you this funding if you can go out and raise a like amount from new sources.” This allows us to leverage funds to generate new support and match, usually dollar for dollar, the money that the awarding foundation will give. In our case, the Mellon Foundation awarded $1.5 million and we must now fundraise to meet this challenge. Once we do, that total pool of money will be invested and a small portion drawn off each year to pay the salary of the textile conservator. As long as we manage the endowment carefully (and we do!), this means that the position will be reliably funded forever.
Another thing that the Mellon grant has made possible is a fellowship in textile conservation here at the DAM. Fellowships are like paid internships and they create opportunities for training and on-the-job experience for near and recent graduates. In this instance, a textile conservation fellowship means that the DAM is now a training ground for individuals working toward a career in textile conservation.
With this grant, we can promote conservation for the important function that it is—a part of our mission is to preserve and protect the collections in our care for this and future generations. We take this responsibility seriously—the museum is truly a community resource and the permanent collection is at its heart. The conservation department is primarily responsible for the preservation of collections, a largely behind-the-scenes activity, but no less important for the work that we do to be a cultural resource for Colorado.
What a grant like this one says is that the foundation has confidence in our ability to responsibly care for collections and that they support that effort by making it possible to fund the staff position into perpetuity. That’s a long time! It frees us to engage in the kind of work that is necessary to see to the long-term care of collections and to share what we learn with the museum field so that other museums can benefit as they care for their own collections. The Mellon Foundation has the resources to make transformational grants to art institutions nationwide. We are very proud that our approaches to collections care and conservation were of a quality to be recognized in this way.