Oregon’s art institutions are remembering billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen for his catalytic effect on the Northwest art world.
Allen, 65, died Monday after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Sunday night, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival performed in the space that bears his family name — the Allen Elizabethan Theatre — for the final time this season.
The festival’s Julie Cortez said in a written statement: “Paul and his family have been coming to OSF for decades, and Paul’s love of and support for the festival has been essential to the art and community we create here. He had a particular, inspiring passion for making art and the classics relevant to young audiences.”
From the big institutions like OSF to Bend’s High Desert Museum, down to the Walla Walla Public Library, it’s hard to find a region in Oregon that was untouched by Allen’s giving.
Even his personal art collection became a tool for expanding access. Allen was counted by ARTnews as one of the top 200 collectors in the world.
Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso said that when someone like Allen opened his holdings for an exhibition like PAM’s 2015 landscape exhibition, “Seeing Nature,” he allowed museum audiences a close-up view with art world masters the museum otherwise couldn’t have touched.
“It was one of the first times in a while that a Gustav Klimt painting was shown,” in the region, Ferriso said. “Having access to five Monets, significant Edward Hopper paintings, Georgia O’Keefe — the list goes on. Some of those works had never been seen [in public] before.”
J.S. May, who worked as the museum’s chief advancement officer, said Allen also made substantial gifts in support of contemporary art.
When the Microsoft co-founder set up the Allen Family Foundation in 1988 under the leadership of his sister, Jody Allen, he set into motion one of the engines of the region’s arts and culture infrastructure. Allen founded the Experience Music Project — now the Museum of Pop Culture where Jody Allen is still president of the board — and KEXP radio. He also donated millions for Native and tribal organizations.
Allen’s family foundation reduced much of its arts giving in recent years, but he also ramped up his personal giving.
His founding in 2015 of the Seattle Art Fair brought the global art market into sharper focus for Northwest audiences, collectors and galleries. The first weekend in August has become a tent post for galleries and gatherings like Oregon’s Converge45, designed to harness the tidal wave of art world attention Allen’s vision drew to the Northwest.
May called it an extraordinary commitment to put Seattle on the map of the art world.
“He did many things across the city [of Portland] that will leave a legacy for future generations,” May said, particularly with Jody Allen at the helm of the family foundation to continue her brother’s work.
Editor’s note: The Allen Family Foundation has given financial support to OPB.