It’s Art—but Is It Offensive?
We have come a very long way since the days when the low-cut evening gown of Sargent’s Madame X or the placidly picnicking nudes of Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe could spark genuine scandal and outrage. But for some, apparently, we haven’t come far enough. The Andy Warhol Foundation has teamed up with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Norton Family Foundation, the Joyce Metz-Gilmore Foundation, the Eli Broad Family Foundation, and the Joe and Emily Lowe Foundation to fund a new organization called Creative Capital. Fearing that the National Endowment for the Arts is about to stop funding art that features cunningly placed bullwhips and the like, Creative Capital will boldly step in to fill the gap, supporting artists in the rather shopworn category of challenging “social and artistic conventions of nudity, sexuality, and other provocative themes.” The consortium has already raised assets of $5 million, and hopes to raise an additional $40 million over the next 20 years while making grants to 50 to 60 “emerging artists” per year.
It’s Literature—but Is It Offensive?
When the National Endowment for the Arts chairman found out that his organization was funding a children’s book written by Mexican Zapatista guerrilla leader “Subcomandante Marcos,” he wisely dropped the project like a hot tamale, telling reporters that he was concerned that Endowment money might find its way into guerrilla coffers. But never fear, comrades! The Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Lannan Foundation quickly approved $15,000 to ensure the printing of an English translation for The Story of Color. Of course, Creative Capital can’t be everywhere.
If You Build It, They Will Apply
The Children’s Scholarship Fund, headed by John Walton and Ted Forstmann, offers partial scholarships to low-income families eager to escape their local public school. Through the generosity of their hundreds of donors, they were able to offer 40,000 scholarships this year—only to be swamped by more than 1.2 million applications. That works out to more than 30 applicants per scholarship. Commenting on the enormous response, Forstmann observed: “The old debate [over school choice] is over. These families have ended it.”
So we are happily awash in “biggest ever” gifts. It seems that nearly every day brings a fresh announcement of the “biggest ever” gift to a university, dental school, art museum, library, animal shelter, think tank, or fill-in-the-blank tax-exempt organization. But in late May, Bill and Melinda Gates quietly made the biggest-ever single donation in the history of American philanthropy. With very little fanfare, they donated stock (not cash, as the New York Times erroneously reported) worth $5 billion to the William H. Gates Foundation. Such generosity may make the price tag for dining with the Gateses at their home, an unpalatable $1 million for a just-announced Duke fundraiser, seem a bit easier to swallow.
You Know Times Are Good When This Is Considered a ‘Problem’
Newsweek reports that the bull market has caused some foundations to become “overendowed.” Explaining that many large foundations had rapidly grown in size during the bull market (with some, like the Lilly Endowment, nearly quintupling in asset value since 1994), the magazine goes on to report how the requirement to get all that money out the door has forced many foundations to bump up their giving far more rapidly than they have been able to bump up their staff sizes. “The big foundations are just swamped,” says Indiana University professor of philanthropic studies Les Lenkowsky.
Hillary Hobnobs with Humanitarian Honchos
This year’s longest-running political cliffhanger took a philanthropic turn when Hillary Rodham Clinton, during a New York campaign tour, paid a visit to a meeting of major foundations to discuss the plight of Kosovan refugees. Reuters reports that Mrs. Clinton met with representatives of the United Nations Foundation, the Rockefeller, Ford, MacArthur, Markle, and Carnegie Foundations, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute. The First Lady told her foundation friends “their assistance and their expertise” were critically needed and that they should be “looking for new ways to be part of this more comprehensive approach to the situation.”
A Real ‘Hail Mary’ Play
Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan has pledged $50 million toward the creation of a new law school that will integrate the study of law with Catholic values and teachings. Ave Maria Law School is scheduled to open in 2000, with an eventual enrollment of 450. The school has already recruited Bernard Dobranski, dean of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, as president, and former federal judge Robert Bork as a faculty member. Emphasizing that he wants the school to become “the West Point for Catholic lay leadership in years to come,” Monaghan says that in general he has “been very disappointed with Catholic education in the United States” much of which “has become secularized.”
It Depends on What the Meaning of ‘Not’ Is
Trust and estate documents can be notoriously torturous exercises in legalese. Thus the late Col. Robert McCormick must have thought he was being sufficiently clear when he donated a piece of land to Northwestern University via trust with the provision that it “is expressly understood that this trust shall be in perpetuity, and that the Trustee shall not sell, transfer, or convey the land.” Clear as mud, actually. The Chicago Tribune reports that Northwestern is now trying to sell the lakefront property to a developer who wants to build a 370-unit condo project on it. To break the terms of the trust agreement, Northwestern must file a suit in Cook County Circuit Court. Northwestern’s vice president for university relations will say only that the university “is taking the appropriate legal steps necessary to amend the gift agreement.”
Anti-gun Groups Armed with Foundation Money…
Foundations are at the forefront of “a surge of anti-gun initiatives,” pouring millions into the coffers of anti-gun researchers and activists, according to the Washington Post. Deborah Leff, past president of the Joyce Foundation, argues that guns need to be seen as a “public health problem,” to which end the Joyce Foundation has spent $2 million funding the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The Center, in turn, “has helped to provide the legal underpinning for the lawsuits brought by cities against gun makers” and has drafted model handgun bills and legislation for a number of states. For its part, George Soros’s Open Society Institute chipped in $300,000 toward an ultimately successful Brooklyn lawsuit against gun makers. The plaintiff’s grateful lawyers said Soros’s gift “made all the difference in the world.”
…And Public Charities Armed with Tobacco Money
While foundations begin the long slow process of litigating the gun industry into submission, public charities are beginning to see some of the fruits of recently-concluded lawsuits with the tobacco companies. The Minneapolis law firm of Robbins, Kaplan, Miller, & Ciresi, which represented the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield in a $6.6 billion tobacco settlement, is donating $10 million to the Foundation for Education, Public Health and Social Justice. Philanthropy Journal Online reports that the new foundation will make grants to “education, public health and social justice initiatives for children and disenfranchised people.” Meanwhile their lawyerly brethren in Silicon Valley are being accused of hardly giving anything at all. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Clara County Bar Association is publicly ripping into its own members for chintziness after releasing a new study showing that local attorneys donate an average of only $5 to $10 per year to legal aid programs, less than one-twentieth the amount given by their colleagues in San Francisco.
They Came to Do Good, and They Did Very Well
With roughly $10 billion in assets, Hawaii’s Bishop Estate is one of the nation’s wealthiest but least-known charitable entities. It is also perhaps the most scandal-plagued. In May, four of the Bishop’s five trustees were removed by judicial order after the IRS threatened to revoke the trust’s tax-exempt status. Each of the trustees was receiving over a million dollars a year as compensation (making them the nation’s highest-paid charitable employees, according to the IRS), and the positions were coveted as among the sweetest “plumbs” of state politics. The Bishop Estate was originally endowed by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop in 1884 to educate native Hawaiian students, and today runs the islands’ Kamehameha schools.
Giving by the Numbers
The annual Giving USA report is out, and it provides powerful testimony, if more were needed, to the theory that charitable giving is largely a function of economic growth. Giving in the United States rose over 10 percent in 1998, to a total of $175 billion. While individuals still accounted for the great majority (77 percent) of giving in 1998, the share of the giving pie attributable to private foundations rose the fastest, surging 23 percent. Meanwhile, the IRS released a new study showing that the cumulative assets of American nonprofit organizations now exceeds $1 trillion.