OVERVIEW: The Kovner Foundation supports education, the arts (including music), and creating opportunities for “individuals, especially the underprivileged.” Music is a funding priority, and it funds select New York music institutions.
IP TAKE: With Kovner recently retiring, it is possible that he and Suzie will increase their grantmaking. However, the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals.
PROFILE: Founded in 1996, the Kovner Foundation is run by billionaire Bruce Kovner and his wife Suzie. The couple is deeply passionate about music and has supported select New York music institutions for years. The foundation seeks “to identify innovative strategies that advance forward-thinking initiatives and produce change for the better.” Kovner does its music grantmaking through its Arts program.
The son of a trade unionist, Bruce Kovner dropped out of his Harvard Ph.D program. He took on a number of different jobs, including driving taxis in New York City, while writing and studying music at Julliard. At 31, he turned $3,000 he borrowed on his credit card into $45,000 trading soybeans. Soon that value was cut in half. It was a seminal lesson in risk management. Kovner founded Caxton Associates in 1983 and generated more than $12 billion in net gains for investors during his career. In 2012, Kovner handed Caxton to his former chief investment officer, though he retains an ownership stake in the management company. Given Kovner's unique background, the couple's philanthropy places a high value on arts and education. Kovner's firm Caxton is named after the first printer of books in the English language.
Kovner is chairman of the Juilliard School where the couple donated $60 million alone in 2013 to endow the Kovner Fellowship Program, which pays full tuition for selected classical music students. The couple has also endowed Juilliard's graduate program in historical performance.
Suzie is also a trustee at Carnegie Hall Society, and the foundation’s grantmaking helps fund the Studio Towers Renovation Project. 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 also receives support from Kovner. The couple gave one $20 million grant in 2006 and a $10 million grant in 2007. In 2013, more recently, $2.5 million went to the arts center. Kovner is a vice chair at the center. Other organizations under the Lincoln Center umbrella, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also received funds, though on a considerably smaller scale.
The Kovner Foundation prioritizes New York, but the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida received around $400,000 annually over the past few years. The New World Symphony is part of MUSAIC, a collaborative digital initiative that includes a handful of institutions across the country and even Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. The couple also gave at least $800,000 to the Royal Shakespeare Company in past years. Steady but smaller streams of money support the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The Kovner Foundation does not accept unsolicited applications. However, grantseekers can contact the foundation here.
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