In an extended period of belt-tightening, it is often the arts sector that grapples with some of the harder aspects of fund-raising. With heavy competition from other non-profits clamoring for support from the city’s enlightened wealthy, institutions must be creative and resourceful to attract new and more generous donors. For the Municipal Art Society (MAS), this dedicated support has come in the form of Robert W. Wilson.
A veteran MAS donor, a philanthropist, and a former Wall Street hedge fund manager, Wilson has committed $600,000 over the next three years to match new or increased gifts of $1,000 or more on a one-for-two dollar basis. Effective August 1st, the aim is to help MAS strengthen and sustain its base of unrestricted support, which puts control of distribution into the hands of MAS rather than a targeted program.
“Unrestricted support is the lifeline for any non-profit organization, and for MAS it’s fundamental to our core advocacy, planning and public program activities,” said MAS President Vin Cipolla in a recent interview. Indeed, MAS has been a keen advocate of preserving and protecting municipal artwork and buildings for almost 120 years. Set up by a group of architects, painters, sculptors, and civic leaders to create murals and monuments for New York’s public spaces, MAS later took on a more expanded interest in public debates about the design of the city’s buildings, parks, and monuments and its role grew to bring public consciousness to private developers and city officials.
Among its most significant work is the transformation of Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island into a lively, usable park, for which MAS sponsored a competition won by James Corner Field Operations in 2001. Earlier successes include ensuring the protection of Times Square as an entertainment district against becoming subsumed into Midtown in the 1980s and pioneering the preservation of some of New York’s most important landmarks including Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall in the seventies. MAS’s “Adopt-a-Program” has seen numerous murals, statues, and buildings saved from erasure. With Wilson’s support—he has already provided most of the underwriting for the restoration of a mural by Ilya Bolotowsky on Roosevelt Island—MAS’s challenge now is to fuel another highly competitive field: giving.