Michael and Dorothy Hintze

A small museum in the London borough of Wandsworth has been saved from closure, thanks to the efforts of two extraordinary philanthropists.

Michael and Dorothy Hintze first became interested in the fate of the Wandsworth Museum through their children. “Dorothy and I are very much part of the local community,” Michael says. “Our children use that museum, and the staff were very kind to them, so obviously when it was closed down we wanted to get involved.”

Funding, and particularly arts funding, is nothing new to the Hintzes. In the last year alone their charitable foundation has handed out nearly 12 million. More than a hundred institutions around the country have enjoyed their generosity, from the Prince’s Foundation to the National Gallery, where they helped to save Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for the nation with a large donation.

They have supported the Old Vic theatre, helping to finance the creation of a brand new in-the-round seating configuration for a major production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests. Michael serves on the International Council of the Victoria and Albert Museum and is chairman of the Public
Monuments and Sculpture Association. The couple have given considerable support to the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, sponsoring the training of young people for master craftsmanship and other initiatives.

“It's very much about giving back to people and institutions who've somehow touched our lives,” says Michael, “and giving where we can really make a difference.”

“Hank Dittmar, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, describes the Hintzes as the type of donors who both give and get involved. “They’ve been an example in terms of their peers. Every year they underwrite a dinner for the foundation to which they bring people from the
banking world that they know socially into contact with the foundation... and they take a personal interest in the students they sponsor."
The Wandsworth Museum, because it is on their doorstep, is a more personal project. “They were constantly supporting these big museums, so they said, why not do something closer to home?” explains the WM’s director Andrew Leitch. “Small museums are closing by the fistful every year. Ten
years from now that there will probably less than half the number that there are now. But they are the heartblood of every small town, and the Hintzes have a real understanding of that.”

When it reopens in 2010, the museum will reflect the borough’s surprisingly rich history, and work has already begun on creating strong, innovative education projects for the region’s schools. “It is an undiscovered country,” says Leitch. “Voltaire lived here, Pepys lived here, Thomas Hardy wrote three of his books here. War of the Worlds was written here. The first aircraft ever built in the UK was built here, on the high street.” According to Andrew Leitch, the museum could never have survived without the Hintzes’ intervention.

“We have several other funding streams as well, but without the Hintze bequest all this wouldn’t be possible – even as a concept.” However, that financial support - which comes to over £2 million - is far from the end of the story. Dorothy is acting as chairman of the Trustees, and Michael has been on hand for key decisions and advice.

“We are not managers,” Hintze is quick to point out. “I am busy enough in my life already without running these institutions. I'm looking for confident people, people with vision and energy to run them.”

However, the fact of their participation in turn has attracted high level talent from elsewhere in the industry – the current board includes the director of the Museum of London, Jack Lohman.

“I was really keen on having their participation on my board, a museum lives and dies on the quality of its board,” says Leitch. “Having people of their quality and experience and knowledge was absolutely essential. It gave us tremendous bona fides.”