Thomas George is an internationally recognized artist with works in major museums, universities, corporations and private collections worldwide. He has donated most of his paintings and drawings to the Community Foundation, where he has set up the Thomas George Artists Fund to assist young artists at the outset of their careers.
Tom counts himself fortunate for having received financial support early on, through the G.I. Bill and from his family, to study and practice his art. “I wanted to help ease financial pressure and provide an opportunity for young artists to concentrate on their craft, to experience it as a full-time occupation,” he says.
Each year the Thomas George Artists Fund gives an artist the financial freedom to focus on drawing and painting for a limited period. “It’s a respite from the demands of school and workplace. The grants provide a time for reflection and planning, and above all an opportunity to do art.
“If you’re an aspiring artist, you don’t just ‘go to the job.’ There isn’t an office or a career track waiting for you. What too often happens – I’m glad I’m not facing this as a young person now – is pressure to switch from painting into practical fields like computer graphics, advertising design, and entertainment. Most people who start out wanting to paint can’t make a living at it, so this fork in the road often marks the end of their hopes.
“I’ve been working now for sixty years, and I can’t tell you how many young people are confronting this. I’ve corresponded with them and done some teaching, and they’re all talking about these challenges. I don’t know the ultimate solution. But each grant our fund makes is an answer, for now, for one person at a time.
“We work primarily with the College of New Jersey, Rider University, and Mercer County Community College. Big national universities and professional schools have great programs too, but many of them are already well funded. I felt that our local institutions, where I know people, could use the help someone like me could give them. We’ve had very good grant applicants to choose from.
“I didn’t know anything about the Community Foundation. I was referred there by a friend and adviser, Austin Starkey, in 1999. It has been terrific. Frankly speaking, I liked the people. They’re creative. They offered ideas that pretty much coincided with what I wanted to do.
“And it’s not bureaucratic. The staff does a lot of behind-the-scenes work for donors. I go in from time to time to discuss the future of the grants, because I’m very interested in doing this as long as I can.
“It’s important to me that my own art will be preserved because it has been gifted to the Foundation. I’ve willed additional money to the Foundation to support the operations of our fund, to provide for the storage of the art while it is gradually being sold.”
Tom George has had an unusually cosmopolitan artistic career, having lived and worked in France, England, China, Japan, Norway, as well as in several parts of the United States. Does he think meaningful philanthropy needs to be done on a national scale?
“No, for me it’s going the other way. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had my name in lights, had exhibitions, been asked to give talks, and I’ve certainly traveled, but now the time element is short, frankly. I think I know what’s really important. Helping people professionally, I think, at least is clear, and it’s real, and it’s a very satisfying accomplishment.
“Looking at the Foundation as a whole, I think of all the things that are happening here through donors’ grants. The Community Foundation makes me feel that together we can do some wonderful things, now and in the future.”
Does being part of it make Tom George feel like a successful philanthropist? He laughs. “I will just say that I give thanks for the opportunity to help young artists while at the same time continuing to do the work I love best.”
Watch an interview with Tom from NJN/State of the Arts, including a walk through his 2005 retrospective at the Princeton University Art Museum: