Established in 1947, Vermont’s Shelburne Museum of art and Americana is an iconic landmark encapsulating the fascinating history of arts patronage and the role of art in the contemporary world. Its director, Tom Denenberg, considers the museum, “a legacy piece for any Gilded Age robber baron,” as it was founded by Electra Havemeyer Webb, the daughter of Henry O. Havemeyer, whose domination of the sugar industry with the American Sugar Refining Company has deemed him as robber baron. Henry and Electra were avid collectors of art, particularly Impressionist pieces, not only for personal interest but also because they saw the value of creating an inviting attraction for consumers and local workers alike.
As such, the relationship between corporation and arts has remained one predicated by personal fulfillment and sweetened by local engagement. For example, Denenberg has noted, IBM’s Thomas J Watson supported Grandma Moses, whose work is currently on exhibition at Shelburne. In later years, corporation financing of arts projects has taken the shape of patronage in return for recognition within exhibitions, along with printed logos in event and member publications. In this way, sponsorship “becomes an adjunct of marketing,” according to Denenberg, the benefits of which are integral to keep many arts groups running, including Shelburne—which averages $9 per person in revenue but spends nearly $60 apiece.
More recently, companies have pushed part traditional marketing and utilize sponsorship of the arts as means of employee recruiting, retention, and engagement. Headquartered in Burlington, not too far from Shelburne, Dealer.com regularly sponsors local arts events, such as the stage for City Hall Park’s Festival of Fools and a mural of late DJ A-Dog. Jill Badolato, director of social responsibility, has expressed that an arts-engaged community helps attract and retain employees. As testament to this, they maintain an art wall amid their Pine Street office, which has generated $165,000 in sales for local artists. For these and many other efforts, Dealer.com has been selected as an honoree for this year's BCA 10. Surely, employees are not only impressed by the initiative but proud to be part of such laudable efforts to support local art and the community.
(Photo: Shelburne Museum website, The Life and Art of Grandma Moses)