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Agnes Gund’s Studio Inspires Future Rembrandts, Koons

Agnes Gund
Agnes Gund, philanthropist, art collector and chairman of MoMA PS1. Her charity, Studio in a School, a nonpropfit led by Tom Cahill, brings art instruction to about 30,000 pre-kindergarten to high school students each year. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Agnes Gund has been at the center of the art world for decades. As a passionate collector, she’s been buying since the mid-sixties -- Bourgeois, Johns, Rothko and Richter among many, many others.

She was the irrepressible president of MoMA for 11 years and is still chairman of MoMA PS1.

And Gund, 74, is a major philanthropist. To compensate for New York cutbacks in cultural programs, in 1977 she launched Studio in a School, where professionals come to the classroom to show kids -- more than 800,000 to date -- how to explore their creativity through sculpting, painting and drawing.

Joined by Studio’s president and chief executive officer, Thomas Cahill, we spoke about art and philanthropy at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.

Cole: Your life is steeped in art and museums. Did you ever feel the urge to draw or sculpt?

Gund: That’s what’s so sad. I’m so lucky in my life, but I’m so unlucky in my abilities.

I love art so much but I’m unable to produce it. I can’t even draw a dog that doesn’t look like a horse.

Cole: What’s a typical day like for you?

Gund: I usually have meetings with different people, a lot of them asking for money.

Art Class

I sometimes go to a Studio in the School site visit. That’s the only happy part of my day. I don’t have to make any decisions; I just get to watch.

Cole: Arts programs in schools keep getting cut. How many more surveys are needed to show that kids who have art education are often better students?

Gund: Anyone could learn how important it is just by looking at Steve Jobs. Why do people like those iPads so much? It’s because of the design.

Cole: Tom, tell me about some of the works created by the Studio’s children that have really impressed you.

Cahill: The kids made art for a deck of cards that we gave out at our gala. Have a look.

Cole: Impressive. The drawings on these cards look like they could be in a museum.

Gund: We’ve had people over the years who wanted to buy their works, but Tom and I agreed that we shouldn’t sell things for the kids.

Cole: How does your program help students beyond learning how to create?

Shy Kids

Cahill: These are shy high school kids without a lot of public speaking experience. Now, they’re asked to present their art to a class and work in teams.

All of a sudden, they’re writing and getting up and leading a lesson. For shy kids, this is an incredible experience.

Cole: Which museums do you like besides the Museum of Modern Art, of which you’re chairman emerita, and MoMA PS1?

Gund: The Frick Collection, where I was on the board, is one of my favorite places. I used to say that you didn’t need to take drugs. You had the Frick -- just go for 45 minutes.

Cole: How would you like to expand Studio in the School’s reach?

Gund: I’m hoping someday that we’ll be able to start a consortium with places like Carnegie Hall to work on early childhood education. I really feel that’s the most important place to put the arts.

Others aim for students in high school and college. It’s like language or skiing -- I mention them because I don’t do either of them very well. If you learn them at an early age, they will last.

For more information:

(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Lili Rosboch on arts and Ryan Sutton on dining.

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