Jackson Pollock ran off an eastern Long Island back road 60 years ago next month and died among gnarled trees. He was still making money from his drip paintings of several years earlier at the time, but struggling with alcoholism. His wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner was in Paris at the time, giving him time for his womanizing and anger. She lived on another 28 years, nurturing his legacy while growing her own art and reputation and caring for their joint estate. She died in 1984.
The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild celebrates the ongoing impact of these two epochal artists at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at its annual gala, where Charles C. Bergman, Chairman & CEO, and Kerrie Buitrago, Executive Vice President of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation will be honored with the arts organization’s Whitehead Award, named for the arts colony’s founders.
“Lee had no children,” Buitrago said this past weekend at her Maverick Road home, where she’s busy preparing for a special brunch the morning of the gala, introducing the Guild to her foundation’s supporters. “Her attorney, Gerald Dickler, asked her what she wanted to do with her money and she said she wanted to give it to worthy and needy artists.”
Starting with $10 million in cash and another $10 million in art, the Foundation has spent the past 31 years working to “stabilize and to strengthen the careers of artists, not to mention their personal lives as they do their creative work.” In total, that’s added up to 4,148 grants totaling $65,071,174 to artists in 77 countries, including 42 Lee Krasner awards of $90,000 over three years to 42 artists.
Starting with 9/11, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation has also been making grants to organizations that directly support individual artists. At first the efforts were designed to aid individual artists uprooted by the World Trade Center tragedy, where many had studios. Later, following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, more awards were given to help with artists affected by those massive events.
Since 2006, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild has received $168,000 in grants aiding its annual Artists in Residence program at Byrdcliffe.
The organization came into the foundation’s sights after Buitrago visited friends in Woodstock 21 summers ago, then decided to rent a space at Byrdcliffe — The Forge — for half a decade. After buying her Maverick Road home, she then joined the Guild’s board of directors for several years. Her son, Oscar, is now on the board…and in charge of putting on this Saturday’s gala and awards ceremony, which will include music and an art auction, at the Bear Cafe.
She says she was hired for her job based on her previous work with the United Nations and several major international firms, in Brussels and Paris, bringing to the foundation both administrative ability and a background in international investment.
Bergman, who worked with the foundation as a consultant before taking on his present position, also sits on the philanthropy committee of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, serves on the Board of Directors of the Children’s Radio Foundation, and also works with the Fund for Park Avenue, the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Buitrago notes how PKF grants have no hard deadlines, even though most applications tend to be submitted in September and January. Once an anonymous committee made up of museum and art world professionals make a first cut — and those not making it that year are contacted — program staff then work with applicants on their budgets, working over income and expenses for each artist, while also fine tuning their plans. “It’s like a personal finance course,” she said. “We work very closely with our applicants.”
Unlike many grants, PKF money can be awarded more than once, as many in the Hudson Valley have found. “We learned that an artist’s circumstances don’t always get better,” she said, pointing out how grants don’t go to artists with their own trust funds, or heightened levels of sales. “Also, that their work changes, and such change needs support.”
While artists’ needs are key to PKF grants, they are not paramount. There are also funds available just for emergencies.
Asked about the changes she’s seen in art and artists over the past 30 years, Buitrago simply notes that “the art has shifted and we have shifted with it” before speaking about the ways in which the foundation has kept showing its Pollocks and Krasners over the years, to ever-better effect as requests come in to see the work in tandem.
So how large a role do Woodstock and the Hudson Valley play in the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s giving profile?
Buitrago speaks about the growing numbers of artists working out of Brooklyn, but then sends a list of nearly 100 names, not counting the scores whose main address is still in New York City. The Krasner awardees include Mary Frank and Raquel Rabinovich; augmenting it this past year is a new Pollock Award for creativity with an eye to societal impact, given this past Spring to photographer Gideon Mendel for his portraits of flood survivors around the world.
And then there’s Byrdcliffe and the Guild, which shares the foundation’s organizational support along with such institutions as the Aldrich, the Aspen Institute, the MacDowell Colony, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Vermont Studio Center and Tate Liverpool.
“Byrdcliffe selects candidates for its Artists in Residence program, funded by the foundation,” Buitrago said. “It allows us to allow artists to become part of this great tradition of Byrdcliffe, including the town of Woodstock. The experience of being there, and here, can be life changing. This program, this place, can allow one to become a risk-taker in their art…It’s like a rite of passage.”
As is all that the foundation Buitrago and Bergman will be honored for this Saturday does, keeping Lee Krasner’s wish to support artists alive, along with the creative life she and husband Jackson Pollock came to symbolize through their fevered creative lives, and now long after.
The 2016 Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild Gala honoring Charles Bergman, Kerrie Buitrago and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation starts at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 at The Bear Cafe…but is officially sold out. Earlier that day, there will be a 4 p.m. Artist Talk and Dedication with Mark Robbins, president and CEO of the American Academy in Rome, at the Byrdcliffe Theater… for which space is still available.