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Huntington's big inheritance was top arts gift in 2010, but donors continued to flag overall

February 8, 2011 |  6:45 am

FrancesBrody While 2010 was supposedly a pretty good year for rich folks -– it’s the middle class that continues to slip, not the people at the top of the income ladder -– the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that, generally speaking, America’s wealthiest philanthropists kind of low-balled it during 2010.

Culture Monster is naturally curious about how 2010's donations were steered toward the arts.

Four of the top 10 private charitable donors and six of the top 20 were Southern Californians, of whom the late Frances Lasker Brody (pictured) of Los Angeles appears to have been easily tops in the arts. She died late in 2009 and left a bequest totaling about $110 million to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

The Chronicle didn’t break down No. 2-ranked New York mayor/publishing tycoon Michael Bloomberg’s $279.2 million in multi-pronged giving. So it wasn’t clear from the report whether he or Brody was the top arts philanthropist of 2010. For Bloomberg to claim that honor, he would have had to have steered 40% of his giving to the arts.

Brody's bequest made her seventh-ranked in overall giving. Joining her in the top 10 were the two most consistent sources of Southern California arts largess.  Irwin and Joan Jacobs of San Diego placed fourth at $119.5 million, the lion’s share of which went toward building a new medical center at UC San Diego and the county’s Jewish Community Foundation, but included $5 million for the San Diego Symphony. Coming in fifth, at $118.3 million, were L.A.’s Eli and Edythe Broad, whose gifts were spread among their foundation’s three major causes, education, scientific research and art. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has been compiling its list of the nation’s 50 most generous donors every year since 2000, and collectively this year’s contingent of 54 (due to ties) gave $3.3 billion -– the lowest sum on record.

The median gift  was $39.6 million –- meaning that half the donors on the list gave more and half gave less. That figure continues a three-year slide since the peak median of $74.4 million in 2007.

According to the Chronicle, worries about a double dip recession and uncertainty about federal tax policy curtailed big-ticket giving in 2010, but the outlook is better on both counts for 2011. Also, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett didn't make the 2010 list because most of their giving was to pay off whopping past pledges rather than breaking new ground. In keeping with standard accounting practice, the Chronicle of Philanthropy counts the entire sum of a multi-year pledge once, when it is made, rather than marking it down gradually, as it is paid.

Coming in ninth overall, at $100.5 million,  were Meyer and Renee Luskin, almost entirely via a $100-million pledge to UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. Tied for 19th were Ming Hsieh and Paul Ichiro Terasaki, who pledged $50 million each for, respectively, cancer research at USC and a new life sciences building and a surgery professorship at UCLA.

DavidKochPeterKramerAP Other than Brody, Bloomberg, the Jacobses and the Broads, the major arts donors on the list were Lin Arison, who sold paintings by Monet and Modigliani to raise $39 million for the Miami-based National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, endowing a program for high school arts education; Alvin and Terese Lane, who bequeathed a collection of 20th-century art valued at $30 million to the University of Wisconsin’s Chazen Museum of Art; Tamsin Ann Ziff, who pledged $30 million to the Metropolitan Opera; David M. Rubinstein, who gave $26.6 million overall, including $10 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; and David H. Koch (pictured), whose $23 million in donations included $10 million to renovate the fountains and plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Chronicle also cited three major gifts of art collections, but did not include them on its list because the donors and recipients wouldn’t disclose the estimated value. Emily Fisher Landau gave 367 modern and contemporary pieces to New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art; Linda H. Kaufman of Virginia promised more than 200 pieces of early American furniture and more than 30 Dutch paintings to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Charles and Rosalyn Lowenhaupt of St. Louis gave 1,400 Japanese prints and other works to the Saint Louis Art Museum.


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Rich Americans' philanthropy dropped in 2009, but not for the arts, study finds

SoCal billionaires are plentiful, but most are not known for giving big sums to the arts

-- Mike Boehm

 Photos: Frances Lasker Brody; David Koch. Credit: Peter Kramer/AP (Koch)