Phil Rosenthal and his wife Monica are among the new $1 million-plus donors to the Obama Foundation. The Obama Presidential Center is set to be completed in the Chicago area in a few years and the Obama Foundation's now public donor list includes a number of familiar names in philanthropy—among them the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Marilyn and Jim Simons.
Unsurprisingly, Hollywood's elite have also stepped up big, including J.J. Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath, as well as producer-writer Shonda Rhimes.
Then there are the Hollywood power players Phil and Monica Rosenthal, who made their seven-figure gift through the Rosenthal Family Foundation. What do we know about this couple and their philanthropy?
Queens-born Phil graduated from nearby Hofstra University. He had a stint in acting before shifting to writing and producing, eventually creating such hits as the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, starring Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton. He's worth $200 million by some estimates, underscoring a common theme in our Glitzy Giving section about the kind of wealth that the most successful actors, producers, writers and directors can amass these days. It's enough to bankroll sustained philanthropy, and we're seeing a lot more of that coming out of the entertainment world right now. The Rosenthals are another case in point.
While the Rosenthal Family Foundation's grantmaking has a national component, it generally makes grants to Los Angeles-based organizations. The couple also directs funds to the Philadelphia area, where Monica was born; she also attended Hofstra before launching her acting career.
I recently spoke with Rachel Levin, a senior adviser to the Rosenthal Foundation through her philanthropic consulting firm Fundamental Inc. in Beverly Hills, to get a better handle on the Rosenthals giving. Let's talk about some of this long-running work.
The Rosenthals focus on two primary issues via their family foundation. The first is ensuring educational equity, primarily through arts education. The Rosenthals' goal is to create a "pipeline of young people who’ve become teaching artists," as Levin puts it. The couple, along with Monica's old friend Kevin Kane, established the Flourish Foundation with the aim of cultivating a pipeline of local youth leaders who could make an impact on their community. Levin notes that some of the students who were first mentored at Flourish now run the foundation and teach the next generation of teaching artists. This includes Flourish's Executive Director Jackie Lopez.
Phil and Monica Rosenthal also focus on educational equity and arts education at the policy level. They've funded work to ensure clarity around schools and school districts using arts education as a tool to advance Title I goals. The couple supports the California Alliance for Arts Education, and have worked with KPCC - Southern California Public Radio to hire a full-time arts education reporter.
Levin says the Rosenthals are passionate about changing the narrative around arts education, which they believe "shouldn't depend on where you live or what zip code you're in." She also says the couple isn't just relying solely on private funding, and that to solve some of these issues, the public sphere needs to be activated, as well. To that end, the Rosenthals funded a pilot study testing out the notion of a parcel tax to increase public revenue for arts education.
Overall, Levin says the Rosenthals are "strategic funders, committed funders, and passionate funders, not just check writers. They have deep relationships with the people they invest in and truly partner with them. Monica knows the kids who are part of this [arts education] pipeline and has been in their lives for many years.” Monica herself was the first person in her family to graduate from college and credits a public high school theater program for making that possible.
Apart from arts education, the couple are strongly interested in food issues and access to healthy food. They provided early funding to Breakfast in the Classroom in local Los Angeles area schools, as well as to Food Forward, which "rescues fresh local produce that would go to waste, connecting this abundance with people in need, and inspiring others to do the same." Rosenthal also makes personal contributions to every city and community where his food show, Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix, films.
The Rosenthals also donate to high-performing arts education organizations in Los Angeles, like their longtime support of Inner City Arts. The couple support their alma mater Hofstra University, too. In addition, Levin told me about an interesting effort the Rosenthals support at UCLA's School of Arts and Architecture called VAPAE or Visual and Performing Arts Education Program, which is headed by Kevin Kane, formerly of Flourish Foundation. VAPAE allows students pursuing degrees at the school to earn a minor in arts education. Fittingly, some of the young arts educators from Flourish have participated in VAPAE at UCLA.
How does the Rosenthals' large gift to the Obama Foundation fit into the couple's larger philanthropic vision? Well, part of the Obama Foundation's mission is to "equip civic innovators, young leaders, and everyday citizens with the skills and tools they need to create change in their communities." By empowering young people to organize nationwide, the Rosenthals hope that the impact of their gift will flow back towards the local communities the couple have been focused on for years.