Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation Commits $100M to Arts and Culture

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, a grantmaking organization based in Detroit, announced today a $100 million commitment to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of southeast Michigan’s arts and culture communities through the establishment of an endowment that will continue to support the sector.
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Detroit Institute of Arts
The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation announced it is committing $100 million to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of southeast Michigan’s arts and culture communities through the establishment of an endowment. // Stock Photo

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, a grantmaking organization based in Detroit, announced today a $100 million commitment to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of southeast Michigan’s arts and culture communities through the establishment of an endowment that will continue to support the sector.

The foundation will contribute nearly $60 million over 10 years to establish an endowment at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan in Detroit. The investment will create permanent operational funding streams for 11 of the region’s largest arts and culture institutions that play a critical role as economic drivers.

It also includes an annual grant opportunity for additional arts and culture organizations across the region. Once fully funded after 10 years, the endowment will generate approximately $3.75 million in annual payout to permanently support the operations and sustainability of the region’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations.

“We are building upon years of substantial investment by critical public funding streams and philanthropic funders that have helped these institutions become the cultural treasures and economic drivers they are today,” says David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

“As a regionally focused foundation with a limited life, we saw a unique opportunity to make this significant contribution to impact the region’s quality of life and economy through jobs, tourism, and more. We hope this annual operating support will help to strengthen the financial condition of these institutions allowing them to continue to develop creative, audience-centered initiatives that make them more inclusive, welcoming, and accessible places for all.”

The program will have an immediate impact on the arts sector and regional economy due to the Wilson Foundation providing an additional $3.75 million annually over nine years, for a total of $33.75 million, allowing grantmaking to begin in 2022 while the endowment is built.

Finally, the foundation is awarding a $5 million capital campaign gift to the Motown Museum, one of the largest gifts to-date for the museums $55-million capital campaign.

“From arts organizations that anchor a neighborhood to ones that anchor a region, these creative businesses make significant contributions to the economic health and growth of communities, and the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis supports this insight with data showing the arts industry as larger than construction, transportation, and agriculture,” says Omari Rush, executive director at CultureSource.

Of the $3.75 million in annual funding, $3 million will be dedicated to the following 11 institutions:

  • Arab American National Museum ($100,000 annually)
  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History ($300,000 annually)
  • Detroit Historical Society ($200,000 annually)
  • Detroit Institute of Arts ($700,000 annually)
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra ($700,000 annually)
  • Detroit Zoological Society ($150,000 annually)
  • Holocaust Memorial Center ($100,000 annually)
  • Michigan Opera Theatre ($200,000 annually)
  • Michigan Science Center ($200,000 annually
  • Motown Museum ($200,000 annually)
  • The Henry Ford ($150,000 annually)

The Wilson Foundation is also dedicating $500,000 annually to support other arts and culture nonprofits, primarily of small to medium size, across the seven counties of southeast Michigan. These funds will be deployed flexibly based on organizational and community needs. The first grants will be awarded by the end of 2022.

“The attention this Wilson Foundation investment gives to wide-ranging arts groups is a beacon of opportunity for any policymaker, philanthropist, or agency looking to drive economic development,” says Rush. “It is a provocation to shift narratives from the arts being nice to the arts being essential.”

The remaining $250,000 in annual funding will support permanent capacity at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to manage and operate this endowment and grant program. Together with CultureSource, it will launch community conversations to help build capacity for adaptable and inclusive arts organizations.

Local arts and culture organizations can sign-up to participate here.

“The vision of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to make such a significant investment in our regional arts and culture organizations is transformational and will serve the residents of southeast Michigan for generations to come,” says Mariam Noland, president of Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

The foundation was started in 2015 and since then has paid out more than $540 million in grants, including nearly $100 million within its entrepreneurship and economic development focus area.

In southeast Michigan, this has included support for major projects including the New Economy Initiative’s Inclusive Small Business Network Fund, Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, Enterprise’s Community Development Organization Fund, and more.

“While arts and culture are not specific funding priorities for the Wilson Foundation, the pandemic laid bare the fragile operational health of this critical sector of our economy,” says Eugene Driker, life trustee of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. “Witnessing the subsequent struggles within this sector, the Foundation trustees made the decision to address this broadly with a one-time strategic approach through the lens of our economic development focus area.”

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