Typecast at Your Own Risk: Behind David Rubenstein's Latest Gift

We at IP are an empathetic lot, and sometimes we feel bad for Michael Richards.

Yes, that would be the Michael Richards who rose to fame as Kramer on Seinfield.

Why? Because of typecasting. Sure, Richards created a timeless, iconic character, but that character will haunt him the rest of his professional career. I mean, what's he been up to as of late? No one knows.

The same logic can apply to the philanthropy world. Take David Rubenstein, for example. We've had a lot of fun calling him the "Patriotic Philanthropist," and for very good reason. The nickname is catchy, alliterative, and startlingly accurate.

Indeed, Rubenstein acts as his own rogue branch of the federal government, funding the renovation of the Washington Monument, pledging $5.4 million for the renovation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery, and most recently donating $10 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Click here for our take on this latter gift, which also includes a handy bullet point summary of his most "patriotic" gives across the past few years.)

But Rubenstein probably doesn't want to be typecast, especially by a writer at some blog. (Although in my defense, he did call this kind of giving a form of "patriotic capitalism.") As we note in our Wall Street Donor profile of him, Rubenstein, who is worth about $3 billion, primarily funds education, health care research, and yes, national museums and monuments. 

So Rubenstein is branching out yet again. His most recent gift? A cool $5 million to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to establish the David Rubenstein Enhancement Fund at the American Academy. This gift will provide funding for new academy projects such as its Access to Justice Project, which will "enhance understanding of existing data on unrepresented civil litigants and determine what more can be done to help provide legal services to low-income Americans," and the Exploratory Fund, which "provides resources to academy members who seek to work together to consider opportunities and intellectual issues from new perspectives, and to search for connections between research and policy that advance the common good."

"I've long admired the mission and accomplishments of the American Academy and am honored to support its efforts to make the world a better place through the advancement of art and science," said Rubenstein, who was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. 

A closer analysis of the mechanics of Rubenstein's gift actually suggests he isn't veering entirely off-script. The academy acts as a kind of idea incubator addressing many—dare we say, patriotic—ideals and issues central to the improvement of American civic life, including, as mentioned, civil rights, affordable legal representation, and public policy.

"This generous gift from David Rubenstein raises our aspirations for the new topics that our members can study through the Academy’s commissions as well as its exploratory initiatives. It also expands our ability to pursue critical areas of inquiry and to widely disseminate recommendations from our work to new audiences," said Don Randel, Chairman of the American Academy Board of Directors. 

In related, most certifiably non-patriotic news, check out our take on Rubenstein's$25 million arts-related gift to his alma mater, Duke University, from October of last year.