Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Commits $100M to Bolster Arts & Culture Sustainability, Economic Impact and Access in Southeast Michigan

DETROIT – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation 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 support the sector now and forever.  

The Wilson Foundation will contribute nearly $60 million over 10 years to establish an endowment at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. This 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.

To ensure the program has immediate impact on the sector and regional economy, the Wilson Foundation will provide 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 Wilson Foundation is awarding a $5 million capital campaign gift to the Motown Museum, one of the largest gifts to-date for the museum’s $55 million capital campaign.

“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,” said David Egner, president & CEO, 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.”

Of the $3.75 million in annual funding, a total of $3 million will be dedicated to the following 11 institutions including their annual grant allocation: 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); and The Henry Ford ($150,000 annually). 

The overall impact of these gifts is significant as these unrestricted funds can be designated for general operating needs. Each organization will also co-design, in partnership with Community Foundation and national consultants, metrics and benchmarks that support their goals and strategic plans.

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.

“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,” said Omari Rush, executive director, CultureSource. “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. 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, which includes leading the efforts to advance inclusion and access within the grantees individual operations and the sector. The Community Foundation, together with CultureSource, will launch community conversations to help build capacity for adaptable and inclusive arts organizations. Local arts and culture organizations can sign-up to participate at https://cfsem.org/initiative/wilson-arts-and-culture-investment.

“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,” Mariam Noland, president, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Since its inception in 2015, the Wilson Foundation 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,” said Eugene Driker, life trustee, 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. Consistent with Ralph Wilson’s philosophy of giving, reflected in how he structured his foundation, our aim with this historic gift is to make an immediate and significant impact. We know there is more to be done and hope it will inspire many others to fund operations of cultural organizations across the sector and help further build their endowments.” The mission and administration of the Wilson Foundation’s arts and culture funding program are mirrored in Western New York, its other region of focus, with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo as the managing partner.  The following institutions in western New York are receiving endowment grants: Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly, Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park, Buffalo History Museum, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Zoo, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Explore & More: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and anchor institutions, National Comedy Center, Shea’s Performing Art Center and The Strong National Museum of Play. Additionally, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum and The Strong Museum of Play are each receiving $5 million capital campaign grants.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect the devotion of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his beloved Buffalo Bills NFL team. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson provided that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the Foundation that bears his name. Based in Detroit, the Foundation began with a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires January 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Mr. Wilson’s desire for the Foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable, and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information visit www.rcwjrf.org.