Photo of the endowers, Robert and Mercedes Eichholz at their wedding in 1963
The news of a 2 million dollar endowment for the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Portland Art Museum is an important upgrade for the community in many ways. For example it couples the role of modern and contemporary art while ensuring that the Portland Art Museum should always have the position filled as soon as possible. That's because drawing from the general fund incentivises any museum to let positions sit fallow during times of economic stress. Also, it improves the museum's overall credit rating and financial portfolio. Still, it would be even nicer if Modern and Contemporary art duties were always coupled to the Chief Curator as it is now, and an endowed acquisition fund for contemporary art would also keep things even more contemporary. It also shows how the heirs of important philanthropists choose Portland and change the cultural landscape... in much the same way that artists choosing to call Portland home over the past decade and a half has similarly changed expectations for the city. The convergence on Portland is no accident, money (at least the interesting kind) follows talent. Here is the Press Release:
"The Portland Art Museum is pleased to announce that a gift of $2 million was recently pledged by the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation. The gift from the foundation, headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif., will endow the curator of modern and contemporary art. The position, currently held by Bruce Guenther , will now be known as The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
"We are grateful to Mercedes Eichholz and her family's foundation for this generous and important gift," said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director. "Endowing curatorial positions ensures that the core mission of the Museum is fulfilled."
Mercedes Eichholz and her late husband Robert have been active supporters of the arts for decades, including connections with the National Gallery of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Mrs. Eichholz lived in Portland from the late 1930s to the 1950s and was involved with the Museum during that time. Her son, Michael Davidson, is a Portland resident and a Museum member.
The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation was established to support the arts and is overseen by its trustees, including family members Michael Davidson and daughter Alexa Davidson Suskin. The first installment of the pledged $2 million gift has been received by the Museum with the balance to be paid over the next three years.
"The importance of adding stability to the Museum by funding this curatorial position was key in the decision of the foundation," said Mrs. Eichholz. "I hope that this gift will encourage others to step up and underwrite curatorial positions at the Museum or support the endowment."
During the past five years the Museum has worked to endow all of its curatorial positions. With this gift, the Museum has five endowed curatorial positions and hopes to endow the remaining curatorial positions.
"A strong institutional endowment and endowments for key positions provides financial stability for the Museum's mission in perpetuity," said Ferriso. "This is the second major gift to the endowment in the past six months, following the endowment of the curator of photography in December. This reflects the quality of our curatorial staff, the excellence of the work they are doing in support of the mission, and the generosity and the leadership of donors like Mercedes Eichholz."