The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation

Claire Peeps

The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation was established in 1985 to provide supplemental instruction to promising young artists and financial assistance to visual artists of demonstrated talent. Today, the Foundation awards approximately $500,000 annually.

The Sharpe Foundation's support to individuals is unusual in that it comes mostly in the form of in-kind support — information, space, and training. The Foundation, in cooperation with the American Council for the Arts, launched the Visual Artist Information Hotline in 1990 to provide artists accurate information about a variety of programs and services available to them. Sharpe was the sole funder of the Hotline until 1994. In 1996 a consortium of funders joined to support the Hotline, and its management was transferred to the New York Foundation for the Arts where it continues to be housed today. Last year, the Hotline responded to some 5,000 inquiries from artists around the U.S.

In 1991, the Foundation initiated its Space Program, which provided visual artists with free studio space in Tribeca in New York City for up to twelve months. Since 1991, the Foundation has been able to provide 130 artists with prime workspace that has enabled the development of new bodies of work. Sadly, with real estate costs rising as much as 500 percent in Tribeca, the Foundation has had to put the program on hold this year. It hopes to secure alternate space and reopen the program for application in September.

The Foundation's Summer Seminar Program, established in 1987, offers intensive two-week seminars to artistically gifted high school juniors from around the U.S. Sixty students are selected for the program each year, which takes place at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The Foundation has also been involved in providing professional/artistic development to K-12 art teachers, allowing them to concentrate on personal growth in drawing and painting.

While the Foundation is unusual for its in-kind programs of support, it is also unusual for the significant level of involvement of working artists in its governance. Most of the Foundation's current activity evolved from an initial gathering of twenty-six visual artists called together by the Foundation in 1988 in New York City. The findings of that group were published in 1989 by the Sharpe Foundation in Roundtable Discussion on the Needs of Visual Artists.

A core working group — including Philip Pearlstein, Chuck Close, Janet Fish, and Robert Storr, among others — emerged to become the Foundation's Artist Advisory Committee. The group (expanded now to eight members) remains intact today, meets regularly, and is responsible for guiding the Foundation's work. Another inter-generational roundtable meeting of visual artists is scheduled to take place in New York in 2001. The focus of that gathering will be on the needs of established and emerging artists in a changing funding environment.

Executive Director Joyce Robinson reports that the team approach to program design and implementation has worked well for the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, and that the artist's voice has been central to their planning process. She urges other foundations to give artists a central role in the articulation of their mission and programs.