All About Estates

Artist Foundations

Tom Thomson’s The Pointers, 1916-17 (Hart House, University of Toronto) – See Thomson’s catalogue raisonne at

In the U.S. there is a generation of contemporary artists who have never been richer and they are endowing – with art and money – some significant foundations. Cy Twombly Foundation, for example, reportedly has assets of over $1.5 billion. There is even a support initiative called the Artist-Endowed Foundation Initiative, which seeks “to strengthen the charitable impact” of these entities.

In Canada, the tradition of the artist foundation is not as well established. There are a few small and mighty gems such as Fondation Guido Molinari in Montreal, but it’s an underdeveloped part of the Canadian estate planning and philanthropic landscape.

More often than not, an artist’s foundation is set up as part of the estate plan. Its focus is the stewardship of the artist’s works and legacy. Aside from the typical tax and philanthropic benefits of a foundation, here are some charitable and practical purposes:

  1. Study and scholarship of the artist’s work, which includes publications and academic research.
  2. Exhibitions, either presented by the foundation or in collaboration with a public gallery.
  3. Management of the artist’s inventory. This includes storage, loans and gifts to public galleries, as well as sales of art to fund the Foundation’s charitable purposes.
  4. Certification of works.
  5. Developing and maintaining a catalogue raisonné (the comprehensive record of an artist’s works).
  6. Management of copyright – including fees and licensing.

One of the challenges of artist’s foundations is cash-flow. The art may have significant long-term artistic and monetary value, but there is little money to pay the bills. Works are sold over time to provide operating income.  Sharing resources within a supportive and flexible public foundation is a practical solution.

Artist’s foundations also don’t exist in a planning vacuum. Although the structure may arise from an estate planning need, it’s essential to have the right art experts involved, as well as good understanding of the art market. Galleries and dealers build, defend and sustain artists. They are key long-term collaborators.


About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with over 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.


  1. Susan Cohen

    August 2, 2018 - 1:32 pm

    Hi Malcolm, I believe that Canada is behind the USA and the UK in this area because we simply do not have the same number of noteworthy artists. With this in mind the Canadian trust and estate planners have not had a demand. This is unfortunate. Our system, whether it be tax driven or administrative in nature has not been as developed as it should be. Further to that, it seems to be difficult to even donate Canadian art to museums/galleries to enhance notoriety, and obtain enhanced tax benefits. There are so many opportunities in this area. Art Estate Planning for the artist and the collector should be more closely reviewed by planners.

    • Malcolm Burrows

      August 2, 2018 - 6:09 pm

      Susan –
      Your comments are much appreciated. Sometimes a foundation is the best solution to make the donation of the works and then find the right museum/galleries post-mortem. Malcolm


    August 2, 2018 - 5:07 pm

    Thank you, Malcolm,
    This is thought-provoking and an area where Canadian advisors can help their clients plan for the legacay they wish to leave.

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