Living in Los Angeles, even if you pay no attention whatsoever to The Arts, you know The Getty Center. You can't miss it. It's the city on the hill.
Perched atop a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the Sepulveda Pass and the 405, this campus of modern architecture, designed by Richard Meier and opened in 1997, is nothing less than monumental. This campus/education connection is not lost on Deborah Marrow, Ph.D., Director of The Getty Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The J. Paul Getty Trust. Originally the Getty Grant Program, the Foundation has supported over 6,000 grantees with nearly $300 million since its inception in 1984.
A Westchester, New York, native and University of Pennsylvania alumna (and current Penn Trustee), with a Doctorate in Art History, Marrow's original career aspiration, to become a college professor or art museum curator (which she tasted early in her career as a research assistant to the Curator of Paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), turned into almost three decades at The Getty. This "amazing opportunity to join this organization in its formative years took me away from my path to become a professor and put me on a whole different path."
Hired by the Getty Trust as its Publications Coordinator, a year or so later Marrow became Program Officer of the Getty Grant Program and eventually rose to Assistant Director and then Director of what became the Getty Foundation. She has twice served as Interim President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, as well as Director of the Getty Research Institute, so it is no understatement that she knows as much as anyone about the complex intricacies of the organization.
The Getty Foundation is responsible in large part for furthering The Getty Trust's effort in preserving historically significant works. Much of its work is educational. "Scholarship in the history of art, conservation of art and architecture," explains Marrow, "provid[ing] access for scholars and the general public to information about museum collections, and leadership and professional development."
The Getty Leadership Institute, formerly housed at the Getty Center, now based at Claremont Graduate University through grants from the Foundation, is "strengthening the leadership skills, like strategic thinking and planning" of those already in the museum field "aspiring to leadership positions." Marrow speaks glowingly of "our Multicultural Undergraduate Intern Program [that] just celebrated it's 20th Anniversary…established in the wake of the [Los Angeles] riots, [it] has supported to date some 2,700 interns at 150 organizations… throughout LA County."
The Intern initiative was created to pique the interest of undergrads, from diverse backgrounds, in a museum or visual arts career path, and to offer training and experience in the field. "Quite a few of the former interns are succeeding" in arts leadership, Marrow proudly states.
The success of the Intern Program triggered a public-private partnership with the Los Angeles County Arts BY Paul Kleiman Commission, which joined this initiative to create a new intern program in the performing arts, and the Getty "has been partnered with them ever since."
It is organizational collaboration among LA arts organizations, which she calls "remarkable," that excites Marrow most. One recent example was Pacific Standard Time, Art in LA, 1945-1980, "a 10-year initiative involving more than 60 organizations across southern California." One of the great things about PST, Marrow exclaims, was "how collaborative these southern California art institutions were. People… don't think of LA as a collaborative place because it's so spread out geographically." Despite this reputation, years of close cooperation among these arts institutions helped preserve and present an incredibly fertile and productive (and perhaps under-appreciated) period in Los Angeles art, the impact of which went well beyond our city and out into the world at large.
PST started with $10 million in seed money from the Getty Foundation alone and had its education-minded goals as well (as nothing can be learned from art that no longer exists). In collaboration with the Getty a cultural center and preserve that record for future scholars"…including "literally thousands of substantive articles written in newspapers, journals, broadcast media, online, over the period" covered by the PST exhibit.
While the Foundation supports these massive exhibitions as only the big kid in the arts playground can, it also has a place for things on a smaller scale, like next spring's, "series of exhibitions… about modern architecture in LA, one of our great achievements" as a city, according to Marrow. Nationally, the Campus Heritage Initiative offers universities support in developing "campus master plans" for preserving their histories and institutions, on 86 campuses… large, small, public and private, encouraging interaction between colleges through a web portal to share their resources to the betterment of campus preservation nationwide.
Internationally, the Foundation is involved in the preservation of centuries' old paintings on wood. "Most of us assume… paintings are on canvas, which his how it is today, but hundreds of years ago, most painting was done on wood panels."
The Foundation "created an initiative to identify and train the next generation of those conservators… we're about half way through that initiative, so we'll know at the end if there is a new generation of people ready to preserve those paintings… We gave grants to preserve some of the greatest works of art in European history… like a project in Florence, a huge altarpiece by Giorgio Vasari that was terribly damaged in the Florence flood of the 1960s. One of the great panel painting conservators in the world came out of retirement to oversee the project, to teach the next generation." In a way, this initiative is "re-creating the old measured system of the late Middle Ages" of painting conservator apprenticeship.
Reflecting on her work, Dr. Marrow says, "I am really lucky to do the work that I do. I think that every morning when I wake up. But it's the overview of the field… I came in as a specialist in a particular period of a particular place in European art. The Getty (allowed me) to focus on the art of the world, of all places and of all times… these jobs really expand your horizons… at the same time you have to remain humble about it, because you're being a catalyst, but you're also helping people do the kind of work that they want to do…. It's kind of a great privilege."