The Hedge Fund Winner Who Went to Juilliard: Bruce Kovner's Arts Philanthropy

Bruce Kovner founded and ran one of the most successful hedge funds in the country, Caxton Associates, from 1983 until his recent retirement. Now, he's worth $5 billion and has more time on his hands for philanthropy. Which is why we've been paying attention to this guy lately. 

The son of a trade unionist, Kovner went to Harvard. Here's a little trivia for you: Kovner's firm Caxton is named after the first printer of books in the English language.

Kovner also financed a printer-illustrator's multiyear Bible project with $2 million of his own money. That bible's name? The Pennyroyal Caxton. Not to mention Kovner himself has a huge collection of Eastern European illustrated works.

No, this isn't your typical Wall Streeter.

Before Kovner discovered his talent for trading, his first passion was writing, scholarship and the arts. After graduating for Harvard in the 1960s, he went on to pursue his PhD, though he dropped out. He then moved around New York City, driving cabs while also writing and taking music classes at Juilliard. 

That sounds like the life of any number of creative types from Kovner's generation who are now scraping by. Of course, things turned out very differently for Kovner and, even as made a killing on Wall Street, he never forgot his early passions. 

All of this is evident in his giving through the Kovner Foundation, which he runs with his wife Suzie, placing a high priority on arts. Kovner is chairman of the Juilliard School where he donated $60 million in 2013 to endow the Kovner Fellowship Program, which will pay full tuition for selected classical music students. Millions of dollars had gone to Juilliard over the years before that big give. 

Related - Kovner Foundation: Grants for Music

Meanwhile, Suzie recently became a trustee at Carnegie Hall Society, which received between $1 and $6 million in 2013. The funds were used to help support the Studio Towers Renovation Project set to open to the public in the fall of 2014. The massive renovation will create new spaces dedicated to music education while also refurbishing Carnegie Hall’s backstage areas.

The Lincoln Center of Performing Arts has also seen big money from Kovner. The couple gave a $20 million gift in 2013 and $2.5 million the year prior. Kovner is a vice chair at the center. 

Other outfits receiving funds in recent years include New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. These sums have generally been much more modest.

Suzie is also on the board of the National Theatre of Great Britain which might explain the couple's recent support of Royal Shakespeare Company (around $400,000 annually over the last few years). The foundation has also given money to New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.

Kovner hasn't said much about his philanthropy but his recent retirement could lead to a higher public profile and more money coming out of his foundation. If this is the case, it's likely that art will be a top priority. As an avid collector of rare books and music manuscripts, it's possible that museums could be a target for the couple as well.

We'll be watching. After all, if Bruce Kovner's assets were put into his foundation, it would be the 11th largest foundation in the United States. 

See IP's full profile on Bruce Kovner