How To Do­nate Your Art to Is­rael

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Daniel Grant ●

Noel Levine, a real es­tate in­vestor and pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tor, was a long­time pa­tron of the arts, pro­vid­ing pho­to­graphs and mil­lions of dol­lars to both the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art (gal­leries at both in­sti­tu­tions are named in his honor), as well as to other cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions in the United States.

How­ever, in , eight years be­fore he died at the age of , he and his wife, Har­ri­ette Levine, de­cided to do­nate their ­-work pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tion — in­clud­ing vin­tage works by Man Ray, Ed­ward Ste­ichen, and Al­fred Stieglitz — to the Is­rael Mu­seum, in Jerusalem. They also con­trib­uted $­ mil­lion to the mu­seum’s en­dow­ment fund.

Per­haps you want to do­nate to the Is­rael Mu­seum, too — maybe not on as grand a scale, but some­thing — or to some other for­eign in­sti­tu­tion, such as a univer­sity or hos­pi­tal. All quite doable, but a bit more com­pli­cated for an Amer­i­can tax­payer than do­nat­ing to a not-for­profit in­sti­tu­tion in the U.S.

Of course, you can just give cash or other valu­ables to any or­ga­ni­za­tion any­where in the world, but if you want to de­clare a tax de­duc­tion, the gift might not qual­ify. Donors would not be per­mit­ted any tax de­duc­tion for gifts to for­eign coun­tries or their mu­se­ums, ac­cord­ing to Michael Kos­nitzky, a part­ner in the Mi­ami-based law firm Pills­bury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; how­ever, “they may take a full fair mar­ket tax de­duc­tion for do­nated items to for­eign mu­se­ums when the ob­jects are given to a U.S.-based Friends or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

One such group is Amer­i­can Friends of the Musée d’Or­say, lo­cated in New York City. In ­¡, a New York cou­ple, Mar­lene and Spencer Hays, agreed to do­nate more than ¡ paint­ings by such French artists as Pierre Bon­nard, Edgar De­gas and Henri Matisse to the Musée d’Or­say in Paris upon their deaths. The do­na­tion ac­tu­ally was made to the Friends-of or­ga­ni­za­tion, which agreed to lend the col­lec­tion to the French mu­seum un­til sev­eral years have passed and the mu­seum makes a for­mal re­quest to the Friends-of group to take per­ma­nent own­er­ship of the art­work. U.S. donors, such as the es­tate of the Hay­ses, would be able to take an im­me­di­ate tax de­duc­tion for the gift, based on its ap­praised value. But if the for­eign not-for-profit used the gift for a nonex­empt pur­pose — the Musée d’Or­say us­ing the paint­ings as blan­kets, for in­stance — or if it were to de­cide that it no longer wanted the art­works be­fore three years were up, the donors or es­tates would need to amend their tax re­turns to revalue the ob­jects.

There are hun­dreds of these groups in the United States, from Amer­i­can Friends of the Blind in Greece to Amer­i­can Friends of Tel Aviv Univer­sity. After a se­ries of co­or­di­nated ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris in ­, “we had  to ¡ dona­tions of cash in a cou­ple of days,” said Emily Grand, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the New York City-based GHS Phi­lan­thropy Man­age­ment. The com­pany over­sees more than a dozen “Friends-of” or­ga­ni­za­tion. “The out­pour­ing of sup­port was spec­tac­u­lar and uniquely Amer­i­can,” Grand said.

As with mon­e­tary gifts to any U.S. not-for-profit, the dona­tions to Friend­sof groups may be made in a va­ri­ety of forms, in­clud­ing cash, be­quests and em­ploy­ers’ match­ing funds.

No one turns down money. The process of do­nat­ing ob­jects adds a bit more com­plex­ity, as the Friends-of group acts as a con­duit of in­for­ma­tion to the for­eign en­tity, which may de­cide not to ac­cept a po­ten­tial gift. “Oc­ca­sion­ally, some­one finds some­thing that he thinks might be im­por­tant but a cu­ra­tor at the mu­seum does not,” said Leah Siegel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York Ci­ty­based Amer­i­can Friends of the Is­rael Mu­seum, Jerusalem. “We can­not ac­cept any­thing un­til a cu­ra­tor or col­lec­tions com­mit­tee at the mu­seum ac­cepts it.”

