Taking a closer look at the artist's affiliation with charities
By his own count, Chihuly donated to 335 nonprofits in the past three years. Donations ranged from artwork to use of his studio. A spokesman said most art is donated, but Chihuly also sells some through charities, treating them as sales agents. Here's a look at two of his nonprofit associations:
Hilltop Artists in Residence
When one of Chihuly's friends started a glassblowing program in 1994 to keep Tacoma teenagers from dropping out of school, Chihuly gave generously of materials, equipment and time, helping make the program a success even after he stopped being directly involved in it.
"At first they were melting down Snapple bottles," recalled former Hilltop board president Michael Sullivan. "At that point Dale deserves credit for bringing a parade of people through. I can't think of a glass artist of stature who wasn't there."
The program, started by community activist Kathy Kaperick, offers glassblowing instruction and mentoring to middle- and high-school students who are struggling with school.
Hilltop has been widely publicized, and is often mentioned in profiles about Chihuly, who notes his involvement with the program on his Web site and in his biographical materials. His latest commission, a $4.5 million sculpture and exhibit at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, includes information about the program and work from Hilltop students.
The not-for-profit, which is partly funded by the city of Tacoma, operates as a partnership with Tacoma Public Schools. It also has become one of the district's official alternative schools. Sales of students' art generate a large portion of the operating funds, Sullivan said.
For years, Chihuly gave the program glass and costly remnants from color rods used in his studio until his bookkeeper put a stop to it, according to Sullivan.
When Kaperick died two years ago, Chihuly "showed up and made sure the program was going to continue," Sullivan said.
A former board member, Chihuly "now lends primarily his continued involvement and name," Sullivan said. "One of the most valuable things you can do is lend your celebrity."
— Susan Kelleher and Sheila Farr
It was the kind of advertising money can't buy.
For several hours last November, fundraising pitchmen for Seattle public-television station KCTS hawked Dale Chihuly's art to a viewing public that had tuned in to watch a film about Chihuly's installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.
What viewers weren't told is that the film about Chihuly was produced and distributed by the artist's publishing company, Portland Press. The glass, drawings, books and DVDs offered to contributing viewers also came from the company.
Given the appeals to viewers to support the not-for-profit station, it would be reasonable to assume that Chihuly had donated the work. But that assumption would be wrong.
The station paid Chihuly for the art offered during the pledge drive. No donation was involved, said KCTS chief financial officer Michal Anderson Jacob, who described it as "similar to a gallery-type" arrangement.
The movie, however, was obtained for free.
KCTS and other PBS stations repeatedly have aired Chihuly-produced programming, a practice that is explicitly prohibited by the Public Broadcast System's ethical guidelines. The guidelines, which are meant to protect the commercial-free nature of public television, prohibit any connection between the producer or funder of the program and the programming contents.
Station General Manager Randy Brinson said by e-mail that an exception was made for Chihuly because the station had some input into the films during editing, its producers have a long history with the artist, the movies draw "larger-than-average viewing audiences," and they help attract donations.
Other exceptions have been made, Brinson said, citing a movie about a producer whose mother struggled with Alzheimer's disease and one about a filmmaker who was trying to understand why his father's apple farm was failing.
But, he added, in those cases the connection between producer and subject was obvious.
"It is likely that many viewers were not aware of the connection between Chihuly and [Portland Press]," Brinson wrote in the e-mail. "In the interest of better serving our viewers, we believe there would be merit in making that connection more explicit during any future broadcasts."
One station in Florida has aired four of Chihuly's films.
"Portland Press actually gave us — they didn't charge us rights to air their programs," said Bernadette Siy, manager of WLRN, a PBS station in Miami that aired eight hours of programming about the artist in January. "... I knew Portland Press is a distributor of his art books, so this will help them to sell more of his work. It's a nice exchange."
KCTS buys Chihuly's work at a contracted price that station officials would not disclose. The station then offers the merchandise to viewers for donations, called premiums, that are slightly above retail price. It's the same type of arrangement the station has with other personalities whose products tie in with programming, although premiums for Chihuly's products are higher than most.
"We show Chihuly about 12 hours a year," Jacob said. "It's popular with our viewers. We normally do it before Christmas as a kind of a gift item." She estimated that dollars raised during Chihuly programming represent 3.5 percent of the station's pledges.
Pledge levels for Chihuly's work during the last fundraising drive were $200 above the retail prices for each work, including a lithograph, valued at $1,600, and two glass sculptures, one valued at $3,500 and the other at $5,000.
"We do not sell it below retail, ever," Jacob said.
— Susan Kelleher
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
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