ONE ARTIST’S PLEDGE
An Artist’s Journey Into Micro-Philanthrocapitalism
Imagine the possibilities if visual artists were to adopt a “greater good” agenda. Imagine the power of artists as micro-entrepreneurs acting as “micro-philanthropists” calling on a ‘definite optimism’ and an “everything is possible” way of thinking. Throughout history, art has highlighted global (social, economic, political) issues, but what if there was also a way in which it could provide tangible tools and skills to make a real, substantial difference? I am working toward changing that paradigm and restoring the image of artists as the ‘grand thinkers’ and ‘experts’ the world looks to for answers.
I’m not a rock star philanthropist like Bono and this isn’t Robin Hood or the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative). This is Artist League making the things that need to be made. I’m hoping that like minded colleagues from around the globe will join in this movement to look at new ways to serve and bring more intrinsic value to our communities and our planet.
One Artist’s Pledge is the first step to spread the word and set a new benchmark of leadership and inspiration.
What is One Artist’s Pledge?
I, Edward Lentsch, hereby pledge $1,000,000 in total donations of monumental-sized paintings to more than a dozen “for benefit” institutions that are pushing the envelope through their missions to serve humankind. I see no better way to send a clear message of self-empowerment and no better example of the possibilities for all artists to participate in this new epic paradigm shift, where we can directly make a difference and serve humanity in new and innovative ways.
What is Philanthrocapitalism?
It has been called “The New Golden Age of Philanthropy,” where Social Entrepreneurship is taking the lead with privately funded NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) to the top of the abundance pyramid, leading hands-on initiatives in solving the world’s most challenging problems. The B-Corp (“for-benefit”) business model and L3C (Limited Profit Corporation) are changing the face of what was once a “non-profit” one size fits all approach to “do good for good .org and what now is a new hybrid of creative integration for new platforms for giving---and more importantly teaching people to fish… This is what is not so commonly known as “Philanthrocapitalism.”
I Believe in Miracles
Micro-Philanthrocapitalism and the Artist’s Pledge.
My story started a couple of months ago when I was in upstate New York at the Hamptons Art Fair. I had worked for twenty-eight days straight to finish a new collection for display at the fair, followed by a pop-up show in a posh boutique hotel that a special patron of mine had organized. When I awoke that Monday morning headed for Manhattan I had what I was later to discover as an ‘ocular inclusion’ (a very tiny blood clot that had gone to the eye and cut off the oxygen causing a blind spot.) My first instinct was that it was something that could be fixed with a nap and some Visine. This is where an incredibly serendipitous event occurred that changed my life forever.
As I arrived in New York, I received a phone call completely out of the blue from the executive assistant of one of my collectors, a doctor in NYC. I remembered him and his wife and the painting they had bought. I especially remembered how they spent time talking to my wife about Alzheimer’s Disease, which her mother was suffering from. They were incredibly smart and exceptionally kind. They had even sent me a couple of thoughtful notes over the years telling me how much they enjoyed their painting. We were not friends by any means, just a casual acquaintance that I met at an art fair. So this phone call that came was quite a surprise, I had no idea they had been following my social media campaigns. When his assitant called,
I remember saying, “I have this weird thing with my eye going on and I wonder if I could call you back?” Her reply was emphatically, “Wait a second what exactly is going on…” and after a couple more seconds this Assistant said something I will never forget. She said sternly, “The doctor will want to know about this immediately---you just stop whatever you’re doing and take a seat and please wait to answer my call ---I’ll call you back in a few minutes; it might take a while for me to track him down but don’t you do a thing until you hear back from me!” It turned out this client of mine was not just a prominent New York doctor, but he is also the CEO a major hospital in NYC. A few minutes later my phone rang again and his assistant said, “He wants you to go in to see this particular doctor immediately. Your eyes are nothing to mess around with. They are expecting you and will take it from there.”
Before I knew it I was in the ICU ---turns out that my heart had been in A-fib for several days and was throwing clots to my brain and this case starting with my eye. My quick-fix approach could have been a deadly mistake. My heart was in such a stressed state they ended up putting in a temporary pacemaker. Lying in hospital, I realized a couple of things: One, this arbitrary call out of the blue and the unique timing of this phone call felt like divine intervention; and two, being an artist actually meant something to this wonderful man and I was significant in his eyes. Later, when my doctor collector visited me in hospital and told me stories about how he and his wife would go to their retreat in Aspen, and the room to simply to read and sit in front of the fire to look at my painting and how profoundly it moved them. “It just looks like it was meant for the space we get so much joy from it!” he said.
