Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
, announced the extraordinary gift of $10 million from longtime supporters Helen and Sam Zell on behalf of the Zell Family Foundation to create The Zell Fund for Artistic Excellence.
"Helen and Sam Zell are visionary philanthropists whose passion and commitment to the arts is beyond measure," said Madeleine Grynsztejn. "We are extremely grateful for this generous gift which will help support key Vision initiatives to position the MCA as a pre-eminent contemporary art museum. As a Trustee and mentor, Helen has been an inspiring force over the course of the MCA's history, and we have all benefited from her intelligence and guidance."
"This is a watershed moment for the MCA," said King Harris, Chair of the MCA Board of Trustees. "The Zell Fund for Artistic Excellence will empower the museum to reach new heights in programming and ensure a groundbreaking 21st-century museum. Equally important, the Zell Fund reflects a commitment to long-term financial sustainability in combination with these creative new initiatives."
Grynsztejn continues, "The Zell Fund activates the core of our Vision, which is to engage audiences with the most important art and ideas being produced today. The Zell Fund fuels every aspect of our new initiatives devoted to an artist-activated, audience-engaged museum, including an increase in innovative technologies; a complete new brand and identity campaign to raise our visibility; the continuation of our lauded artist residency program; and new exhibition programs such as our outdoor summer plaza series. Helen's extraordinary commitment raises the level of our work on every front."
Helen Zell was Chair of the MCA Board from 2004-08, and under her tenure she supported the effort to make the MCA the tenth Museum in the Park. She has served on numerous museum committees, including the Director Search Committee that brought Madeleine Grynsztejn to the MCA in 2008. At that time, Zell organized a group of MCA Board members to donate $20 million, which eliminated nearly half of the museum's debt incurred from the construction of the new building. The gifts were a vote of confidence in Grynsztejn's leadership and vision and enabled her to develop strong artistic programming that took risks without being significantly inhibited by debt expenses.
"Like the MCA itself, I am committed to both sustainability and growth," said Helen Zell. "In the thirty years that I have been involved with the museum, I have never seen it more confident and clear in its direction. I want to help make sure that the museum is on solid financial ground and our Vision is realized."
In addition to serving as the President of the MCA Women's Board (1991-94), Zell is currently the Chair of the MCA Collection Committee, supporting the museum's collection and acquisition program and generously donating works of art to the museum. She was the first donor to support the Artist Engagement Residency that has provided year-long residencies for Mark Bradford and Martin Creed, and in 2013, Goshka Macuga. She consistently supports the museum's exhibitions, most recently Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, Luc Tuymans, and Take your time: Olafur Eliasson. She also provides two paid internships at the MCA.
Zell is the Executive Director of the Zell Family Foundation. She is Vice Chairman of The Chicago Public Education Fund; a director of the Ounce of Prevention Fund; a trustee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and a trustee of Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She is an avid supporter of the University of Michigan's Masters in Fine Arts Creative Writing Program. Zell earned her bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Michigan.