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What he supports:
Carnegie Museum of Art
Why it matters:
“I encourage people to think of themselves not only as consumers of culture, but as philanthropists, regardless of the level in which they’re giving. … We are all participants in this great experiment that Andrew Carnegie initiated 125 years ago, in which he thought that if we build this cultural institution, it will be deeply loved and cared for by the city.”
Brian Wongchaowart was a curious teenager trying to figure out who he was when he fell hard for art. Familiar with Carnegie Museum of Art from visits with his parents and on school field trips, he walked there often from his nearby high school, and it quickly became a favorite hangout and “thinking tool.”
“I developed a true emotional relationship with the museum when visiting was no longer an activity imposed on me by adults. Exploring it was a way for me to get to know myself, and to think through at least a slice of the intellectual and cultural history of Western thought,” says Brian, who was born in Thailand and moved to Pittsburgh with his family when he was young.
He was 14 when he attended his first Carnegie International, an exhibition of international contemporary art staged by the museum every three to five years since 1896, and it was an eye-opening experience for him.
“What was most impactful for me was it showed how many ways there are to look at the world around us,” recalls Brian, who today is a senior software engineer for Google Shopping.
A work that stays with him from that 1999 exhibition is Alex Katz’s vivid orange and yellow painting, Autumn, which is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. The way Katz fuses representation and abstraction was new to Brian; still today, he considers the work a fascinating experiment in both the senses and perception.
Remarkably, when he was still that inquisitive teenager discovering Katz and a larger world through art, Brian promised himself that, when he was able, he’d give back to the museum. It’s a promise he’s kept, as a member, donor, and most recently as an advisory board member. Brian continues to be a regular museum visitor and thinker, and says his philanthropy intersects with museum priorities and his own interests. He’s a Fellow and a supporter of the Carnegie International, and recently he significantly increased his support for the museum’s signature exhibition. He also helped make possible the current Sharif Bey: Excavations exhibition and the museum’s new Collection Handbook.
“I encourage people to think of themselves not only as consumers of culture, but as philanthropists, regardless of the level in which they’re giving,” Brian notes. “Annual membership is such an important form of support, as well as an invitation to participate in the process of culture and education. We are all participants in this great experiment that Andrew Carnegie initiated 125 years ago, in which he thought that if we build this cultural institution, it will be deeply loved and cared for by the city.”
With a professional background in data management for retail sales, including e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales, Brian is also interested in helping the museum think about its role as a digital platform on par with being a physical space for art.
“There’s no reason why your relationship with a work of art should only develop when you are in front of it, physically,” Brian says, a sentiment that all museums have had to reckon with during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the long term, digital interfaces will enable people to have an engagement with the museum on a much more frequent basis—weekly or even daily. And it could be a 32-second experience as much as a 30-minute experience. We need content that fits seamlessly into the way that people want to consume it.”
In the end, says Brian, it’s all about connection—to works of art and each other.
“I think the fundamental goal for us as a museum engaging the community is to start a conversation—something the education team is so adept at—and help people see that art is not something that’s finished when it leaves the artist’s studio. Art is an ongoing process of trying to understand one another; by making sense of what a single material object means, we’re thinking through what it means to be one human being among 7 or 8 billion others.”
To learn more about giving opportunities at Carnegie Museums, contact Beth Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.622.8859.
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