Edward C. Johnson Fund: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: The Edward C. Johnson Fund gives out tens of millions of dollars annually. The arts is a big focus, with a preference for institutions in the Boston area.  

IP TAKE: Beyond its direct arts giving, the family supports the lending of art to museums. 

PROFILE: Edward Johnson’s father, Edward Johnson II, founded Fidelity Investments in 1946. Fidelity has grown to manage trillions in assets. After graduating from Harvard and spending a few years in the army, Johnson joined his father and eventually took over the company. Johnson recently ceded control of Fidelity Investments to his daughter Abigail Johnson, who now serves as president and CEO. Abigail's net worth currently sits at around $12 billion. Her father, meanwhile, is worth around $7 billion. Collectively, the Johnson clan is worth around $26 billion.

Johnson’s philanthropy largely remains close to home, but he does support charities throughout the country through Fidelity’s charitable arm. The family's main giving vehicle, the Edward C. Johnson Fund, has upped its giving and has a big interest in art. It held more than $300 million in assets and gave away around $82 million in 2013.

The largest recipient of arts donations from the Johnson Family by far has been the Brookfield Arts Foundation. Founded in 1999 by Johnson, the foundation purchases art and then lends it to museums. The Foundation had more than $260 million in assets as of the end of 2013.

Johnson is an honorary trustee at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and has been associated with the museum since 1971. In recent years, the Museum of Fine Arts has received more than $4.5 million from the Johnson family through their fund.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts has also been a recipient of large funds and at least $20 million has gone to the museum. Other outfits receiving smaller sums include the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Society of Arts and Crafts and the American Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based group that helps support acquisitions, conservation, and research at Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Johnson gave $62,000 to the latter outfit back in 2010, but it's possible that other gifts have come via the Brookfield Arts Foundation. This may apply to other outfits Johnson funds as well. 

The Johnson fund isn't just confined to the Boston area when making grants, though it does appear to be a preference. In recent years, the Furniture Society in North Carolina and International Netsuke Society, which has local U.S chapters in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, have received funds.

The Furniture Society is an educational outfit that studies the art and craft of furniture and the International Netsuke Society is dedicated to the study and preservation of netsuke, small Japanese sculptural objects. This highlights another important aspect of Johnsons' philanthropy—historic preservation. Historic New England, for instance, received $1.3 million recently.

Finally, it's worth keeping a close eye on Johnson's daughter Abigail and her siblings.  Given Johnson's age, there's a good chance that this next generation will largely guide the family's future philanthropy.

There is no process for submitting unsolicited applications. A personal connection with someone associated with the fund may be the best way to get started.

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