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Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Commits $200M To Bolster Arts & Culture Sustainability And Economic Impact In Western New York & Southeast Michigan

Investment to support operations for 24 of the regions' largest economic drivers and a focus on community inclusion and access strategies
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DETROIT, Dec. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced today a $200 million commitment to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of Southeast Michigan and Western New York's arts and culture communities through the establishment of two endowments that will support the sector now and forever.  

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Commits $200M to Arts & Culture and Economic Impact in New York & Michigan

The Wilson Foundation will contribute $117.5 million over 10 years to establish two endowments at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. This investment will create permanent operational funding streams for 24 of the regions' largest arts and culture institutions that play a critical role as economic drivers. The announcement also includes an annual grant opportunity for additional arts and culture organizations across both regions. Once fully funded after 10 years, each endowment will generate approximately $3.75 million in annual payout to permanently support the operations and sustainability of each region's arts and culture nonprofit organizations.

To ensure the program has immediate impact on the sector and regional economies, the Wilson Foundation will provide an additional $3.75 million annually over nine years in each region, for a total of $67.5 million, allowing grantmaking to begin in 2022 while the endowment is built. 

Finally, the Wilson Foundation is awarding a total of $15 million in capital campaign gifts, $5 million each, to the Motown Museum in Detroit, Mich.; The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y.; and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly, Albright-Knox Art Gallery) in Buffalo, N.Y.

"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 Dave Egner, president & CEO, the 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 regions' 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 and allow 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 in Western New York,  a total of $3 million will be dedicated to the following 13 institutions, including their annual grant allocation: Buffalo AKG Art Museum ( $500,000 annually); Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park ( $100,000 annually); Buffalo History Museum ( $150,000 annually); Buffalo Museum of Science ( $200,000 annually); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra ( $500,000 annually); Buffalo Zoo ( $200,000 annually); Burchfield Penney Art Center ( $100,000 annually); Explore & More: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children's Museum ( $200,000 annually); Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House ( $100,000 annually); Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and anchor institutions ( $100,000 annually); National Comedy Center ( $250,000 annually); Shea's Performing Art Center ( $100,000 annually); and The Strong National Museum of Play ( $500,000 annually).

Of the $3.75 million in annual funding in Southeast Michigan,  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 each Community Foundation and national consultants, metrics and benchmarks that support their goals and strategic plans.

"This is a transformational gift for Motown Museum. Though we have operated for 35 years in the black, we have never enjoyed the benefit of endowment dollars to support our operations. This important gift—the first of its kind for our museum—is an investment in the future sustainability of our organization, and of Detroit," said Robin Terry, Chairwoman and CEO of the Motown Museumin Detroit.

"As one of the oldest public arts institutions in the United States, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum has for decades supported the local and state economies as a tax generator, cultural resource, and tourism anchor," said  Janne Sirén, PhD, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director  of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum(formerly, Albright-Knox Art Gallery). "The Wilson Foundation's remarkably generous support will empower the Buffalo AKG to activate the Seymour H. Knox Building, a zone of the museum that will be entirely free to the public and will welcome students, families, and visitors from across Western New York and around the world."

The Wilson Foundation is also dedicating $500,000 annually in each region to support other arts and culture nonprofits, primarily of small to medium size, across each region.These funds will be deployed flexibly based on organizational and community needs. Beginning in early 2022, each Community Foundation will work with sector leaders to conduct listening and engagement sessions to shape the specifics of this opportunity. The first grants will be awarded by the end of 2022.

The remaining $250,000 in annual funding in each region will support permanent capacity at each Community Foundationto manage and operate this endowment and grant program, which includes leading the efforts to advance inclusion and access within the grantees' individual operations and sector as a whole.

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 Western New York, this has included support for Launch NY, 43North, Open4, East Side Avenues, and more. 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, and more.

"Ralph had a deep and personal appreciation of the arts, and we recognize that arts and culture institutions collectively contribute to very fabric of community identity, making them essential in retaining and attracting top talent that fuel our business community. Through the Foundation's economic development focus, we are proud to invest in the long-term health of these organizations as economic drivers - and in the cultural vibrancy of both regions," said Mary Wilson, Life Trustee, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. "While our aim was to make a substantial impact, we know there is more to be done and hope this gift will inspire others to continue to fund operations and endowment of cultural organizations across the sector."


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

Contacts: Claudia Hensley, Berlin Rosen, 310.496.9857 Carly Strachan, RCWJRF, 313.460.8100

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SOURCE Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation