PRIVATE MONEY AND PERSONAL INFLUENCE
Howard Klein and the Rockefeller Foundation's funding
of the media arts
Afterimage, Vol.14, Number 6/January 87
Marita Sturken is an artist and critic of film and video in New York City. This article was funded by a video writing grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.
There are few names in the Western world that evoke as weighty an image as the name Rockefeller. Power, prestige, philanthropy, cultural imperialism, and the old-boy network all come to mind. This name sums up the raw power of capitalism before the days of government regulation, antitrust laws, and income tax. To most of the U.S. public, it represents an extended, family-based power structure of phenomenal influence. The Rockefeller Foundation, while no longer a family institution, symbolizes the power invested in those who choose to use their wealth to effect change in the world.
Like many private foundations, it was founded as a means of promoting change with and establishing a beneficent image for a newly amassed fortune; it was also an attempt to change the reputation of "tainted money" that had plagued the Rockefeller fortune. From its inception, it was a globally conceived organization, begun with $100 million from John D. Rockefeller Sr. in 1913 1 and aimed at establishing a lasting role for the Rockefeller fortune. The foundation was the brainchild of Rockefeller's trusted manager Frederick T. Gates. Of the foundation, Gates wrote:
I trembled as I witnessed the unreasoning popular resentment at Mr. Rockefeller's riches, to the mass of people, a national menace. It was not, however, the unreasoning public prejudice of his vast fortune that chiefly troubled me. Was it to be handed on to posterity as other great fortunes have been handed down by their possessors, with scandalous results to their descendants and powerful tendencies to social demoralization? I saw no other course but for Mr. Rockefeller and his son to form a series of great corporate philanthropies for forwarding civilization in all its elements in this land and in all lands: philanthropies, if possible, limitless in time and amount, broad in scope, and self-perpetuating. 2
This fervor and sense of mission (Gates was a former Baptist minister) instigated what would soon become one of the most powerful philanthropies of this century, now with assets of over $1.3 billion. The foundation was set up in part as an extension of the ideas
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