Art Market
How Would You Donate $450 Million? Six Leaders Weigh In
Left: Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. Courtesy of Christie's. Right: Winners of the Vital Voices Global Awards. Melanne Verveer, pictured on the far left, is interviewed here. Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

Left: Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi. Courtesy of Christie's. Right: Winners of the Vital Voices Global Awards. Melanne Verveer, pictured on the far left, is interviewed here. Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

Somehow, some way, someone paid $450 million, after buyer’s fees, for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s last Wednesday. Believed to be the last work by the artist in private hands, the painting’s price smashed all previous records. Since the price also seemed more on par with the education budget of a medium-sized country, Artsy asked a range of leaders from the arts, economics, bioethics, and development to tell us how they’d spend $450 million.


Peter Singer, AC

Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, and Laureate Professor, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

I would donate that sum to the most effective charities I can find, drawn from those recommended by The Life You Can Save, an organization I founded a few years ago.

Let’s say I give it to Seva or the Fred Hollows Foundation, two organizations working in developing countries to prevent people going blind from trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, and to restore sight in people with cataracts who are unable to afford the simple treatment to remove them. Some estimates suggest these organizations can preserve or restore sight for as little as $25 per person.

But let’s be more conservative, and assume it costs $100. So for $450 million, you could preserve or restore sight in 4,500,000 people.


Dr. Clare McAndrew

Founder of Art Economics and author of UBS and Art Basel’s The Art Market | 2017

Gosh, we could cover all the expenses for [the arts advocacy group] Americans for the Arts for the next 25 years. At $16 million a year [the total] would still only be $400 million.…Which would still give me enough for a significantly expanded art collection, university education for my kids, and a room full of shoes!

Or, I could increase the funding of the Artists Benevolent Fund by at least 100-fold, plus create 100 similar organizations for artists all around the world.…Which would still give me enough for all of the above.

It’s such a lot of money. The new children’s hospital here being built in Dublin is $900 million—half the funds for that. Lord!


Marjorie Newman-Williams

Marie Stopes International Vice President and Director for External Affairs

With $450 million, Marie Stopes International estimates that we could provide 78 million women with contraception for at least one year, possibly longer if some women choose a long-acting method. This impact would be like giving every woman of reproductive age in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, and Senegal control over their bodies and their lives.  It would also make a huge dent in women’s overall unmet need for contraception across the world.  

Access to family planning gives women the means to have the number of children they know they can care for and educate. It enables them to live their dreams, earn money and contribute economically to their own wellbeing and that of their family. Contraception also means greater prosperity for countries.  

This funding would ensure that the Global Gag Rule, a recent and misguided policy decision in the United States, does not turn back progress in many countries across Africa and Asia—where millions of poor women have received reliable family planning services from Marie Stopes for the first time over the past decade.  

This damaging policy blocks organizations like Marie Stopes International from receiving U.S. government funds if they provide or discuss legal abortion care, even using their own resources. We now face a $30 million annual funding gap because we uphold a woman’s right to choose.

Sadly, 214 million women around the world want to use modern contraception and still have no access.  This number will grow as the Global Gag Rule takes hold unless new funding is found urgently.  


Dean Baker

Economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

I have to decide whether I would use this money to try to end drug patents or copyrights. Since it is too early in the morning for such a weighty decision, I will put both on the table.

To do in drug patents, I would put up the money for nine orphan drugs trials. These cost around $50 million each, according to recent estimates from James Love, the director of Knowledge Ecology International. I would put all the trial results on the web so that other researchers and doctors would have the full benefit of this information (this would be subject to restrictions preserving the privacy of patients—economists know how to do this). This means they would know whether the drug is more effective for women than men, whether other conditions (e.g. arthritis or heart disease) had an impact on its effectiveness, etc. As it stands now, the drug companies only disclose information that helps them market their drug, so this should be a powerful precedent of how good science could be done.

I would then place the successful drugs in the public domain so that they could be sold as generics from the day they approved. This would mean that instead of selling for $300,000 for a year’s treatment, the next cancer breakthrough drug (most new cancer drugs have orphan designations) can sell for $300. This will help to demonstrate the incredible corruption of our patent system in financing drugs. We have needlessly created a problem of drug affordability that would not exist with a more rational method of financing research.

On the copyright side, the point would be to show that there can be alternatives to copyright monopolies to financing creative work. My dream is a tax credit where each person would have some amount (e.g. $100 a year) to support the creative worker(s) of their choice. They could also give this money to an intermediary that supports creative work (e.g. an organization that supports blues musicians or writing mystery novels). The credit is modeled after the charitable contribution tax deduction, except it’s a credit. To get the money, creative workers or organizations have to register, like 501(c)3 do, just saying what it is they do. In this case a condition for getting money through the system is that a creative worker is ineligible for copyright protection for their work for a period time (e.g. 3 years) after getting the money.

With my $450 million, I would propose to try this at the city level, giving out $45 million a year for 10 years. The idea is that a city would run this with the requirement that recipients would have to physically be present at least eight months a year to be eligible to get the credit from the city’s taxpayers. This should turn the city into an artistic mecca, since musicians, playwrights, and other creative workers would want to make extra money, and also win more tax credits, by doing their work in the city.

I would take bids from different cities seeing how much they were willing to put up and how appropriate they might be to serve as a model. (Think of the bidding to be Amazon’s headquarters.) The result should be a large amount of new creative work that is available at zero cost over the web and a thriving city that took the leap.

It’s not every day that I get to play with $450 million.


Gary Fields

Senior Content Manager at Lutheran World Relief, a Baltimore-based global humanitarian organization

$450 million would allow LWR to reach 34.67 million more people experiencing poverty and marginalization with projects in agriculture, emergency response and/or climate change adaptation. These projects, which currently take place in 32 countries, help equip farmers with agriculture projects aimed at improving food security, increasing household income, and building sustainable market linkages. That $450 million is 11 times what LWR spent on total programming expenses in the 2016 fiscal year ($41 million) for its work in Agriculture, Emergency Response and Climate Change.


Melanne Verveer

Former U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security

I think it’s great to support the arts, but if I had $450 million, I’d invest it in a philanthropic venture to support women’s organizations around the globe with small grants so they could better do their transformative work to create a better world. I could just as easily give the funds to an existing foundation with the proviso that the monies go to women-run grassroots organizations under certain criteria I saw the need for this when I was Ambassador.

Anna Louie Sussman is Artsy’s Art Market Editor.