Performing Arts

Large gifts have the ability to alter the future of a performing arts program. Whether it's funding for state-of-the-art facilities or endowed scholarships to attract the most talented students, these gifts play a huge role in higher education arts programs. Typically, alumni who are further on in their careers and focusing more on philanthropy play the biggest role in performing arts fundraising. But beyond this, there really aren't many commonalities among donors. They come from a variety of backgrounds, and they're giving for many different reasons. 

The one thing that seems to be the most important: These philanthropists have made education and the arts a high priority.

Here at IP, we have reviewed major performing arts gifts from individual donors over the past few years and we are analyzing new gifts nearly every week. This guide explores who's writing the checks, what programs are getting the money, and what strings are attached to how the money is spent.

Who's Giving

The generosity of the Baby Boomer generation has played a significant role in philanthropy over the last decade. This trend is evident in performing arts giving. Baby Boomers are giving big to performing arts programs at both colleges and universities. For the most part, these aren’t just random checks.

Many of these grants come from alumni — often a married couple that has a long history with an institution — who are retired or nearing retirement. A consistent trend is that these big givers graduated from an institution between the mid-1950s and the early-1970s. A large portion of these gifts come from couples who interacted with recipient universities — first as students (either one or both are usually alumni) and then later in life when they work with these universities as fundraisers, board members, and performing arts program chairs.

In the performing arts sphere, donors rarely give anonymously and are often very active at the universities they support. For instance, Rex Sinquefield, cofounder of Dimensional Advisors, and his wife Jeanne, a musician, have been steady patrons of University of Missouri since they retired. The couple recently gave $10 million toward a new School of Music building at University of Missouri, and even more recently gave $2 million to the Mizzou New Music Initiative. To date, the Sinquefields have provided more than $15 million to the university. 

Jerome Chazen, founder of Chazen Capital Partners, and his wife Simona recently gave University of Wisconsin $28 million in the form of several valuable pieces of art from their private collection, an additional gift of $5 million for the Chazen Museum of Art building, and $3 million for two chairs. 

Other major givers like Susan and David Goode, who gave big to performing and visual arts programs at Virginia Wesleyan College, and Bruce and Suzie Kovner, whose $60 million grant was the single largest gift to Juilliard, have been students first and then held positions in the school as arts patrons, board chairs, and fundraisers.

It’s an eclectic pool of funders. There are constants — likely Baby Boomer alumni with long-term ties to a university and long successful careers. Beyond that, there aren’t many other commonalities. These donors come from just about every industry, including energy, banking, entertainment, and technology.

Who's Getting

The performing arts include a variety of art forms — theater, dance, symphonic and vocal music, to name a few – and colleges and universities of all sizes nationwide usually offer at least one arts program. As such, colleges across the country court donors to support the growth and/or sustainability of their performing arts offerings.

Major Universities

There doesn’t seem to be a geographic trend. There's just as much performing arts giving in the middle of the country as there is on the coasts.  Usually the institutions that receive support from major donors have active, and sometimes world-renowned, arts programs.

For instance, the University of Southern California, which is known for its many different arts programs, consistently brings in major gifts. One of the highest-profile contributions was a $70 million capital gift from Andre Young (the hip-hop artist known as Dr. Dre) and record executive Jimmy Iovine for a new arts entrepreneurship program. This was somewhat unusual, as the two men don’t have strong ties to USC, although Young did grow up near the university and Iovine's daughter is an alumna. A $3 million donation to a capital campaign in 2012 from accomplished violinist and longtime USC professor Alice Schoenfeld for renovations to its symphony hall is another example of giving to USC. Remarkably, Schoenfeld increased her campaign gift to $10 million two years later; the additional $7 million established the Alice and Eleonor Schoenfeld Endowed Scholarship Fund for Strings Students. Named for Schoenfeld and her now-deceased sister, the gift was touted by USC as "the largest ever made by a longtime faculty member."

While USC is a private university with a giant development staff in many different specialized areas, there are plenty of examples of public universities nationwide receiving performing arts support, including the University of Colorado's $1.6 million gift from Jack and Jeannie Thompson, who met while both were earning degrees from the university. The money will be used to enhance the university's jazz studies program. The couple, who served as co-chairs of the university's campaign to raise $1.5 billion, also helped raise another $2 million in an endowment that will provide some $80,000 annually in unrestricted funds for the jazz studies program.

There's also the Sinquefields' steady support for arts at the University of Missouri.  Wayne State University recently received $7.5 million from Gretchen Valade, founder of Mack Avenue Records, to support a jazz performance center and an endowed jazz chair and scholarship. 

Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music recently received $20 million from David Henry Jacobs Jr. to endow a deanship and to support faculty salaries, research, scholarships, student travel, and the library.

The University of Nebraska also recently received an $8 million music school endowment from financier alumnus Glenn Kroff. The University of Arkansas also makes the list, receiving $1 million from the Toller Family to support the Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center. University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music recently received a $2 million gift by alumni couple Jeff and Joan Beal to launch the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media.


Several small colleges — both liberal arts and performing arts schools — have received major gifts in the last few years. The world-renowned Juilliard School is the highest profile, but for the most part, these major grants have come from philanthropists with ties to the institution. For instance, one of the largest grants in the school’s history – a $60 million endowment from Bruce and Suzie Kovner – helped launch a new fellowship program. At the time the gift was announced, Bruce Kovner, chairman of Caxton Alternative Management, an investment company, was a Juilliard board member and an accomplished musician who took evening courses at Juilliard in the 1970s. He and his wife are not first-time givers to Juilliard: An earlier $5 million challenge grant from the Kovners helped raise $10 million for Juilliard's drama program. Michael E. Marks and his wife Carole also recently gave $5 million to establish the Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship at Juilliard.

Other small liberal arts colleges consistently court million-dollar grants from successful alumni. For instance, DePauw University, a private liberal arts school in Indiana, has seen its arts programs enhanced by the generous support of alumni Joyce and Judson Greene. The Greenes have twice made gifts of $15 million to DePauw, the first to upgrade facilities and the second to launch the 21st-Century Musician Initiative, which the university described as a "complete reimagining of the skills, tools, and experiences necessary to create innovative, entrepreneurial musicians of the future," given huge changes in musical tastes and the music industry.

What Are the Gifts for?

There are two main areas of support for performing arts programs — facilities/capital campaign gifts and scholarship/fellowship funding. Often, but not always, the gifts are made in the context of a larger capital campaign, and there are some cases in which a facility, scholarship, or fellowship is named for one or more donors. Unlike some other types of gifts to higher education, contributions  to performing arts are not as heavily dominated by alumni donors, with substantial gifts coming from non-alumni contributors. 

The $70 million grant at USC from Andre Young and Jimmy Iovine is a perfect example, as is a $12 million donation to Sonoma State University to complete its Green Music Center by education philanthropists Sanford and Joan Weill. In both instances, these contributions were based on geographic location, not alumni loyalty. Scholarship and fellowship gifts are shaped by the donors who make them so they aren't no-strings-attached grants. Instead they usually target a specific demographic — women or low income students, for example — and in this way, donors have a lot of say in how their gifts are spent.

How the Gifts Happen

Many performing arts donors are active on campus, whether within a specific arts program or by having a broader role on the campus as a whole. Second, these donors are traditionally longtime arts patrons with a history giving to and working with local arts nonprofits.

That's not to say these relationships aren't built over longs periods of time, but it seems that in performing arts fundraising, big-time gifts happen more organically. There isn't necessarily "an ask." Instead donors have a more hands on role in developing and administering their gifts.

In terms of who's doing the asking, it really depends. At some of the largest universities, performing arts programs have their own fundraising staffs, whereas at smaller colleges, deans play a more significant role in developing a relationship with a potential big-time donor. Either way, many of these contributors had already taken an interest in the program they supported, and it's likely just a matter of identifying potential donors, forming close relationships with these people, and giving them opportunities to enhance a performing arts program with their gifts.

What Strings Are Attached

While having a building or fellowship named after themselves is standard practice among performing arts donors, there is another trend worth noting: These philanthropists are also putting challenge grants on the table to leverage their grant dollars.

For instance, the Kovners used this tactic to bolster their giving at Juilliard, and the Greenes have done the same at DePauw University. This happens most frequently around capital campaigns and other fundraising initiatives to bolster sagging endowments. Aside from this, fellowships and scholarship endowments are usually designed to target a certain demographic, which again, is fairly consistent across all of higher education.

Insights & Tips

There's not much that hasn't already been said. The trends seem fairly clear. Alumni play a huge part in supporting performing arts programs, and these major gifts come from people who have had successful careers and are now focusing on philanthropy. Most fundraising professionals have a pretty good handle on who these people might be, but this demographic is certainly a good place to start looking for potential donors.

Leadership also plays a huge part in the giving decisions of performing arts philanthropists. With that in mind, programs should showcase their leadership and introduce deans, chairs, professors and students to potential donors. The more contacts potential donors have to people inside a performing arts program that better. Successful donor relationships start with the a story about how program leaders have created a program that produces high-quality performing arts while remaining financially sustainable. This is the key message fundraisers must communicate.