Cultural Foundations and Brand Philanthropy: Rethinking the Role of Contemporary Art
This paper explores transformations in the non-profit sector with reference to the role of luxury brands in the establishment of cultural foundations. Its focus is the Louis Vuitton Fondation opened in Paris in 2014. Financed by corporate philanthropy, foundations are, following Payton and Moody’s, (2008) definition of philanthropy, examples of ‘voluntary action for the public good’.
However, the notion of ‘public good’ is in conflict with the role such organisaitons play in promoting and marketing the brands they represent. This paper goes beyond a critique of foundations as examples of marketing to argue that these types of non organisations challenge existing understandings of ‘philanthropy’, its contribution towards the ‘public good’ as well as the experiences of art’s participation and luxury consumption.
The case study selected here is the last in a series of Foundations financed by the luxury industry sector that have emerged, mostly in Western Europe, since the 1980s. The paper will analyse the Fondation’s ideological (mission statement), its financial arrangements, material resources (building, exhibition displays), and will also focus on how some of its key stakeholders (celebrities, consumers, curators) help lend legitimacy to the foundation, its mission and activities.
At the core of this paper is the proposition that the Fondation collapses the distinction between the consumption of art as a philanthropic object and the consumption of luxury products (such as those by the brand represented). In so doing, the role of art as a tool for critical expression, and that of philanthropy as a tool for social, economic, and in this case, cultural transformation are here turned into another spectacle for consumption. The paper will draw upon organisational theory of non-profits, consumer behaviour, arts participation, and Foucault’s ‘technology of the self’.