Getty Is One of 4 Foundations Buying Ebony Archive

James Brown in an undated photo by G. Marshall Wilson. Ebony Archive.
Chicago media are reporting that a consortium of four foundations, including the Getty Trust, was the successful bidder in the auction of the Ebony magazine archive. The price was $30 million. The co-purchasers include the Ford, MacArthur, and Mellon Foundations.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, instigated the purchase. She and the Ford Foundation's Darren Walker assembed the joint bid in a matter of days. Ford put up the most money ($12.5 million). The Ford press release says the group "will donate the archives to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute, and other leading cultural institutions to ensure the broadest possible access for the general public and use by scholars, researchers, journalists, and other interested parties."

The Ebony archive has over 4 million prints, negatives, and videos chronicling black American life, politics, and culture since 1945.

The auction proceeds will help Chicago-based Johnson Publishing pay back a $13.6 million loan to George Lucas and Mellody Hobson (who are building their own museum in Exposition Park).

(Updated several times.)


Anonymous said…
If ownership is split among 4 different foundations, I'm curious who's gonna get what? It seems odd that the Getty didn't just purchase this archive for themselves considering they have the money for it. It would help provide further depth to their exquisite photography collection.

Also, not mentioned, is why George Lucas wasn't able to purchase the archive. Most of the debt is already owed to him anyways and he's already planning his own museum, so you would think he would've been able to arrange something with Ebony's owners.
It sounds like this all came together so fast that they still have to determine which parts of the archive go where.

It also sounds like the Getty was not intending to make a bid until the Mellon and Ford Foundations proposed the collaboration.

George Lucas and Mellody Hobson filed a motion to foreclose on the archive earlier this year. There was a rumor that Hobson might buy it to ensure public access. For all we know, she may have been an underbidder. There were other interested parties.