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Margaret A. Cargill Foundation to pump money into Native American art and culture and folk art

January 28, 2011 |  1:50 pm

Margaret CargillM.A.C.Foundation Folk art and Native American art and culture figure to receive a huge boost with the establishment of a new foundation whose multiple missions include funding those two genres. Both typically have lacked the glamour -- and the philanthropic support -- that adheres to art forms more likely to benefit from those common currencies of today's world, publicity and celebrity.

The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation may not bring celebrity power to folk and Native American art -- its creator and funder, a La Jolla resident who loved weaving and jewelry-making, lived unobtrusively and gave anonymously until her death in 2006 despite being a perennial on Forbes magazine's list of billionaires. But when it comes to hard currency, few charities will be able to match it -- including the foundations for art, education reform and scientific research set up by L.A.'s most lionized philanthropist, Eli Broad.

A plan announced recently to settle Cargill's estate promises to yield more than $9 billion to be divided between two grantmaking funds she established. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that at the Jan. 18 price of shares of the Mosaic Company, a publicly-traded agricultural concern whose shares will endow Cargill's foundations, their combined clout would place them behind only the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation as the nation’s biggest grant-makers.

Half of Cargill's bequest will go to the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the branch that will fund folk art and Native American art and culture along with environmental causes, disaster relief and infrastructure for developing countries. The rest goes to the Anne Ray Charitable Trust, named for Cargill’s mother, which restricts its giving to a handful of specific charities, among them the Public Broadcasting Service, the Nature Conservancy, the American Red Cross’ international efforts and the YMCA.

During her lifetime, Cargill donated to the Mingei International Museum, a folk art institution in San Diego, which learned only after her death that she was the source of $70,000 annual donations it had gotten since the early 1990s, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The newspaper reported that in La Jolla, Cargill “kept such a low profile that few people were even aware of her presence,” and that she was known to travel in a not-quite-new van.

She also had a home in Idyllwild in Riverside County, and donated to the Idyllwild Arts Academy there. Mingei and the academy are the two arts organizations eligible to be funded by the smallest of Cargill’s three philanthropies, the $200-million Alkaloa Resource Foundation.  Alkaloa, established during her lifetime, is reserved for a group of specified Southern California organizations and won’t be getting additional money from Cargill’s estate.

For the full story on what Cargill's largesse could mean for folk art and Native American art, click here.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Margaret Cargill. Credit: Margaret A. Cargill Foundation