Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Luminous Endowment is Closed

When LuLa spun up the legally separate but functionally closely related entity, The Luminous Endowment, I spent a little time sniffing it over quite carefully. I was unable to find any scent of anything sketchy about it, in the end, despite looking quite carefully.

In the end, I came around to being quite in favor of it. The Endowment gave grants to genuinely interesting artists, and generally seemed to be without the usual conflicts of interest, profit motives, or artwashing games that characterize so many grants and prizes out there. The grants, while not immense, were more than mere tokens.

As of the final Form 990, 2017 (which may or may not predate the final round of grants) the endowment had total assets around $320,000. This seems like a lot, but it really is not. The endowment could not afford to pay anyone, really, and given the size of the grants offered, there really was not a lot of runway.

If I had to guess, I would say that the downturn in the camera industry, and in general the slowly declining interest in what we might call "serious amateur photography" made it hard to continue to raise funds. The endowment was in an awkward position. Not enough cash on hand to really fund a full court press to raise more money, and certainly not enough cash to support their ambitious grant program on investment proceeds alone. Add to that a total reliance on a dedicated cadre of volunteers, both to administer the organization, and to judge applications, and you have a pretty tenuous situation.

According to the announcement on LuLa's front page, the Endowment has closed up shop, donating its cash to photolucida to endow a somewhat less ambitious grant program ($3000 a year, it looks like?) which probably can be funded from investment proceeds. Since photolucida has an existing business and staff on hand, they can probably administer this program under the aegis of what they already do, rather than relying on volunteers.

It seems that the Luminous Endowment also had a backlog of Michael's retrospective book, and have sold those to LuLa. The cash from that sale, I assume, goes to photolucida's program with the rest of the assets, and Josh Reichmann has committed to selling these books and donating those proceeds to the same place.

While regrettable, and I am personally sorry to see this closure, this does seem to be a decent course forward. What was not really sustainable has been converted into something that is, and in a perfectly reasonable way.

A 501(c)(3), a normal charitable organization in the USA, always has some clause in its founding paperwork describing what is to happen to assets upon windup, and normally this is something like "find another charity with a mission more or less aligned with ours, and give all our stuff to them" and this appears to be exactly what transpired.

Sayonara, Luminous Endowment, you were good while you lasted.

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