In fact, the Amer­i­can Friends of the Is­rael Mu­seum never ac­tu­ally sees or touches the ob­jects that are o¤ered. “We have a small o¥ce, and we’re not cu­ra­tors,” Siegel said. Prospec­tive donors are asked to send in­for­ma­tion to the Friend­sof group, such as pho­to­graphs, a con­di­tion re­port, an as­sess­ment of the ob­ject’s value by a qual­i­fied out­side ap­praiser and the par­tic­u­lars as to its his­tory of own­er­ship, and the group re­lays it to the mu­seum for its ap­proval.

Cu­ra­tors tend to be world trav­el­ers, vis­it­ing other mu­se­ums to in­spect ob­jects and some­times to de­liver pieces to in­sti­tu­tions, and they’ll make time in their sched­ules to stop by the home or stor­age site of the prospec­tive donor to ex­am­ine the pro­posed gift. They will then re­port back to their di­rec­tors or

ac­qui­si­tions com­mit­tees about the o ered gift. If the gift is ap­proved, the board of di­rec­tors of the Amer­i­can Friends of the Is­rael Mu­seum o cially ac­cepts the do­na­tion and votes to loan the item to the mu­seum for a pe­riod of three years, when a fi­nal re­quest for ti­tle trans­fer is made. Un­til that point, the Friends-of or­ga­ni­za­tion is the o cial owner of the piece.

The process gen­er­ally is smooth, al­though prospec­tive donors need to rec­og­nize that they have less lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate the terms of their gift than if it were be­ing made to an in­sti­tu­tion in the U.S. A for­eign mu­seum, just like an Amer­i­can mu­seum, can­not be re­quired by a donor to use a cash gift or ob­ject in a cer­tain way. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Friends-of or­ga­ni­za­tion be­comes the owner, at least for the first sev­eral years, and the group’s board of di­rec­tors may make its own de­ci­sions. Ac­cord­ing to the guide­lines pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Friends of the Bri­tish Mu­seum: “The Di­rec­tors of the Amer­i­can Friends of the Bri­tish Mu­seum have com­plete dis­cre­tion and con­trol over the ul­ti­mate dis­po­si­tion of any con­tri­bu­tions re­ceived by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. While donors may sug­gest that their gifts be used for a spe­cific pur­pose, these re­quests are non­bind­ing.”

Those rules are the same for all Friends-of groups. An­other sim­i­lar­ity among them arises when it comes to the cost of pack­ing, crat­ing, ship­ping and in­sur­ing an ob­ject that is to travel to a for­eign in­sti­tu­tion. Siegel stated that “we han­dle the lo­gis­tics of pick-up, in­surance, ship­ping and crat­ing, which is most of­ten at the donor’s cost,” while the Amer­i­can Friends of the Lou­vre con­sid­ers the costs of ship­ping as be­ing “part of the gift,” said Sue Devine, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Siegel noted that “not all donors” to the Amer­i­can Friends of the Is­rael Mu­seum or­ga­ni­za­tion are Jew­ish, al­though the ma­jor­ity are. “They may have some fam­ily con­nec­tion to Is­rael or just have vis­ited the Is­rael Mu­seum,” she said. In fact, many of the art­works do­nated to the mu­seum through the Friends-of or­ga­ni­za­tion are by artists who them­selves have no Jew­ish an­ces­try, such as Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Ave­don, as well as all those pho­to­graphs do­nated by Har­ri­ette and Noel Levine. Sim­i­larly, the ma­jor­ity of donors to the Amer­i­can Friends of the Prado, which is based in Min­ne­ap­o­lis, are not of Span­ish ori­gin, nor are most donors to the New York City-based Amer­i­can Friends of the Lou­vre French.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Devine said.

Many of the works do­nated to the mu­seum are by artists who them­selves have no Jew­ish an­ces­try.

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