BREAKING (UPDATED): Davenport’s Figge Art Museum Unveils New Pieces, New Diversity/Equity Fund
BREAKING NEWS (UPDATED): At an invitation-only event Thursday night, the Figge Art Museum unveiled seven new acquisitions and a newly created Art Diversity and Equity Fund intended to combat the systemic inequality in the art world. The fund is supported by a lead gift from locals Jim and Michelle Russell of Russell Construction.
According to a 2019 published research journal by the Public Library of Science, the diversity of artists in major U.S. museums illustrates the
urgent need to focus on collecting and preserving the works of artists from marginalized communities. The study found that 85.4% of the works in the collections of all major U.S. museums were made by white artists, and 87.4% are by men. African-American artists have the lowest share with just 1.2% of the works; Asian artists total at 9%; and Hispanic and Latino artists constitute only 2.8% of the artists.
The Figge is unveiling impressive new acquisitions by artists Kehinde Wiley, Edward Bannister, Elizabeth Catlett, and others that will make their debut in the Quad City Bank & Trust Grand Lobby now through July 22.
“In an effort to make the permanent collection at the Figge more representative of the community, 98% of our acquisition dollars from the past year were spent on works by artists from marginalized communities,” museum executive director Michelle Hargrave said Thursday.
As part of this initiative, the Art Diversity and Equity Fund is exclusively dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of artworks for the Figge’s permanent collection that represent artists from underserved and marginalized groups. The underserved and marginalized groups this fund will impact are Black artists, artists of African, Native American, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous and Middle Eastern descent as well as works from women, LBGTQA+, and any other artists that are subsequently identified as marginalized, oppressed, or underrepresented in the museum’s permanent collection.
Active community members and Figge supporters Jim and Michelle Russell of Davenport have generously contributed to launch the Figge’s Art Diversity and Equity Fund with a $20,000 donation. They are encouraging community members to consider contributing any amount to this fund so their contribution can be matched and ultimately exceeded dollar-for-dollar allowing the Figge to reach the goal of raising
$100,000 this year.
“Jim and I feel strongly about this initiative in general, and feel it is important for our community to have a museum that focuses on representing all people, voices, and perspectives,” said Michelle Russell. “It is our hope that others will consider stepping forward in all ways to build an all-inclusive reality in our community, and specifically to donating to this important fund designed to help the Figge continue to promote inclusivity.”
“Battling inequality in art has been a focus for the Figge for over a decade,” Hargrave said.
“We are dedicated to presenting exhibitions featuring a myriad of voices and diverse perspectives, providing opportunities for dialogue around important societal issues, including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.
“Through these efforts, we have made some progress, including increasing the number of female artists represented in our collection from 4% to 10% over the last several years, but we realize that we have a long way to go,” she said. “This fund supports our commitment to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive museum.”
The Figge continues to focus on artistic excellence in exhibitions and programming that ignite the important conversations among participants about art and beyond that is more representative of all people.
“It is a priority for the museum to continue to pursue works by underrepresented artists and we are extremely grateful to Jim and Michelle for being the leader in helping us to better represent all voices,” said Figge development director Sara Volz. “We hope that others in the community recognize the impact of this fund and join Jim and Michelle by making a donation in support of this cause.”
Thanks to the support of Cal and Jill Werner, admission to the museum during the month of July is free.
Excitement over new fund
Hargrave was thrilled to welcome invited guests to the lobby reception and celebration for the new effort.
“We’re so excited to have you – our closest friends and supporters – here for the unveiling of seven artworks the Figge recently added to its permanent collection,” she said.
“Last year, we added 309 works from generous artists and donors in the Quad-Cities and all across the country,” she noted. “The Figge’s permanent collection is one of the ways we fulfill our mission of bringing art and people together. That means all people within our community.”
The museum a few years ago faced some uncomfortable truths, needing to make changes to
“better represent and serve all the people within the Quad-Cities,” Hargrave said. “One of the things we realized we needed to change was who was represented on our walls.”
