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Mint Museum eyes endowment

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Its expansion plans on hold, the Mint Museum of Art is working to build its endowment.

That effort includes a $4 million campaign that could evolve into a long-term push to develop the endowment through planned gifts.

“Clearly, ongoing efforts to grow the endowment, whether through a formal campaign or less formal efforts, are always going to be out there,” says Harry Creemers, vice president of development.

The campaign, which has increased its goal from an initial target of $3.5 million, was launched in response to a $1.75 million challenge grant from the Ford Foundation.

Ford selected the Mint two years ago as one of 28 exemplary but undercapitalized cultural institutions to which it awarded challenge grants.

The Mint has until June 30, 2003, to match Ford’s grant by raising $2 for every $1 from Ford.

Its endowment, which totals $5.8 million, ranks 104th among 142 art museums in the U.S., according to the 2001 annual survey of the American Association of Museums.

“That’s woefully small,” says Creemers.

Endowments at comparable museums, such as the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., total $18.4 million and $20.7 million, respectively.

An art museum, he says, typically aims to have an endowment big enough so it can cover at least half of its budget through income of 5 percent a year from investing endowment assets.

With an annual budget of nearly $6 million, the Mint would need $60 million endowment to generate $3 million a year in investment income.

The Mint’s endowment is small, Creemers says, because it was only in 1992 that the city of Charlotte spun it off as a separate nonprofit entity – after having operated it as a city department since it was founded in 1936 in the building that formerly housed the Charlotte office of the U.S. Mint.

After the spinoff, the Mint raised about $3 million in a $2.5 million endowment campaign.

That effort was followed in 1995 and 1996 by a planned giving program, named for Mint founder Mary Myers Dwelle, that has generated deferred gifts expected to total several million dollars at least, Creemers says.

The endowment campaign, which will be run as a “quiet” campaign, targets only people involved with the Mint – individuals, their family foundations and funds they advise at the Foundation for the Carolinas and other community foundations.

The Mint also is targeting the same group, along with professional advisers, for its long-term planned-giving effort.

The Mint’s board has made the endowment push its top priority after the sliding economy and land-development restrictions prompted it last summer to table plans to expand the museum either at its main location or downtown, Creemers says.

“We’re out of space and have been for a long time,” he says.

But the board wants to make sure the endowment drive succeeds, and will wait for the economy to revive – or for unexpected opportunities – before moving ahead with expansion plans.

The museum also aims to broaden its audience and membership, which lost $50,000 in the two months after the Sept. 11 attacks – since recouped.

In August, for example, the Mint will open a three-month exhibition of the work of Romare Bearden, a Charlotte-born black artist, along with work collected by David Driskell, an African-American collector who was on the faculty of the University of Maryland.

That co-exhibition, sponsored by Bank of America, IBM and TIAA-CREF, will be followed by a three-month juried exhibition celebrating Bearden’s legacy. Works will be selected by a committee representing Charlotte’s black community.

“We want to have our audience and membership mirror the community,” Creemers says.

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