A Pearl of a Museum Grows Bigger, Quickly

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2016

The Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York, is one of America’s superb art museums, with a particular strength in 7,000 modern works. But it has been desperately short of space in which to exhibit its deep collection. Until a prominent bond trader solved that problem in very short order with an innovative matching-grant donation. Jeffrey Gundlach used a $43 million donation to inspire $41 million of other private gifts. And he made this happen at breakneck speed.

The museum announced in June that it had selected the architect for a major building expansion, and intended in September to gradually roll out a multi-year capital campaign to raise the necessary money. Instead, Gundlach made his $43 million offer right away and pushed the institution to wrap up the fundraising “by Labor Day, because these things lose momentum.” He asked that museum leaders raise a match to his money, beginning with a blitz of the board members—who quickly kicked in $21 million. Within an astonishing 12 weeks of starting from nothing, Albright-Knox had raised $103 million—“probably the fastest capital campaign in U.S. history,” in the words of gallery director Janne Sirén. (At that point the museum expanded its fundraising goal from the original $80 to $125 million, which will allow its endowment to be doubled at the same time the new campus is created.)

“When I was young, I was dragged there,” explained Gundlach, who grew up in Buffalo and now lives in Los Angeles, so “I’ve always had a belief in and fondness for the Albright-Knox.” In addition to loyalty, his decision to give to his hometown was based on a desire for effect. “I tend to do things not with teaspoons, but to try to make a difference.” If he had donated $43 million to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gundlach suggested, “you wouldn’t be able to find it with a microscope.” Instead, this donor allowed a grand expansion of a great museum to be fully funded before its managers even expected to start their fundraising.