Ten Billion Bucks and a Passion for Picasso, Etc: Steve Cohen's Arts Philanthropy

Nose around Steven A. Cohen and his wife Alexandra's art collection and you'll find, among others, Picasso's "La Reve," Willem de Kooning’s “Woman III,” and a Damien Hirst conceptual piece consisting of a dead shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde. Interesting. 

While Steve Cohen's name will ring a bell thanks to a huge insider trading investigation of his now defunct hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, he's been well known inside the arts world for years. The Cohens have long made the list of top private art collections in an annual compilation by ArtNews magazine and a portion of their art collection, exhibited at Sotheby's, is worth some $450 million.

Meanwhile, the couple's foundation, the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation, is deep into supporting the arts, especially in New York City. The foundation has given more than $2.4 million to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in recent years, nearly a million to the Met, and more than half a million to New York’s Museo del Barrio, located just north of the Museum Mile in East Harlem.

The Museo del Barrio houses Latin American and Caribbean art with a particular focus on Puerto Rico. In case you're wondering about the connection here, Alexandra was born to a Puerto Rican Catholic working class family, and influences the foundation's commitment to the museum and outside of art, to Catholic schools and pediatric centers, including Columbia Presbyterian in the Washington Heights neighborhood where she was born and raised. 

Apart from these museums, the foundation has also given on a smaller level to the Guggenheim Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Bruce Museum in Connecticut and Brooklyn Museum. Cohen has also been a strong supporter of Brown University, where he sits on the board of trustees and toward which the foundation has contributed more than $36 million. At least $6 million of that went to establish the Cohen Gallery at the university’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.

The foundation is also interested in film, giving to outfits such as the Tribeca Film Festival and supporting the Talent Identification Fund at NYU Tisch. 

Some of the foundation's biggest sums in art in recent years, however, have shifted away from its usual New York geographic focus to Los Angeles. Cohen recently joined the board at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in LA, where his foundation gave $1.2 million gift in 2012.

In April, MOCA announced that the Cohens were among 23 individual donors or couples who had pledged between $1 million and $10 million to a campaign to boost the museum's endowment from about $20 million to $100 million. 

Keeping with the Cohens' passion for education and youth, the couple has been a steady supporter of several arts education programs such as ArtsConnection, Creative Time and P.S. Arts in Venice, California. The gift to P.S. Arts, along with their involvement in MOCA, makes us wonder whether the Cohens will be giving more money to LA-based arts institutions. 

Certainly there's no shortage of cash here: In 2012, their foundation gave out around $43 million. 

Related - Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation: Grants for Visual Arts