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Entrance to Phoenix Art Museum.
Lynn Trimble

What We Know About Phoenix Art Museum's New Contemporary Art Initiative

The Phoenix Art Museum is launching a new contemporary art initiative.

Called the David and Dawn Lenhardt Contemporary Art Initiative, it bears the name of two Phoenix art collectors who are working with the museum to elevate the profile of contemporary art both at the museum and in the Phoenix community. The Lenhardts also want to increase the museum’s international and national profile.

The specifics are a little hazy at this point, as is the total amount the Lehnardts are donating to the museum.

But it's clear that initiative will focus on bringing work by national and international contemporary artists to the museum, rather than showcasing the work of Phoenix-based contemporary artists, Lenhardt says. That's in line with the museum's basic approach.

“We’re the fifth-largest city in the country, and we need to have a larger presence in the contemporary art world,” David Lenhardt says of Phoenix.

Typically, Phoenix Art Museum has dedicated just one exhibition a year to Phoenix- and Arizona-based artists who have won artist award and grants from Contemporary Forum, which is one of many Phoenix Art Museum support groups.

This year, "The Contemporary Forum Artists Grant Winners and Arlene and Morton Scult Artist Exhibition" featured work by Phoenix artist Patricia Sannit, as well as five grant-winners based in Arizona, and ran from June 7 to September 17.

The Lenhardts relocated to Phoenix from Dallas in 2000, and began collecting contemporary art in 2003. In 2015, David Lenhardt retired from his position as president and chief operating officer at PetSmart.

David sits on several boards, including those for Phoenix Art Museum and Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Dawn serves on the Leadership Council of Mayo Clinic Scottsdale.

They met Amada Cruz, Phoenix Art Museum’s director and CEO, during Art Basel Miami Beach last year.

“We’re really inspired by her and where she wants to take the museum,” Lenhardt says. “It’s all about opening the museum up as a hub for the community.”

The Lenhardt Initiative will include several components that the museum plans to start rolling out next year. First up will be the Lenhardt Lecture, which will take place annually. Each lecture will feature a significant contemporary artist who will also undertake arts education with local youth.

The initiative will also help the museum acquire new works of contemporary art, with an emphasis on emerging artists.

Both Lenhardt and Phoenix Art Museum declined Phoenix New Times’ request for specific information about the financial donations that are making the initiative possible. But a museum representative confirmed that the museum has received an initial gift of more than $200,000.

“That amount will increase over time as we move into other elements," Lenhardt says.

Those elements eventually will include a dedicated contemporary art gallery within the museum’s modern art wing that's named after the couple.

“We plan to loan works from our collection for exhibition in that gallery space, and inspire other collectors to loan works as well,” Lenhardt says. “We also plan to donate art to the museum.”

The couple’s collection includes works by well-known artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring. But it also includes works by living artists, including Jim Hodges and Richard Estes, to name a few.

Of course, this isn’t the sole effort to focus on contemporary works at Phoenix Art Museum.

The museum currently has a membership-based support group called Contemporary Forum, which "provides its members with lectures, films, seminars, artists’ studio tours, gallery receptions, architectural tours, private collection tours, and domestic and international travel," according to the museum's website.

The Contemporary Forum website also notes the group's mission statement: "To promote interest in and understanding of contemporary art at Phoenix Art Museum." The group isn't involved with showing a particular collector's pieces at the museum.

Phoenix is home to other contemporary art initiatives as well, including Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art, a nonprofit founded in 2009 that focuses on exhibitions, artist residencies, and arts incubator projects rather than collecting art.

The Lenhardts hope to have a significant impact on contemporary art in Phoenix for years to come. “Contemporary art is our passion,” Lenhardt says. “We’re really excited to move this initiative forward.”

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