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Director Wants a Wider Reach for Getty Grants : Art: Deborah Marrow aims to broaden the program's international constituency. It has awarded $20 million in its first five years.

March 05, 1990|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

It isn't easy to give away the J. Paul Getty Trust's money, but the Getty Grant Program has managed to disburse $20 million during its first five years of operation. Five hundred and thirty grants have been awarded to art historians, conservators and art museums in 18 countries.

Ministering to a wide range of needs, Getty grants have helped to repair earthquake-damaged murals in Mexico City, to develop a user-friendly display of Native American art at the Denver Art Museum and to publish books on French daguerreotypes and Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Scholars have used Getty money to study Japanese hand scrolls, Tuscan stained glass and the social history of German modern art. Museums around the world have catalogued their collections and hired interns, courtesy of the Getty.

Twenty million dollars has covered a lot of ground, but the road to scholarly philanthropy is tortuous, according to Deborah Marrow, director of the grant program. An art historian whose specialty is 17th-Century French and Italian art, Marrow joined the Getty seven years ago as a publications coordinator. She took over the Getty Grant Program at its inception, in 1984, and now heads a staff of eight, which is housed in a Santa Monica high-rise but eventually will move to the J. Paul Getty Center under construction in Brentwood.

"No one is trained to be a grant maker. Everyone falls into the field from somewhere else. I fell into it from art history," Marrow said. While she has had to put a practical edge on her academic skills, the program she administers also has faced challenges.

First came the task of introducing the program through brochures (printed in five languages), public appearances and published announcements to inform qualified applicants about grant opportunities. Now the program is so well known in the United States and Western Europe that 250 scholars have applied for 21 fellowships to be awarded in 1990, but Marrow and her staff are still working to give the program a broader international reach. That means traveling and directing information toward scholars and institutions in countries that are out of the loop of Western art history.

Once potential applicants make themselves known, they are given grant guidelines and counseled to help them qualify. In general, the program supports projects that "promote research in the history of art and the humanities, the understanding of art, and conservation," according to the guidelines. Grants are not given for operating expenses, endowment funds, building construction or maintenance, or acquisition of works of art.

"Much of our time is spent explaining the program and helping people who have eligible projects to prepare applications," Marrow said. When applications are ready, they are subject to peer review by independent scholars and specialists. Most proposals are judged by two field specialists and an advisory committee of four to eight people who serve three-year terms. Reviewers are paid an honorarium--say $150 for reading a proposal and submitting a written assessment. The payment is essentially a token of appreciation for work done in the spirit of "service to the field," Marrow said.

The program aims to give grants to the most deserving and feasible projects. No quotas apply to subject matter or applicants, and the Getty doesn't advocate particular projects. "We just respond to the applications that we receive," Marrow said. Applications tend to reflect current developments, however. Conservators are increasingly attuned to technical processes, while the study of art history has become more theoretical and interdisciplinary, she said.

The J. Paul Getty Trust's wealth has been so widely publicized that people often expect Getty grants to be much larger than they are, Marrow said. The trust's first priority by law is to create and administer its own nonprofit programs, such as the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute.

As an operating trust, the Getty can spend up to 0.75% of the $3.2-billion market value of its endowment on gifts and grants, however. The Getty Grant Program was established under this provision.

Grants so far have run from $640 for the publication of a book on two 14th-Century Dominican altar paintings to $1 million for a five-year research project on the effects of new information technologies on research, scholarship and teaching, administered by the Council on Library Resources in Washington.

"We usually don't pay for an entire project. We try to leverage our support," Marrow said. Conservation grants generally require recipients to raise matching funds, for example. Instead of picking up the entire tab for publications, grants may provide for additional illustrations or allow a book's purchase price to be lowered. Postdoctoral fellowships of $23,000, on the other hand, are intended to replace the recipients' salaries for a year so that they can concentrate on research and writing.

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