OVERVIEW: 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 given out big money to select New York music institutions for years.
IP TAKE: With Kovner recently retiring, it's possible that he and Suzie will ramp up their giving. Nearly $5 billion is waiting in the wings.
KEY INFO: 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 has placed 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 will pay full tuition for selected classical music students. Millions of dollars have gone to Juilliard over the years. The couple has also endowed Juilliard's graduate program in historical performance.
Suzie also recently became a trustee at Carnegie Hall Society. In 2013, the Carnegie Hall Corporation received $100,000 from the couple. Recent money also supported 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 has also seen big money from Kovner. The couple gave one $20 million gift in 2006 and a $10 million gift in 2007. In 2013, more recently, $2.5 million went to the arts center. Kovner is a vice chair at the center. Other outfits under the Lincoln Center umbrella, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, have also received funds, though on a considerably smaller scale.
The Kovner Foundation's geographic focus is New York, but the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida has received quite a bit of money recently, generally 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 has also given to the Royal Shakespeare Company, to the tune of at least $800,000 in recent years. Steady but smaller streams of money have gone to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
While Kovner isn't particularly open about his philanthropy, it's no secret that he has a passion for the arts. In 2013, the foundation had nearly $204 million in assets and gave away more than $10 million that year. With Kovner's recent retirement from Caxton, it's possible that he's thinking more about the legacy he wants to leave and will further ramp up his philanthropy.
The Kovner Foundation does not appear to accept unsolicited applications. However, you can contact the foundation here.
- Bruce S. Kovner, Founder and Co-Chairman
- Peter P. D'Angelo, Treasurer
- Scott B. Bernstein, Secretary
- Suzanne F. Kovner, Co-Chairman