“Art can uniquely and powerfully celebrate different cultures and experiences, challenge stereotypes, acknowledge the realities around important societal issues – including racism, sexism, homophobia and classicism,” she said. Art offers opportunities for dialogue, empathy and understanding.
The Figge committed to display more work of myriad voices and diverse perspectives, to broaden the museum collection.
“While these are certainly steps forward, we realized – like many museums – we have a long
way to go,” Hargrave said. “The events of last year intensified the Figge’s desire to achieve our goal to be a more diverse, equitable and inclusive museum, at a significantly faster pace. And be a leader in our community, igniting transformation.”
The dollars they have to acquire new works are limited, so the new fund will help support combating systemic inequality in the arts.
The fund will support “artists from marginalized communities, who deserve to be recognized for
their impact and contribution to the art world and society,” Hargrave said. The $100,000 goal is to be raised each year, to go toward buying up to three works a year, she said.
“We believe that this important step will not only make our collection more representative of our community, but allow for richer, fuller and more inclusive programming and dialogue,” she said. “We hope the community is as passionate about this initiative as we are.”
Hargrave not only thanked the Russells for their generosity, but noted the Figge would not be here without them, since Russell built the $48-million landmark, which opened in 2005.
“I think the best piece of art in this collection is this building,” Jim Russell, president and CEO of Russell Construction, said of the museum, designed by the renowned British architect David Chipperfield.
Michelle Russell, partner in Russell, said the new gift stemmed from adversity.
“This happened because 2020 was a tough year and Jim was spending time at home trying to figure out our taxes for the past year,” she said, noting he asked if they donated to the Figge last year, since they always have, but they had not.
“We’ve been very fortunate and blessed – Jim, built into his DNA is philanthropy,” she said. “He believes and has taught me that those who are able to give really are obligated to give. He will never say this, but as a family and an organization, we have donated to this community over the $1 million mark. I’m very proud of that.”
Mexican-American by background, Michelle said she once was a struggling single mom, and Jim inspired her to give.
She met with Hargrave and Volz at their house, and discussed how to give back to the Figge. Hargrave shared how the museum should get its collection to be represented by more artists who are not white males, and Russell agreed to back purchasing more pieces by artists of color.
“We need to do this, we need to get behind this,” she said Thursday, pointing out she was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. “This past year has been devastating in so many ways. It’s been stressful for
everybody. And out of this year, with the chaos and violence and upheaval in communities all around the world – specifically in our country – this was a tragedy that came to the forefront, across our country.
“The silver lining was, it really made us pay attention,” Russell said. “Good things have got to come out of that.”
“Black lives matter – we should say that, and for me, this acquisition fund is about Black Lives Matter,” she said. “I am Hispanic; I am a minority business…I am from a very proud Mexican
family. That is who I am.”
Russell also is trying to increase diversity in their business, but Michelle said it’s a challenge since they get very few applicants from people of color.
Their gift to the Figge doesn’t require matching funds, and Michelle encouraged everyone to give. “Also, do everything you can – today, tomorrow, going forward – to commit to making our community, which is this world, a better place.”
Hargrave said the fund is also a good opportunity to acquire more works by living artists, like Wiley (an African-American painter born in 1977) and Zig Jackson (a Native American photographer born in 1957).
Wiley is the same artist of the Obama portraits now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his 1998 piece will be installed in a different part of the lobby after July 22, said Figge spokeswoman Natalie Dunlop:
Of the Figge’s nearly 5,000-plus work permanent collection, just over 10 percent of the known artists are by women, and just about 4 percent overall are by artists of color. The acquisition budget last fiscal year was about $100,000, and a majority of the 309 pieces acquired were donated by artists or members of the public.
To donate to the Figge, you can visit https://sales.figgeartmuseum.org/donation.aspx.
For more information, visit www.figgeartmuseum.org.