Are Mega-Philanthropists Like Bill Gates Neglecting the Arts?

Bill Gates. Photo courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill Gates. Photo courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s annual study, the nation’s 50 biggest philanthropists are giving the arts short shrift: the Philanthropy 50 donated a collective $9.8 billion in 2014, but only $141.9 million went to arts and culture organizations. Before you get too alarmed, however, the Los Angeles Times is quick to point out that those figures don’t take into account support for arts endeavors at foundations and universities, which respectively take in $4.5 billion and $1.5 billion.

The biggest arts gift of the year came from Texas art collector and money manager Fayez S. Sarofim, who gave $70 million to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as the lead donor for their $450­ million redevelopment plan. Eli and Edythe Broad’s $340 million-plus donation to create Los Angeles’s new Broad Museum, slated to open September 20, was technically both made by and given to a foundation, so it isn’t on the list, and wouldn’t be filed under arts even if it was.

San Diego’s Conrad Prebys came in second in the arts category, with a gift of $15 million to the La Jolla Music Society, and $3.4 million to the San Diego Museum of Art, used in part to buy a 15th century Francisco de Zurbarán painting. When noted art collector Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon died this past March at 103, she left jewelry worth $9.5 million to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (Her estate also was a hit at auction, although her belongings may have triggered a mouse infestation at Sotheby’s.)

Michael Bloomberg ranked seventh on the overall list, with $462 million in gifts. Although the former New York mayor is known for his support of the arts, the Chronicle did not provide the names of any of the specific arts, education, environmental, and public-health groups he funded in 2014.

The year’s top donors, Microsoft scion Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, gave $1.5 billion to their family foundation. Although the figures for the Philanthropy 50 don’t show it, least some of that money has gone towards the organization’s vaccination awareness campaignThe Art of Saving a Life, which features art by artists such as Vik Muniz and Annie Leibovitz.


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