How Do You Raise $3.47 Billion? Ask These Guys.

Illustration by Peter Arkle

New York Times

Cultural institutions will tell you that every little bit counts. But it is the big gifts that go the furthest in jump-starting projects and prompting others to pony up. Here is a look at some of the heavyweights who can get arts organizations to their fund-raising goals

Cultural institutions will tell you that every little bit counts. But it is the big gifts that go the furthest in jump-starting projects and prompting others to pony up. Here is a look at some of the heavyweights who can get arts organizations to their fundraising goals.

Leonard A. Lauder

Cosmetics Magnate

It’s hard to keep track of how much money and art Leonard A. Lauder has given away.

The 82-year-old former chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art gave that museum $131 million in 2008 to shore up its endowment. It was the largest gift in the Whitney’s history, though it came with conditions, namely that the landmark Marcel Breuer building, which Mr. Lauder considers the Whitney’s spiritual home, could not be sold for the foreseeable future. In 2013, he gave the Metropolitan Museum of Art 79 Cubist paintings, drawings and sculptures — a collection of Picassos, Braques and Légers valued at more than $1 billion that will one day be housed in the museum’s planned new wing for contemporary art.

“He’s definitely one of the top two donors of art in the history of the Whitney,” said Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.

Mr. Lauder embodies an old money model of cultural largess, the kind of donor who concentrates his ample resources on one or two institutions, gaining considerable influence and making a significant impact.

His gifts made him a prime candidate to have the Met’s new wing or the Whitney’s new building named after him.

But Mr. Lauder demurred.

“I want both the Met and the Whitney to have a major piece of New York real estate that is unnamed,” Mr. Lauder said in an interview, so if a “donor comes along and says, ‘I would like to have it named after me,’ and writes a check, both museums will be better in the long run.”

—By Robin Pogrebin

Renée Fleming

Soprano and Board Member

The diva Renée Fleming treads the boards at leading opera houses and concert halls — and treads some of their boardrooms as well. She serves on the boards of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Carnegie Hall and Sing for Hope, among others.

“For me, it was the fascination of something new, and a chance to view and participate in what happens on the business side of arts presentation,” Ms. Fleming said in an email.

She is not alone: Many cultural institutions have invited artists onto their boards in recent years. They are not generally expected to pony up as much money as the financiers and industrialists they sit with, but rather to help with fund-raising, offer perspectives on their fields and to act as star-powered draws to help lure others onto their boards.

The pianist Yefim Bronfman joined the board of the New York Philharmonic last year — where the violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman serve. The actors Anne Hathaway, Kevin Kline, Liev Schreiber and Sam Waterston are on the board of trustees at the Public Theater. And the Signature Theater has an actor as chairman of the board: Edward Norton.

Carnegie’s board made headlines recently for discord. But it has more harmonious pockets, too: The hall’s star-studded 125th-anniversary gala on May 5 will feature performances by Martina Arroyo, Emanuel Ax, Ms. Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Lang Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman and James Taylor, who are all members of its board.

—By Michael Cooper

David M. Rubenstein


When Reynold Levy, then the president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, called David M. Rubenstein to persuade him to join the center’s board, Mr. Levy thought his chances were slim.

Mr. Rubenstein, the billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity concern, lived in Bethesda, Md., and was already a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Yet Mr. Rubenstein became the first chairman of the capital campaign for Lincoln Center’s $1.2 billion physical redevelopment, giving millions of his own money.

“Lincoln Center is a unique institution, a terrific asset in the country,” Mr. Rubenstein, 66, said.

There is so much going on in New York that out-of-town philanthropists play a much-needed role, too. They recognize the city’s cultural importance and perhaps the sense that no respectable billionaire has really made it until he’s had an impact on New York.

David Geffen, the West Coast entertainment mogul, gave $100 million to Lincoln Center this year. Mr. Rubenstein has directed about 20 percent of the half-billion dollars he has given away to the city. “New York has a number of institutions that are world class that deserve support,” he said.

Why does he support the arts? “That is what makes humans so impressive,” he said. “When we think about the brain that created Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or ‘Hamilton’ in New York now. Celebrating these kinds of things is a good thing to do.”

—By Graham Bowley

Bruce Kovner

Hedge Fund Manager

Want to honor Bruce Kovner at a black-tie gala? Fat chance.

Want to put his name on a building? Dream on.

While Mr. Kovner, a 70-year-old hedge fund billionaire, contributes generously to the cultural causes close to his heart – namely classical music – he’s not comfortable with the publicity that often comes with philanthropy.

“He operates below the radar screen,” said Jerry Speyer, the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art. “You don’t see Bruce’s name on anything.”

That kind of low profile can be frustrating to fund-raisers, since giving publicly tends to generate other giving. If Mr. Kovner agreed to be the honoree at a fund-raiser, for example, his name would sell a lot of tables.

But Mr. Kovner does try to make donations that prompt others to step up, like the $20 million he gave to Juilliard (he’s chairman) in 2012 for its early music program, which he helped start in 2009.

Mr. Kovner — along with his wife, Suzie — has staunchly supported music organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera (he’s on the board) and the New York Philharmonic (he’s the vice chairman of Lincoln Center).

While Mr. Kovner also gives to other causes, like education and health care, he views culture as essential.

“The arts, broadly speaking, are a critical part of what makes life worth living,” he said in a rare interview, “and what makes humans what we are.”

—By Robin Pogrebin