Why did Wade Thompson’s Family give $65 Million to a NYC Art Venue?

If you’re not familiar with Wade Thompson, maybe you’d recognize those shiny silver RV campers with “Airstream” branded across the side. Thompson made his fortune on those campers and established a family foundation to channel his charitable giving in the late 80s. Shortly thereafter, he began channeling money into New York’s Park Avenue Armory, which was then falling apart, but had the potential to become a great performance space for music and art. He founded the Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy to restore the armory and transform it into a world-class arts venue.

Thompson passed away from cancer in 2009, but his family is still committed to the armorymost recently to the tune of $65 million. Although the building is doing just fine now in a structural sense, this new grant money creates an arts program endowment and educational initiatives. Now the armory can begin commissioning even more works, and the structure will now be known as the Thompson Arts Center at Park Avenue Armory. Per the grant terms, that name will stick for at least 50 years.

“This is what Wade would have wanted,” said the foundation’s director Alan Siegel. “It was a remarkable thing he felt for that building, and it was a very important part of his life.”

This major gift was a no-brainer for Thompson’s heirs, given Thompson’s unyielding support for the building and all that it represented. However, other giving priorities and grantmaking practices at the Thompson Family Foundation are less black and white.

Wade Thompson went through a 14-year battle with cancer before he died, and he spent his last decade supporting causes for early cancer prevention and cures. Aside from cancer-specific medical research and treatment, he was always a patron of the arts, as well as historic preservation and conservation. An avid contemporary art collector himself, he was a big supporter of the Central Park Conservatory, the Municipal Art Society, and the Mystic Seaport Museum. Regarding his favorite armory venue, Thompson’s individual and foundation contributions now top $129 million.

Wade’s wife, Angela, provided this statement:

Wade passionately believed that the Armory should be rescued as one of the country’s most important landmarks and that with world class programming in its beautiful and dramatic spaces, it could become a cultural institution of global stature. Working with Elihu [Rose], Rebecca, and others, he fearlessly led the charge. He would be so pleased to see that the bold reinvigoration he set in motion is succeeding beyond his wildest dreams.

In May 2014, the Thompson Family Foundation reported over $545 million in assets and more than $24 million in total giving. Unfortunately for grantseekers, the foundation doesn’t have a website and doesn’t seem to accept unsolicited grant requests. The foundation is headquartered at 230 Park Avenue, Suite 1541 in New York City.