The Power of Art: Wendy O’Neill of the Rockefeller Family

Arts

Visual Artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

The great great granddaughter of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Sr and distant cousin of David Rockefeller, discusses the growing interest in preserving, improving and modernising art forms in Asia.

Why do people give to the arts? Generally, individuals have a deep-seated passion for the arts; they want to bring that art form to life. If they don’t have that passion, they probably won’t be motivated to give. Sometimes they desire the prestige associated with having their names on a fellowship, although many wish to remain anonymous. As chairman of the Asian Cultural Council, I’m seeing a growing interest in preserving, improving and modernising art forms, particularly in Asia.

Art provides a powerful cultural bridge, particularly in today’s politically fraught times. On a political level, there are tensions between the US, China and many other countries in Asia. But what we’re finding is that on a people-to-people level, cross-cultural encounters are still very positive. It is very important to keep lines of communication open, and art is a universal medium.

Philanthropy has always been part of the Rockefeller DNA. There are more than 200 charities that have been set up by members of the family. While as individuals we have less money than John D Rockefeller, Sr, we still are interested in giving via established Rockefeller philanthropies and as individuals. My great-uncle, John D Rockefeller 3rd, set up the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) in 1963, the year after I was born, and I became the chairman three years ago. The ACC is a grant-making, grant-seeking organisation, and we strive to support international dialogue and mutual understanding between artists, art professionals and art scholars based in Asia and the US, through cultural exchange.

We have awarded more than 6,000 grants to Asians and Americans in the arts, including visual artist Cai Guo-Qiang; and contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Since 1963, the Rockefeller family and our generous fellow donors have contributed US$99.5 million in direct grants and fellowship support services through the ACC. More than 4,000 ACC fellows — both individuals and institutions — in Asia have received grants, and most are influential people in their local communities and their art fields.

There’s a level of trust and respect that is associated with the Rockefeller name, so it’s a valuable tool for the ACC. But, I always tell supporters that, in fact, they are the ones who deserve respect and credit, as they are making the ACC’s mission come alive and increasing its ability to reach so many individuals and institutions in the arts, and bringing greater understanding between Asia and the US.

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