Arts barely on the radar in 2014 for top 50 U.S. philanthropists

Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego made a list of America's top 50 philanthropists for 2014. They were among only a few top donors on the list who are known for supporting the arts.
Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego made a list of America’s top 50 philanthropists for 2014. They were among only a few top donors on the list who are known for supporting the arts.
(Don Tormey / Los Angeles Times)

Arts and culture were an even smaller blip on the radar of America’s mega-philanthropists in 2014 than they were the year before, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking of the nation’s 50 most generous charitable donors.

Givers who made the Chronicle’s “Philanthropy 50” list donated a combined $9.8 billion to all charities, the publication found -- up 27.5% from 2013. But gifts in the two cultural categories -- museums/libraries and performing arts -- dropped slightly, from $144.5 million to $141.9 million.

However, the study’s method for classifying donations likely leads it to understate top givers’ support for the arts to some extent.

The two biggest categories for giving -- donations to foundations, and donations to colleges and universities -- can in fact include substantial support for arts and culture but aren’t classified as such. Foundations ($4.5 billion) and higher education ($1.5 billion) accounted for 62% of all donations the Chronicle identified, but it didn’t fully break down how the foundations or colleges and universities intended to disburse the money.

For example, the $340 million or more that Eli and Edythe Broad are providing to build and endow the Broad, the downtown Los Angeles museum that will showcase their contemporary art collection starting Sept. 20, would be classified as donations to a foundation, not to a museum. Broad spokeswoman Karen Denne said that money for the museum is funneled through the Broad Foundations. The Chronicle credits donations only to the initial recipient -- in this case, a foundation rather than a museum.


The Broads did not appear on the 2014 list but have been in the philanthropic top 50 in 10 of the 15 years the Chronicle has compiled the rankings. Their total was $2.7 billion for the years they made the list.

Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego, known for consistently giving to the arts in San Diego County, have made the list nine times, contributing $923.7 million in years they made the top 50.

Almost half of what the 2014 study classified as arts and culture donations came from a single Texan, investment manager Fayez Sarofim, who gave $70 million to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for an expansion project.

San Diego builder Conrad Prebys was the second-biggest arts giver at $18.4 million, including $15 million to the La Jolla Music Society for a new performing arts center it’s aiming to open in October 2017. The Music Society presents touring classical performers in venues around San Diego and wants to build a home in La Jolla with a 500-seat concert hall and a 150-seat multipurpose stage. Prebys also gave $3.4 million to the San Diego Museum of Art for programming and for the purchase of a 15th century painting by Francisco de Zurbaran.

Prebys ranked 30th in the survey, with total donations pegged at $70.4 million. The Jacobses ranked as the 23rd most generous donors for 2014 ($101.6 million for all causes). The Chronicle noted that a $50-million donation they made to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego will go partly toward generating as-yet undetermined grants to arts and culture, along with education, health and human services.

The other big cultural gifts identified by the Chronicle were $10 million to the American Revolution Center, a history museum in Philadelphia scheduled to open in 2017, $9.5 million to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, and $3 million to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater of New York City.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, seventh on the giving list, is also known for supporting arts and culture, although the Chronicle didn’t list or quantify specific gifts among the $462 million it said he gave in 2014.

California led the nation with 16 donors who made the Philanthropy 50 -- nearly a third of the list from a state that accounts for about 12% of the U.S. population. Six donors were from Southern California. Besides the Jacobses and Prebys, they were Ernest and Evelyn Rady of La Jolla ($121 million, ranked 17th), Dennis and Carol Troesch of Riverside ($100 million, ranked 24th), Charles Munger of Santa Barbara ($65.8 million, ranked 33rd) and Gary Michelson of Los Angeles ($65 million, ranked 34th). Their causes included two children’s hospitals, UC Santa Barbara, USC and a foundation that tries to curtail euthanasia of pets.

Four donors from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley made the top 10, tapping into fortunes made from technology companies. Jan Kroum (What’sApp), Sean Parker (Facebook), Nicholas and Jill Woodman (high-definition camera maker GoPro) and Sergey Brin (Google) donated a combined $2 billion to foundations, including $1 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which issues grants in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Bill and Melinda Gates were the year’s top donors, giving $1.5 billion to their family foundation. The other $1-billion donor was the late Ralph Wilson, former owner of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills. The Chronicle reported that he set up a foundation for charities in the Buffalo region and Michigan, funded with a bequest drawn from the $1.4 billion his estate earned by selling the Bills.

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