At that moment I realized something I had almost forgotten: I am an artist of consequence and my work can create joy and inspire people. I am powerful in my ability to serve and make a difference! I don’t need to be famous! It’s not an exhibition at the “grand museum of museums” that will validate me and fulfill me as an artist? At that moment an incredible sense of gratitude filled me to tears as I had a profound moment of clarity. I thought: Is this it? Am I going to “die with my music still in me...”
A long time ago my mentor and friend Rabbi Bernie told me, “I’ve never heard anyone on his deathbed say—I wish I worked harder…” but that was exactly what I was thinking. I had such high hopes for 'artist league' I have so many things I want to do yet! Over the following weeks, as I recovered, I felt more and more compelled to give something back. I asked myself again and again, what is it that truly serves to further? I thought I have some huge paintings that in the $50,000-100,000 range. How many years have I wasted waiting for that famous curator from a top museum to walk into the studio and discover my genius? The moment of clarity was realizing what can I do with them now and how many more pieces do I have still in me! What if I offered to donate one of my best works to the hospital as a way of giving back? It wasn’t in place of a financial obligation, but rather, about showing my appreciation with more than words, but through deeds and actions.
What I was to discover was that they (not just the doctor but others at the institution) were extremely excited about this gift and had an amazing new state of the art building that could use a monumental sized scale painting. The joy of giving was quickly transformed into self-realization and empowerment---I have the resources to make a difference now!! Not when I’m rich and successful, but now! I now know I can do this for others as well.
The next thing I did was contact what is probably my favorite institution on the planet, Singularity University, the quintessential example of the “For-Benefit” model (where, in my opinion, the most brilliant minds on the planet gather to solve some of today’s most challenging problems). I contacted them and before I knew it, they contacted me expressing interest for a new building scheduled to open in 2017.
My current plan is to find new platforms for exposure, and start this ‘movement of giving’ as a model for other like-minded colleagues to participate in. It’s the oldest and most human paradigm, the idea that “what you give is what you get.” In the past two decades I have witnessed and participated in many fundraising events for all manner of non-profits where artist’s donations of their work has contributed greatly to the success of the organization. I personally have gifted dozens of individual works that have raised sums between $2000-10,000 in gala events by either silent or live auction.
The power of giving in this class could be called the “micro-philanthropy of the small as the mighty.” It’s been an enormous source of both pride and fulfillment to be able to give something that would inspire someone else “to give to get!” This synergy has both the power of the small and the mighty. I think of Sister Teresa, a modest woman of little education, creating something from the most humblest of roots and becoming a global symbol for love. Given the fact that her funeral witnessed the world’s most powerful and affluent individuals joined by its poorest is a testament to the power of the “one”. I think of one of my all-time greatest influencers Tony Robbins, with only a high School diploma, feeding over a million people each year with a foundation that started with a couple of station wagons and a half dozen turkeys on Thanksgiving.
Modeling the Social Entrepreneurs with Big Vision and a Brilliant Purpose
You don’t have to have a multimillion dollar corporation behind you to make a difference – you can make a difference in the smallest and simplest of ways. Sometimes these are the most powerful. According to “The Butterfly Effect” from Tony Robbin’s blog Human Elevation “we spend $59 billion on ice cream each year… Although it may echo of the butterfly effect, it’s true that small, seemingly insignificant choices can make a huge impact. For example, Americans spent an estimated $3.25 billion this year on potato chips and $70 billion on lottery tickets. And yet it would take only $6 billion to provide basic education worldwide.” I think as an artist, how could we model more initiatives that pair to this culture and what Peter Diamandis refers to as the abundance pyramid? What is the conceptual language and vocabulary that can redefine our collective mission to serve what only furthers.
I think to myself that after this fifty-thousand mile overhaul, a second chance and a shiny new pacemaker; what are the possibilities? How do I live my personal legend, think big, act boldly, and reach for the seemingly unreachable!
By Edward Lentsch
The Artist’s Giving Pledge is about much more than being inspired by a story about a serendipitous event that lead to an idea, it’s about changing the paradigm for artists as a community. Artists have been greatly subsidized and rewarded for their good intentions but when do artists shed the stereotype of the needy misunderstood genius who always needs help to accomplish their goals? This is my struggle as well. But what message does this send about creativity and self-realization? More importantly, what message does that send about an artist’s true ability to make a contribution? The Artist’s Giving Pledge is turning the equation upside down and turning beneficiaries into the benefactors, changing the role of an artist in the greater global community and thereby changing both the perception and the possibilities.
