Why We Give

The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation

Two portraits of a woman and a man; the woman is in a chair in a black evening dress, and the man is in a brown suit on a movie set

Rufino Tamayo, Portrait of Natasha Gelman; Angel Zarraga, Portrait of Mr. Jacques Gelman

Rufino Tamayo, Portrait of Natasha Gelman; Angel Zarraga, Portrait of Mr. Jacques Gelman

by Bree Witt

Prior to her death in 1998, Natasha Gelman, with her late husband Jacques, amassed one of the most significant art collections in the world, including 95 works of Mexican modern art featuring paintings from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo and 81 paintings and sculptures of European modern art.

The Gelmans’ artistic interests were sparked through Jacques’ career as a motion picture producer in Mexico, where many painters worked on his sets. The Gelmans' passion for supporting Mexican artists led to Natasha Gelman’s creation of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation.

In addition to providing funding for museum exhibitions and public art, the Gelman Foundation has long supported arts education. In 2001, the Gelman Foundation partnered with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to establish need-based scholarships for undergraduate students. In 2014, they helped launch the School’s College Arts Access Program (CAAP), a three-year college preparatory program available to students enrolled in Chicago public high schools.

“You can’t overestimate the value of art. Art gives people a sense of identity: this is who I am and this is what I can create and share with other people. The arts are endemic to the wellbeing of any city and its citizens,” said Janet Neschis, president and director of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation.

Through CAAP, students explore creative paths, participate in financial planning workshops, live on SAIC’s campus for a two-week college experience, prepare portfolios and applications for college admission, and participate in academic support workshops. To date, the program has served 108 students from 32 Chicago Public Schools, and CAAP students have a 100 percent college admission rate.

“Artists ‘emerge’ at various stages in their lives, and our mission of supporting young artists can ignite a passion that lasts forever. Providing financial help for students while they’re still in high school gives them an opportunity to explore their passion and develop their practice, and they might not have otherwise had such an opportunity,” said Neschis.

In the nearly 10 years since the program was first established, CAAP has been an important high-school-to-art-college pipeline. What started as the Gelmans’ passion for collecting art has become a critical support system for identifying and fostering the next generation of great artists.