The Art of Giving

The Detroit Institute of Arts has a virtual gallery of supporters interested in keeping its financial picture rosy
Photograph by David Lewinski

She sits like Queen Victoria on Woodward Avenue in Detroit’s Cultural Center. First referred to as the “Temple of Art” when the Beaux-Arts building opened in 1927, she covers 658,000 square feet, houses more than 100 galleries, and, with some 60,000 works of art, possesses one of the largest, most breathtaking collections in the country.

In a city full of cultural treasures, The Detroit Institute of Arts is arguably Detroit’s crown jewel. It seems fitting that nearly every major local philanthropist has supported the DIA from its inception in 1885.

Donors include Gilbert and Lila Silverman, who are Second Century Partners (contributors of at least $2.5 million cumulatively); Walter and Josephine Ford (now deceased); Richard and Linda Kughn, and two of metro Detroit’s best-recognized names, Richard Manoogian and Al Taubman. They give time, some serving on the board and other committees, and constantly trumpet the DIA.

All have sponsored significant spaces at the DIA. These include the A. Alfred Taubman Wing; the Richard A. Manoogian Wing; the Josephine F. and Walter B. Ford II Great Hall; the Lila Silverman Gallery and the Gilbert B. Silverman Gallery; and the Linda and Richard Kughn Gallery in the European wing.

“The collection is one of the finest in the country, if not the world,” says Manoogian, who joined the DIA in the 1960s, when he knew nothing about art. That soon changed, and he has been chairman of the board and, with this wife, lends to the DIA many invaluable art pieces from their personal collection. “We have the responsibility to take care of the DIA for the people who have contributed their art and support in the past, and for those involved ever since. I think back to how important it was when we were young, when we were children, and how important it has been to businesses” to have the DIA, along with the city’s other cultural institutions. “When we try to attract business people to stay or move here, we make a point of giving them tours.”

Manoogian adds that, in a climate in which public schools and state budgets are leaving arts in the cold, “often the only exposure our younger children have is to visit cultural institutions.”

Taubman calls the DIA and the arts, “a point of civilization. Civilized people should love beauty, and beauty is art. It’s similar to good literature; it’s similar to good music. I think it’s important a civilized society has an opportunity to learn about what our artists are saying to us. … It’s important that we expose our children to this, so they … become better citizens, better human beings.”

Taubman joined the DIA in 1975 and has served for many years as chair of the City of Detroit Arts Commission. Like Manoogian, he has been on the board of directors and has served as director and honorary director. He helped with the DIA’s Master Plan in his role as chair of the Building Committee. He also has an extensive art collection.

Of his personal involvement, Taubman says, “I’ve always said that if you give money, you’ve done one thing. If you give time, you’ve done two things. If you give money and time, you get other people to give, you win three times.”

The Silvermans would agree. They have donated money to many organizations, but to the DIA in particular. They have given gifts of art, memberships, and planned gifts. But they also give time. Gilbert is an emeritus director; Lila is an honorary director. She also was co-chair of the DIA’s gala honoring Taubman in 2009, when the Taubman wing was dedicated, and she has chaired some auxiliaries.

“My husband is what you call a consummate collector,” Lila says, especially art. He was especially interested in the Fluxus [modern art] movement. “The museum has a marvelous, marvelous collection. It’s extraordinary, encyclopedic.”

Of their philanthropy, she says, “We have a pretty nice life, and we are pretty comfortable. We like giving back. We enjoy doing this.”

All major supporters share some concern about the future support of the museum. “We grew up dependent on a few families that funded the DIA,” Manoogian says. “There was also the automotive family, the Big Three, and public funding. So the DIA and a lot of our institutions did not build up the giving traditions and endowments.” Those three supports are gone or greatly reduced, “so we’re starting from a big hole.” Many museums in other major cities have enormous endowments of several billion dollars, he adds.

“One of the biggest challenges is that we don’t have as many young people involved in supporting our cultural institutions. Many of our college grads have moved out of the state. And the younger generation tends to have a hands-on approach to charitable giving.”

The most effective giving is both, Manoogian says. He learned this from his mother, Marie Manoogian, when he sat in the back seat of his mother’s Chevrolet as she drove from shop to shop selling an Armenian cookbook she had helped create to raise money for the local church and women’s auxiliary. Her husband, Richard’s father, Alex Manoogian, came to the country in 1920 and later established Masco Corp. The cookbooks raised meager profits, which was not lost on the 7-year-old Richard. “I remember saying to her, ‘For all this effort you’re putting in, why don’t you just give them money?’ She said, ‘That’s not the same. It’s more important to be personally involved.’ ”

What makes giving personal for Richard and Linda Kughn is devotion to a sense of place. Says Richard, who owns Farmington-based Kughn Enterprises: It “goes back to my love of Michigan, number one, and the city of Detroit, number two.”

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