Leon Black Family Foundation: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: The Leon Black Family Foundation is helmed by billionaire Leon Black, who has a passion for the arts and owns a substantial art collection. Black prefers to dole out money directly to arts institutions himself. Black has connections to many prominent art museums in the New York City area and serves on several boards.

IP TAKE: Most grant seekers will not get far here, but Black is someone to keep an eye on as a serious collector and arts philanthropist in the New York City area.


At the beginning, the Leon Black Family Foundation was a consistent funder of arts institutions of New York City. Black is the son of a clergyman who instilled in him the value of giving back to the community. His father also was passionate about the arts and took him to see Shakespeare festivals in England every year when Black was a child. Black's mother was an artist. 

Black and his wife Debra, who is a producer on Broadway, are two of the most prominent art collectors in the country. A few years ago, Black purchased one of the four existing versions of Munch's The Scream for nearly $120 million, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a work of art at an auction. Black made The Scream available for public viewing at MoMA, where he also serves a trustee.

The Modern Museum of Art has been one of the foundation's consistent grantees, which has received at least $11.45 million over the years.  In 2002, MoMA received nearly $8.6 million. When the foundation was operating on all cylinders, it also doled out money to Public Theatre, the foremost theatrical American producer of Shakespeare, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where Black serves as a trustee. 

In recent years, though, Black has made individual arts gifts direct to the source. In 2012, Black acquired Phaidon Press, a leading publisher of fine arts books and has bold plans for "geographic expansion." It is a move that shows that those interested in getting Black's attention should focus on the business side of art, not just taking on charity.

As an alumnus of Dartmouth College, Black has also been a heavy arts funder to his college. He has endowed professorships in Shakespearean Studies at the college and also made a $48 million gift to Dartmouth for construction of the Black Family Visual Arts Center, a center that allows film, media studies and studio arts students to study together in the same complex. The center opened in 2012.

Currently, the foundation seems to be in flux and gave just $1.5 million recently to only four grantees, none art related. This makes the foundation a tricky source of funding for arts grant seekers. However, given his intense passion for his art, his long record of giving, and his enormous wealth, Black is someone to keep a close eye on.


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Leon Black Family Foundation Inc.
445 Park Ave., Ste. 1401
New York, NY 10022-8626