Backed by the endowment of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which reached a record high of $6.9bn in 2017, the Getty easily ranks as the richest museum in the world. The related foundation is in the business of giving money away, from programming grants for the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA festival to conservation funding. Yet the Getty recently joined the fundraising fray and began to solicit annual financial donations from individual patrons.

Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Joanne Kozberg, the respective chairs of the board of trustees and the patrons programme, sent potential donors a letter in December, just in time for tax-deductible gifts in 2017, that said: “We often say that the Getty can do anything, but it cannot do everything.” The letter invited supporters to “join with us in special initiatives that can raise the Getty to new heights”, especially education programmes and exhibitions.

The patrons plan has different levels, ranging from a “friend” ($1,000 a year) who can attend one exhibition opening with a guest, to a “partner” ($25,000 a year), who is invited to all openings and can reserve the private dining room at the Getty Center, up to a “benefactor” ($50,000 a year) who enjoys all of the above plus VIP top-of-hill parking.

The initiative started officially last spring, but December’s letter prompted questions from local museums professionals and experts. At a time when other museums are increasing their admission fees and struggling to raise money, is the Getty cutting into a much-needed source of funding?

“From the viewpoint of a philanthropy adviser, it’s better that donors have more opportunities,” says Scott Stover, the president of the Los Angeles-based firm Global Art Development, which advises cultural foundations. “But if I were working at a major museum here, such as Lacma, I would be pretty angry. There are limited funds, and it continues to be a very competitive environment.” Read more