Meet David Gindler, the L.A. Philanthropist with a Passion for Provocative Performing Arts

David Gindler has emerged as a top supporter of major arts organizations in Los Angeles, perhaps most notably for his $1 million donation to the Master Chorale and his work on the boards of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Music Center, and Beth Morrison Projects. But what actually caught my attention about his giving was how he keeps an eye out for the little guy.

The Antaeus Theatre Company has just 49 seats and is one of Gindler’s passion projects. He serves as a board chair for this tiny theater that few Los Angelinos have even heard of. The big news here is that Gindler is spearheading the theater’s Play On! Capital Campaign to renovate their new space and hopefully create and move into a new cultural arts center next fall. This is a theater ensemble that specializes in classical theater and offers arts education and student outreach programs and strives to connect classical texts to contemporary issues.

So who is David Gindler, and what’s driving his grantmaking around Los Angeles?

Well, he’s a senior partner at Irell & Manella LLP and practices intellectual property litigation and licensing and complex patent litigation. He and his wife, Kiki Ramos Gindler (who’s the president of the board of directors at Center Theatre Group), regularly donate $300,000 or more to performing arts organizations. However, big names like the Master Chorale, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Center Theatre Group have seen support in the millions. The couple recently made its largest grant ever to The Industry for a production called “Hopscotch.”

To get to know this locally focused philanthropist and his grantmaking a little better, I connected with David Gindler to ask a few questions.

What made Antaeus stand out to you most among the theater and arts groups in Los Angeles?

Good question—a number of things make Antaeus a jewel in the L.A. theater scene. First and foremost, it is an actor-driven theatrical ensemble. It was founded by actors for the purpose of having the actors themselves drive the artistic mission of the organization. Antaeus’s artistic directors are chosen from among the company members, who place their trust in the artistic directors to honor Antaeus’s longstanding mission of empowering actors to define what actually takes place on our stage. There’s no other theater organization in Los Angeles where the actors play such a critical role in driving the organization’s mission.

Another important aspect of Antaeus is that it takes seriously its goal of creating and cultivating a family of artists and audiences. It is common for audience members to stay after performances to chat with the actors in our classics library, which is a sort of artistic hub of the company. And the actors love interacting with audience members who are excited about and engaged with the art that we produce on our stage. And finally, although Antaeus is known as a “classical” theater company, it has a bold way of thinking about what makes something “classical”—we present plays that explore stories with enduring themes. “Classical” does not simply mean “old.” This leads us to produce seasons that include works by writers as diverse as Caryl Churchill and William Shakespeare.

What other organizations have you recently supported in the Los Angeles area?

About six months ago, we got invited to a preview party for The Industry’s “Hopscotch,” which just opened on October 31. After hearing Yuval Sharon describe what he was going to create—a “mobile opera for 24 cars”—that tells a story in a series of chapters that unfold in a non-chronological order, our jaws literally dropped. I remember turning to Kiki at the end of Yuval’s presentation and telling her, “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of. We’ve got to make sure this actually happens.” And so we did.

I’ve also recently joined the board of directors of Beth Morrison Projects, a ten-year-old organization that focuses on nurturing and producing new works of music-theater and opera theater. Although originally based in New York, BMP now has productions on both coasts. The Los Angeles Opera has already presented two of BMP’s new opera productions—“Dog Days” and “Song from the Uproar.” A third, “Anatomy Theatre,” will be staged in June 2016. Center Theatre Group is currently presenting at the Kirk Douglas Theatre BMP’s production of “Kansas City Choir Boy,” a thought-provoking new work of music theater written by and starring Todd Almond and featuring Courtney Love. 

What is the theory of change behind your donations/grantmaking?

We look for organizations, whether large or small, that take seriously the goal of serving our community. The arts have made a huge impact on Kiki and me. In many ways, they have defined who we are and what we do. We were lucky to have experienced the performing arts starting in our childhood. It’s important for us to have the performing arts accessible and available to everyone. Gustavo Dudamel says that, “music is a fundamental human right.” He got that right, but it’s not just music.

What characteristics do the organizations you support tend to share?

Creativity and risk taking are at the forefront of my mind. It’s exciting when I see established organizations like Center Theatre Group, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the L.A. Opera display the courage to present new works that can be controversial, thought provoking—and may even make you a little uncomfortable.  

Why are the arts so important to you personally?

I’m one of the lucky ones who grew up at a time when the arts were an important part of public education in Los Angeles. When I was in 7th grade, I was put into an orchestra class and I picked the bass to learn, which I proceeded to play in our junior high school and high school orchestras for six years, until I graduated. To be honest, I wasn’t very good, but the experience fundamentally changed my life by exposing me to the world of classical music when I was young. I had my first subscription to the LA Philharmonic when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license. And it wasn’t a very big leap from music to theater. It’s a sad fact that today, the arts no longer get the kind of funding in public education that existed when I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Kiki and I support organizations that help to fill that void.

What are you and your wife interested in supporting in the year ahead?

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea! That’s what I love about the performing arts. There’s always something new to discover. I hadn’t even heard of The Industry or Beth Morrison Projects three years ago, and now I can’t imagine our performing arts scene without them. 

Other thoughts you'd like to add?

Just one: If every country in the world supported the arts the way they support their militaries, they wouldn’t need to support their militaries anymore. Let’s give that a try.