My “ah ha!” moment, was when I realized that I do not need academia’s permission to have an abundance –all possibilities mindset! I simply need to inventory my resources to date and find the leverage to push the envelope exponentially. “Give to Get”-- a simple concept for exponential growth. My history as a painter and entrepreneur (or artrepreneur) has been, make and distribute my collections through partnerships as a basic business strategy for making and keeping customers. Through the past thirty years I have successfully sold over $3,000,000 worth of my paintings making other businesses (agents, galleries and showrooms) over $2,000,000. I don’t say this to impress anyone but only to impress upon a single point, that this has been fundamentally a business---it’s my business to use my tradecraft to fund ideas and make things, and only by selling those ideas/objects do I continue the cycle of creativity. As an artist and a business I have struggled with the very same things that all artists and small businesses suffer from: unstable sales, high overhead, cost to produce, market, distribute---assumptions that fail again and again--the list goes on!
The sincere intention to make a worthwhile contribution to humanity -- lift and inspire people, as real as it is to me, is on the intrinsic side of the equation. It is the reason that in retrospective I could have been a much better business man or maybe even artist for that matter as the two sides of my brain battle it out for dominance. But, regardless of this paradox of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, my intention is to make things of both intrinsic and extrinsic value that must serve a greater purpose that’s much more than making money. It doesn’t make me a nobler person, but rather my goal as an artist is to be a better person. Constant and continuing improvement = Quality; better, sharper, more dynamic—intellectually, spiritually, physically –my goal is exponential growth and the ability to make a difference with my craft.
Just as my strategy in business has been to grow my reach for new collectors/customers by expanding distribution through more and more galleries, showrooms and web platforms; my strategy for the Artist’s Giving Pledge is to find ways to contribute to the institutions that are today’s most progressive think tanks. This in turn will help bring the conversation to the table where likeminded colleagues from many disciplines might collaborate to the next matrix or mind-step. Bottom line the Artist’s Giving Pledge is about much more than giving away giant paintings to fill some blank walls, it’s about creating a new mastermind that starts a movement that drives a revolution.
About Artist League
As founder of artist league my mission has been to connect the tools with the talent and bring something to the arts that I feel artists are failing at. That is sending a message of "self-empowerment with an end game;" the idea that you carve out your own destiny, and that you do not have to wait for the approval from academia that so many artists (including myself) long for and even obsess over. It's not just with hopes and wishes that maybe if I had more resources and more money I could do something, it's about resourcefulness and raising the bar to say "I have the ingenuity, the skill and the vision to make rain here---what am I waiting for; I have the tools and the talent to make anything that needs to be made --- all I need to do is focus on what serves to further! The great 16th Century Samurai Master Miomoto Musashi said, "all suffering comes from a lack of strategy..." It has always been my belief that people can achieve the extraordinary, and even the seemingly impossible, and what artists need most is to be the innovators that we were supposed to be. My studios through the years have made jobs and in my career as an artist, it has always been about passing on the model of abundance to those artists around me. By creating work that makes other people money, I create something that sustains a personal freedom to make things of great beauty and intrinsic value.
For twenty years I have been blessed with the ability to give back and make a difference with both my art work donations to dozens of non-profits for their fundraising efforts, as well as helping emerging and young artist’s careers with our business initiatives at Artist League. In the past two decades Artist League Projects has shown over a dozen emerging artists and sponsored dozens of paid studio internships. The work we do honestly is more than just teaching artists about connecting the buyer to the seller or making and keeping customers, it's about empowering artists to evolve their practice into something that is sustainable as a career. Our mission with Artist League Projects is much greater than just doing art fairs, or sponsoring internships, it’s about expanding the reach of artists as a force of dynamic change---it's about developing ideas to change the paradigm and change the stereotype. It's a voice that says, "we are powerful in our ability to make a difference." This means more artrepreneurial initiatives and driving the "Big Idea" home with projects and objects that both inspire and lift people from their seats. It's about an idea whose time has come where artists create an alliance and become the next next Peace Corps and Red Cross of the new millennium. There are huge issues at stake and even if billionaires contribution a trillion dollars to yet another charitable namesake, there are only so many people who can put rice in a zip-lock. There are few too many doctors and not of enough people who have the skill to make things. When artist realize their assets and start on this new path to be the co-creators of aesthetic habitats for humanity expanding the vision and embracing the unlimited possibilities, our planet will surely prosper and we will overcome the most difficult obstacles facing the human condition.
This is Artist League because we make the things that need to be made!
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