Sister of Cavs’ owner helps art museums

CLEVELAND–Wealthy parents were careful not to spoil Agnes Gund, the second of six children born to George Gund II and Jessica Roesler Gund.

As a child growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, Gund said she was aware that her parents were generous when it came to paying for her education. But, otherwise, her parents were tightfisted.

“Boy, it was hard to get money,” Gund said. “I used to have to borrow money from friends. We never went on yachts, never went on big, exotic vacations.”

It was not until the death of her father, who made a fortune in banking, in 1966 that Gund began to understand the immensity of the family’s wealth, which Forbes magazine estimates at more than $1 billion.

“That’s why some of us are more philanthropic,” Gund said of her siblings, who include Gordon Gund, owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Gund left Cleveland as a 10th grader to attend a private school in Connecticut and has lived mostly in the Northeast since. But she has maintained close ties to her hometown while rising to the pinnacle of the art world.

As president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1991 to 2002, she played a key role in the museum’s recently completed and widely acclaimed expansion and renovation.

So far, the museum has raised $725 million toward a capital campaign goal of $858 million, half of which will cover the $425 million expansion.

“She was a major force in raising the money that made this building possible,” museum director Glenn Lowry said. “Aggie Gund for decades has been one of the strongest advocates of contemporary art anywhere in the world.”

She is respected in New York for her keen eye as a collector, her generosity as a donor and her admiration for artists, who she loves to visit in their studios. Gund’s master’s degree in art history, which she earned at Harvard, gives her credibility with curators and artists.

Outside the museum, Gund is revered for having founded Studio in a School, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to recruit professional artists to teach in New York public schools. She started the program in 1977 after the city, strapped by a fiscal crisis, cut its art classes.

“Everybody should have art,” she said. I didn’t think art was a frill. It can be as important for many children a s reading or math.”

Gund has quietly and steadily nurtured the Cleveland Museum of Art, nudging it toward a greater acceptance of contemporary art by donating important works and by hinting there might be more to come if the museum continues buying works of comparable quality.

In recent years, she donated large sculptures by Frank Stella and Martin Puryear and loaned 70 drawings from her collection for an exhibition.

Some have enough described her as generous to a fault. She admits that she once had to sell art from her collection to raise cash to meet a pledge in one instance.

“I want to help people, but I don’t look back at my budget and say can I? I just say yes.”