A foundation established in Buffalo, New York, by the late American sports magnate Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. will put $200 million toward funding Upstate New York and Detroit.
As part of the commitment, the foundation is allocating $60 million over a 10-year period to a new endowment. That endowment will provide annual funding in amounts between $100,000 and $500,000 for 13 of the largest museums in upstate New York Area and Michigan. Eleven of those spaces are located in Buffalo.
Among the arts institutions set to receive funds are the Buffalo AKG Art Museum and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, which will receive $500,000 annually, as well as the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, and the Shea Performing Art Center, which will each get $100,000 per year. Other institutions focused on history and science will also receive funding.
In Michigan, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts will receive $700,000 each year. Smaller institutions like the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills will be among the other recipients of $100,000–$150,000 annual donations.
The foundation is also dispensing one-time gifts of $5 million to support expansion projects at the newly renovated Buffalo AKG Art Museum, the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, and the Motown Museum in Detroit.
Representatives for the foundation said the effort is meant to bolster economic development in Upstate New York and Michigan. Describing the selected institutions as “cultural treasures and economic drivers,” David Egner, the foundation’s president and CEO, said a statement, “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.”
The foundation’s trustees initiated discussions of the funding plan in mid-March 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. Some representatives from the recipient museums have said the extra funding will prevent further layoffs, Buffalo News reported.
Following Wilson’s death in 2014, the foundation was established with a fund of $1.2 billion taken from his sale of the Buffalo Bills football team. The estate’s fund is now believed to be valued at $2 billion after gains made in stock investments. The total is set to be allocated to organizations between the two regions by 2035, when the foundation will be dissolved.
Investing in the cultural sector is a new move for the philanthropic foundation, which has for six years since being established focused largely on causes related to athletics, caregiving, and economic development.
Though Wilson was not known as a major backer of the arts during his lifetime, he did acquire a small trove of valuable paintings by Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley.
“We recognize that arts and culture institutions collectively contribute to very fabric of community identity,” said Mary Wilson, the sports magnate’s niece, who serves as a life trustee on the foundation’s board. “Making them essential in retaining and attracting top talent that fuel our business community.”