Billionaire Bruce Kovner is an interesting figure. He's on the board of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank, and was once dubbed "George Soros' right-wing twin" by New York magazine. But we're told he doesn't think of himself as a conservative and, in fact, the arts appear to be a greater passion than public policy. He and his wife Suzie have been giving to Juilliard for years. They've also helped spearhead a construction project aimed to turn Lincoln Center "inside out."
Kovner and his wife are private, but are certainly active in New York City philanthropy. Nonprofits should definitely keep their eyes on this couple, though they haven't yet established a professionalized foundation that is accessible to grantseekers. Here are a couple of must-knows:
1. The couple is deep into the arts
Before Kovner worked in hedge funds, he was a young writer and musician who took classes at Juilliard. The school has been at the top of the couple's grantmaking list, with millions of dollars going to the art school over the years. The couple have a scholarship program in their name, the Kovner Fellowship Program, which pays the full cost of tuition for selected students.
Apart from Juilliard, where Kovner sits as chair and Suzie serves as a member of the Juilliard Drama Council, Lincoln Center School for the Performing Arts received a $20 million gift in 2013. Kovner serves as vice chair at Lincoln Center. Other outfits under the Lincoln Center umbrella including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center have also received funds, though on a considerably smaller scale.
2. School choice in education is also key
Kovner once cosigned an op-ed about the importance of school choice in education reform. He's a founder of the School Choice Scholarship Foundation, which awards scholarships to financially disadvantaged elementary school kids in New York City, offering 1,300 scholarships of up to $1,400.
The couple has also given to Success Charter Schools and New York Charter Schools Association, which runs several charters schools in Albany.
3. Bigger money and a more diverse list of grantees might be in store
Recent New York City grants by the Kovners have generally been to the same arts and education outfits annually, with little variation. However, the couple has made smaller grants to the Morgan Library and Museum and New York Public Radio, to name a few others. This might change now that Kovner has retired. Kovner's huge manuscript and book collection might come into play for museums, and Suzie could very well serve as a member-at-large on the administrative board at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
As we mentioned, though, the Kovners don't yet have a professionalized foundation that is accessible to grantseekers.