Special to the Weekly

Each January, I try to find time to pause and reflect on the past year as well as envision the impending one to come. What have I done to affect change—to grow both personally and professionally? What more can I do to inspire hope and cultivate culture in the new year—and now in this new decade?

As an arts patron and philanthropist, I have spent most of my adult life behind the scenes supporting and chairing events for local, national and global organizations. In 2018, I became President of the Board of Trustees for the Museum of Contemporary Art.  But this year required me to step into the spotlight for a social cause. In May, I took to the podium at MOCA’s 40th anniversary benefit and announced my pledge to fund free general admission to the public. The electricity in the room was palpable. Thankfully, the rousing cheers were not for me or for my donation, but for the realization that MOCA’s collection of significant contemporary works—and the museum—would be available to anyone who wanted to experience it.

Creative expression can evoke strong emotions in an individual, while also acting as a universal conduit to our collective consciousness. Art has the unique ability to heal and transform lives. As a board member for PS Arts, I vividly recall the light in the eyes of elementary school children experimenting with paint and clay, proudly sharing their artwork for the first time. Studies show the positive impact of art for all ages, especially on children’s development.

The reaction to my gift touched me in ways I never could have imagined. An admittedly private person, I now had to consider my public presence and embrace social media (a work in progress!). In a sense, like MOCA, a part of me had to become more accessible. I suddenly had a growing Instagram account. And I was receiving a flurry of comments, congratulations, posts, emails and calls from friends and art enthusiasts from around the world whom I have never met. They too shared my sentiments, that art belongs to us all.

The gift came from my heart as a way to open the door to those unable to visit the museum because of the cost of a ticket. My hope is that MOCA’s new policy will inspire other institutions to consider free admission, as well. While I originally intended to make the gift anonymously, I eventually felt it was important for girls to see that a woman can be responsible for leading social change.

Carolyn Clark Powers (Photo by Klaus Biesenbach)

For me, 2019 reinforced the mantra, “It is better to give than to receive.” Yet the gratitude I have received in return has filled me with joy.  I am deeply humbled by the response to MOCA becoming free for everyone, and I invite the community to join me at the museum for a grand kickoff celebration on January 11, 2020.

If you haven’t yet made a New Year’s resolution, I offer you this: Step outside of yourself and see how you can be of service to others. There is no such thing as a small donation. A gift is not measured by its size but by its heart. You may be surprised by how giving back affects you. I know I was.


Carolyn Clark Powers is President of the Board of Trustees for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Her recent, personal gift will allow for free general admission to the museum, starting January 11, 2020.

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