Back in September the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation held a ceremonial "roof-breaking" performance to mark the beginning of a $25 million construction project that will add more than three stories of studios, classrooms, and offices as part of its new Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation Education Wing.
It isn't very often you see a dance organization — even one based in New York City — expand to this degree, and so my mind naturally drifted towards Ms. Wynn, a philanthropic heavyweight in the areas of arts, education, and health.
Born in New York City in 1942, Wynn landed in Las Vegas in 1967 where she eventually she co-founded Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts with her former husband, Steve Wynn. (They divorced in 2009.)
She has supported the Elaine Wynn Studio for Arts Education at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas and was appointed to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Board of Trustees by President Obama in 2010. She's also a tireless advocate for poor children. For close to 20 years, she has been actively involved with Communities in Schools, the oldest and most successful stay-in-school organization in the U.S. She was also a founding chairman of CIS Nevada.
But a closer look of her giving as of late also suggests — and apologies for the inevitable Vegas analogy — that Wynn isn't afraid to make big bets.
Back in April she pledged a $50 million lead gift for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's $600 million capital campaign. (She was elected co-chair of the museum in 2015.) Commenting on the gift, her friend Bobby Kotick noted, "Elaine stepping up to make of the biggest gifts [to the LACMA] says so much about her. When she becomes involved with something, she's in all the way."
Which brings us back to her support of the Ailey expansion.
One could argue that any ambitious capital campaign is an inherently a "risky" proposition. But these are precisely the projects that attract donors like Wynn and Sanford I. Weill, who is leading Ailey's (thus far successful) fundraising campaign. It has raised $48 million of the $50 million so far.
"Ailey’s wonderful programs benefit so many people, from children training at all different levels at The Ailey School, to underserved students in AileyCamp and other education programs across the country, to the Company’s breathtaking dancers who awe people around the world with their grace and power," Wynn said. "My family and I are proud to be a part of this remarkable organization, which gives us all so much joy and inspiration. I look forward to opening the doors to this new wing next year."
If it's additional reading you crave, I encourage you to check out this illuminating profile of Wynn in Town and Country. At the spry age of 74, it suggests that Wynn has only just begun ramping up her philanthropic efforts.
"My legacy is not just about the resort wold in Vegas," Wynn says. "I've never been restricted and confined to one dimension. People may just not have known it."