An Artist’s Legacy: How do you want to be remembered?

Megan Low

<p><em>Legacy Specialist Alex Unthank working with Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) Artist Marcos Dimas in his studio.</em></p>

In this excerpt from our recent publication, Estate Planning for Visual Artists: A Workbook for Attorneys & Executors, Megan Low, Director of Services for the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, shares a range of considerations and options for artists beginning to plan their legacy.

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Art is lasting, life is short.

Legacy is an opportunity for an artist to answer the question: “How do I want to be remembered?” For some artists, it may be knowing that their work will be cared for or perhaps hang where people may see it from time to time. For others, the goal may be to safeguard a reputation and establish a position in the greater narrative. Quality alone does not guarantee a legacy. Even Vincent van Gogh’s fame is largely dependent on the efforts of his sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger to promote his work after his death. Careful management of artwork and assets, the selection of reliable stewards, and clear goals make all the difference in creating a lasting legacy.

Legacy is a highly personal concept and thus has the potential to be a meaningful force in shaping the overall estate plan. As every client is different, every legacy plan will be different.

There is no end of possibilities depending on the artist’s wishes, resources, priorities, connections, practice, output, and history:

  • An internationally famous artist endows a foundation to manage his artwork, conduct research, and make grants.
  • A career photographer donates her equipment and archives to the visual arts department at her alma mater.
  • A landscape painter donates a collection of works to the regional art museum.
  • An artist with moderate commercial success establishes a trust to manage and carefully sell her works over time and advance her reputation.

Legacy is not synonymous with fame. Many artists choose, in addition to or in place of investing in their own reputations, to use their resources to fulfill other goals:

  • A trailblazing artist, whose work celebrated her tribal heritage, worked diligently to create a thorough inventory and archive of her work and related materials, knowing that such information would be of historical interest.
  • A painting professor, recognizing the significance of his first solo exhibition to his career, partnered with a local nonprofit to endow a fellowship program that would grant emerging artists with their own first shows and professional support.
  • A photographer’s family established an annual juried competition and lecture series in partnership with a local museum of photography.
  • A lifelong painter and arts patron helped found a program to donate local artists’ work to nonprofits and made provisions in her estate to continue making grants to the organizations she had supported during life.

There is no one answer, but it is a question worth asking: “How do you want to be remembered?”

[Excerpted from our free publication, Estate Planning for Visual Artists: A Workbook for Attorneys & Executors. Download the workbook and other free estate and legacy planning tools here.]

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