BAM has mounted critically loved exhibitions — Nathan Vincent’s yarn-covered soldiers, a major retrospective of modernist pioneer Louis Kahn — but has fallen into financial trouble. Developer Kemper Freeman has pledged $2 million to help.
Eastside developer Kemper Freeman has donated $1 million to the struggling Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM), with an additional $1 million matching grant that will provide one dollar for every two dollars raised by the museum.
Freeman announced the gift at the museum’s “Breakfast for Community Leaders” this week. Freeman’s pledge, said BAM spokesperson Emilie Smith, kicks off “a major fundraising effort.”
The museum has been in trouble over the past year, losing board members (including longtime supporters Norma and Leonard Klorfine) and staff members Stefano Catalani (former director of art, craft and design, now executive director at Gage Academy of Art), along with Catalani’s deputy Navva Milliken and executive director Linda Pawson.
Pawson has been replaced by Karin Kidder, BAM’s former marketing director. Kidder, Smith said, briefly left the museum in September but has come back to serve as interim executive director.
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Freeman, a longtime Bellevue booster, is perhaps best known to Seattle residents for his opposition to public-transit measures, including his (failed) appeal to the state Supreme Court to keep light-rail trains off Interstate 90, and his donations to the Trump campaign.
In the past few years, BAM has mounted playfully subversive, critically celebrated exhibits: Nathan Vincent’s soldiers covered in crocheted yarn, Chris Antemann’s prurient porcelain sculpture made at Dresden’s legendary Meissen Couture, and an overview of the deeply influential — if often overlooked — modernist architect Louis Kahn.
Smith said Freeman’s gift, and the upcoming fundraising push, might help salvage BAM.
“We’ve been having some cash-flow issues,” she said. “We hope this will get us in a better spot.”