A City Seen

In 2002, the trustees of the George Gund Foundation gave 150 black-and-white photographs of Cleveland to the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration. These photographs were selected from portfolios commissioned over 12 years for annual reports. The foundation also supported the publication of an exhibit catalog, A City Seen: Photographs from The George Gund Foundation.

I arrived at Cleveland’s George Gund Foundation in 1989 with a strongly held belief, developed early in my career, that the use of honest, compelling photographic images is a potent way of describing the largely invisible work of many nonprofit organizations. During my 14-year stay at the foundation, I had the opportunity to build a collection of fine-art photographic images that I, the trustees and the staff felt best and most honestly described our work.

As an avid amateur photographer since the age of 10, I have seldom been without a camera in easy reach. In 1967, I joined the staff of ACTION-Housing, Inc. (AHI) in Pittsburgh, one of the earliest nonprofit housing developers in the country. My boss, knowing of my interest in photography, asked me to take some photographs for the organization’s annual report and recruit a work-study student from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) to help document the agency’s programs. For the next five years, in addition to my other responsibilities, I identified a number of talented, young art students interested in photography who did excellent and exciting work that vividly told the story of AHI’s housing and neighborhood agenda.

I joined the staff of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Conference on Community Development in 1976 and for 12 years produced their annual reports. Again, I found a cadre of up and coming photographers, as well as some established local ones, who produced a wonderful array of black-and-white images that were evocative expressions of our agenda.

When I came to the George Gund Foundation as executive director, I welcomed the chance to launch an even more ambitious photographic display through the medium of the annual report. I hired a local graphic design firm, Nesnadny+Schwartz. Mark Schwartz is a photographer himself, and we found that we shared a passion for black-and-white photography. We immediately eliminated the usual happy grantee images from our first annual report in 1990. Mark and I then decided to commission professional photographers from across the country to fulfill open-ended assignments in the foundation’s various areas of interest – education, the arts, the environment, human services, and community development and revitalization. Each artist provided his or her own individual portrayal of these different aspects of the city. I had the distinct pleasure of living with these more than 150 images in the foundation offices. They were praised by many for their visceral power and singularity in portraying a city and region in its fullest dimensions – its humanity, beauty and rough edges.

Excellent photography greatly enhances any report issued by a nonprofit organization, and it can be achieved at a reasonable cost with up-and-coming artists. Good art, as much as the printed word, is a powerful way to deliver a message about what you care about and what you do.

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