The Fact That Changed Everything: Deborah Marrow and the Getty Foundation The Fact That Changed Everything: Deborah Marrow and the Getty Foundation

The Fact That Changed Everything: Deborah Marrow and the Getty Foundation

by Carren Jao Jessica De Jesus

October 21, 2012

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In 1992, the J. Paul Getty Trust was doing some soul searching. A renowned arts organization in Los Angeles, it was established by oil billionaire John Paul Getty in 1953. It includes a grants organization, arts research facilities, a conservation institute, and a museum housing Getty’s extensive collection of Greek and Roman art in the hills of Malibu.

 “We were still building the Getty Center at the time, and we had been talking a lot about what our relationship to the city would be once we moved,” says Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, which is the department that administers arts grants. (The Getty Center is now the Getty’s main museum perched on 110 acres in the Santa Monica mountains).

Then the L.A. riots happened. The acquittal of LAPD officers caught on video beating Rodney King lit a fuse in a community. The city was engulfed in chaos. At heart of it all was the highly-charged question of race and how diverse communities fit together.

“[The riots] really accelerated our thinking and our urgency about making a difference,” says Marrow. How would the institution be part of the communities around it? In the past decade alone, the county’s white population had slipped from 53 to 41 percent as the Hispanic and Asian population climbed to 38 and 10 percent respectively.

Like their counterparts in the UK, museum staff members in the U.S. were largely white. A report by London-based Museums Association found that in 1993, only about 2.5 percent of people working in UK museums were of minority origin.

“It’s not hard to realize [that fact] if you work in these institutions. It was more about deciding that we should do something about it,” says the director. Seeing this imbalance, Marrow and her three senior staff members team created the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program in 1992.

Leslie Ito as an intern in 1992, and now today

In 2000, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission partnered with the Getty to build a parallel program with a focus on literary and performing arts. Together, they form the largest art internship program in the country.

In light of its success, the Foundation isn’t stopping at one-time summer internships; it’s looking for a long-term relationship. In June 2011, the Foundation launched its Leadership in Arts Management program, which brings together 20 alumni for a series of professional development programs over a 12-month period.

“Good ideas grow,” says Marrow, who knows from experience how one project can build on one another. With any luck, they’re well on their way to helping museums reflect the increasing diversity of their audiences—and our cities. 

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The Fact That Changed Everything: Deborah Marrow and the Getty Foundation