Profiles of GIA Members

The Henry Luce Foundation

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 2 (Fall 1998)

Karen Masaki

The Henry Luce Foundation was founded in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. The Foundation's assets total approximately $700 million and support programs in American art, Asia, higher education, public affairs, theology, and women in science.

In 1981, prior to launching a new program, the Foundation conducted some research to determine where best to focus its grantmaking dollars. Its founder had a lifetime interest in American fine art, an interest shared by the current chairman and CEO, Henry Luce III. Research into the field of American art showed that, generally, funding in the visual arts went to more traditional, primarily European, and more classically focused programs. American art was seen as a step-child of sorts, with little prestige and scholarship associated with it.

Consistent with the Foundation's overall interest in higher education and scholarship, the new program in American art focused on scholarly activities of universities and museums in this field. The program was funded at $4 million in 1982, with the intention that funds would last until 1985, at which point the program would end. Instead, the program has flourished and continues to fund a wide range of exhibitions and publications that reflect the diversity of American culture. To date, the Foundation has distributed over $50 million to nearly 160 organizations in thirty-five states and the District of Columbia.

Approximately $3 million is allocated yearly for the American Art program, with grants ranging from $25,000 to $300,000 and averaging $125,000. The program's three components are the Luce Fund in American Art, a five-year American Collections Enhancement (ACE) initiative, and dissertation fellowships.

  • The Luce Fund in American Art focuses on scholarly exhibitions and publications. Proposals are accepted from American museums with a commitment to scholarship in American art. A committee of advisors provides detailed written comments on each proposal, bringing their academic, curatorial, and critical experience to the selection process. The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts in New York City recently received a two-year grant of $125,000 for a master architectural plan and completion of Volume I of the painting and sculpture collection catalogue.
  • The ACE initiative provides “support to small and mid-sized museums with significant holdings of overall importance to the study of American art.” Approximately fifty museums from throughout the United States will receive grants under this initiative through the year 2000. The Foundation solicits proposals three times a year from selected museums. Grants were recently awarded to the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona to support a collections awareness program in American photography and to the Delaware Art Museum to support a collection management and research project on the John Sloan art collection and archives.
  • Ten dissertation fellowships of $18,500 are awarded yearly for doctoral research into American art. Selection of the fellows is made through a national competition. The American Council of Learned Societies administers the program for the Foundation. Additionally, the foundation awards smaller dissertation research grants, totaling $150,000 per year, to graduate programs with strong commitment to American art.
  • In the words of Henry Luce III (as quoted from an article written for American Art Review, February-March 1995): “That our foundation has succeeded in making the art of our own nation more visible to its people, more documented in scholarship, more respected in the world, and more popular at home is a source of overflowing satisfaction and joy.”

Karen Masaki, Hawai'i Community Foundation