The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation will give 11 local arts organizations a total of $100 million to set up endowments to sustain them into the future, the foundation plans to announce today.
The gifts will come as an initial $60 million paid into the endowment fund, along with $3.75 million distributed annually over nine years, with the latter funds intended for regular operating expenses, allowing the institutions to cover everything from staff salaries to utilities.
The gifts are unique in that cultural groups don't often get regular, annual undesignated funds to put toward operations like building expenses, staff and utilities, cultural leaders say. And the support also comes as museums and other cultural groups have struggled amid COVID-19, which required months-long closures and staff layoffs in some places.
It's going "to make a world of difference for us," said Elana Rugh, CEO of the Detroit Historical Society, which will get $200,000 annually to supplement a yearly operating budget of $3 million.
Detroit Symphony Orchestra CEO Anne Parsons called her organization's $700,000 annual gift "transformational."
"It does two things for us — for nine years, this $700,000 of general operating support literally goes to employing our musicians and our staff and our stage crew, and all the part-time employees. That's what general operating support does. And it supports our facilities," Parsons said. "To get a gift of this size and have it promised over a nine-year period gives us a kind of stability I can't remember witnessing at any institution in my time, and certainly not at the DSO."
Other recipient organizations are the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Michigan Opera Theatre, Michigan Science Center, the Motown Museum, The Henry Ford, the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Arab American National Museum.
According to the Wilson Foundation's website, it is making a similar bequest in Buffalo, N.Y., where Wilson owned the NFL Buffalo Bills. (The foundation was funded by the sale of the Bills after Wilson's death in 2014.) Thirteen arts and culture organizations in western New York will share the bounty.