Future Plans

Portrait of Kathy Halbreich

Kathy Halbreich. Photo: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Future Plans

Dear Friends,

Before the news becomes public, I wanted you to know that I will be stepping aside this May as Executive Director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. I do so with a profound sense of satisfaction in what has been collectively achieved as well as a deep belief that a new generation of institutional leaders is ready to take us forward in all sorts of riveting ways. After navigating through the precarity of the pandemic, while overseeing many courageous, even contrarian artistic and philanthropic programs as well as two major renovation projects, it is especially meaningful to leave the Foundation in such vibrant artistic and advantageous financial shape. Most importantly, Bob’s work is better understood and his legacy more secure than ever.

In September, 2017 I arrived at the Foundation animated by an enormous sense of possibility and permission. My initial responsibility was to refresh our mission, and for me that meant embracing the freedom exhibited by Bob, in both his daily artistic practice and in his daring to champion a more progressive and benevolent world. This spirit activated everything we did to enhance Bob’s legacy — from our research and academic partnerships, care for the collection, and collaborations with museums and galleries across the globe to our dexterous and collaborative approach to philanthropy and the care of artists. Soon after arriving, I created an anonymous Artists Council to help guide our giving, push our thinking, and question our approaches. Its philanthropic budget is now $600k a year and goes to a wide range of initiatives of the artists’ choosing. I believe giving creative practitioners this agency has made us better in all respects. For example, they helped us realize the mutual benefit of backing both iconoclastic arts and socially-engaged institutions, all with budgets under $3million. This new move continued our funding for artists of conscience while introducing additional support for initiatives and organizations with the purpose and expertise to change people’s lives for the better. These efforts include a Black and Indigenous Land Rights and Agriculture Initiative originating with us and on-going support for the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. As one artist wrote, “….The Council’s work to me fosters the overarching idea that art is enriched by all that is not art, because art that is multi-dimensional is more capable of envisioning a more vital and festive reality." 

So much collective joy and so many partners went into expanding the public’s grasp of the prescience and influence of Bob’s work across many media, including hybrids for which there are no names. This was accomplished in part by supporting scholars who offered new, even provocative interpretations of Bob’s work. This is evident in the ways we engaged faculty and graduate students in art history from Hunter College as well as those in conservation from Winterthur/University of Delaware in annual courses that reveal the knotty issues informing Bob’s stylistic diversity and materials. Similarly, as we began shaping the first volume of the free, digital catalogue raisonné to launch on Bob’s 100th birthday in 2025, we commissioned essays from fourteen artists, curators, scholars and conservators with diverse perspectives on the early work. By inviting artists and scholars at different points in their careers to the residencies in Florida and in the New York archives, we enjoyed exposing them first-hand to Bob’s wild inventiveness and intellectual generosity.  Similarly, crafting a more holistic and strategic perspective to the understanding and purchase of Bob’s work, led by Schwartzman & Co and the Foundation’s curatorial staff, bodes well for our finances and, consequently, the future of all our programs. It was enormously gratifying to see the success of our many collaborations with Thaddeus Ropac Gallery and, more recently, Barbara Gladstone Gallery and Mnuchin Gallery. 

But the past few years also presented us with singularly painful pictures of our societal troubles and fragility. The pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, for example, underscored an imperative that is becoming routine for us: to remain empathetic and fluid, to learn to constantly think and do things differently in order to most seamlessly and gracefully benefit others. For a progressive organization such as ours, mortal fears of illness cast risk-taking in a different light. Our increasing nimbleness, both operational and philosophical, allowed us to pivot quickly to address the immediate stresses of a wide range of new and returning grantees such as Artists Relief, Danspace, Lauren Halsey’s Summaeverythang Community Center, Beach Sessions Dance Series, COUSIN,  Moms for Housing in Oakland, Shelterwood Collective in Sonoma County, and Artists Space as well as Together and Free, an organization along the Texas border that assists immigrants. This opportunity to listen closely to colleagues in order to learn what mattered most to them restored increments of my hope during this tumultuous time. It also informed new programs such as increasing emergency funds for artists, from assistance with medical expenses to free rehearsal space. 

There’s a lot to do before I leave, including programs focused on Bob’s 100th birthday, upcoming exhibitions, and recent philanthropic initiatives. I am especially eager to see the completion of an environmentally advanced facility in Captiva that houses an open kitchen/ living room as well as several studios, including our first for recording music. It was designed by WXY architecture+urban design in a multi-year project that also enhanced the sustainability of the ten existing buildings and 20-acre landscape. And, miraculously, all these buildings still are standing after the onslaught of Hurricane Ian. 

It was only possible to accomplish my goals in tandem with a deeply committed and open minded Board and staff. I am immensely grateful to all involved with the Foundation for their spirited connection to the experimental freedom embedded in Bob’s work while imagining how his values could find their most liberated forms today. I worked beside extraordinary people. I am particularly grateful to Michael Straus, Chair of the Board, who never turned away from a challenging idea, and Christopher Rauschenberg whose care for his father’s legacy set a very high bar for us all. It was an abiding pleasure for me to have been able to absorb Bob Rauschenberg’s own joyful, responsive and irreverent approach to making art and living an empathetic life. 

We are now a remarkably nimble, daring, deeply serious, and financially stable institution –  compelling conditions for a new leader. The Board will begin an immediate search, and I am confident the new Executive Director will embrace the same permission I found to invent surprising new paths for the Foundation. I look forward to that!

Kathy Halbreich