Meet the Donor Betting on an Arts Funding Domino Effect in San Diego

In early 2015, the San Diego arts community starting getting nervous.

The San Diego Foundation restructured its grantmaking model and in the process, it eliminated 13 positions and created 15 new ones. This shift led to the departure of Felicia Shaw, the foundation's longtime Director of Arts and Creative Economy. What's more, under the new governing model, arts and culture became subsumed under an initiative called WELL (Work Enjoy Learn Live), which, according to the San Diego City Beat, "allows potential donors to easily understand the various categories to which they can contribute." Arts and culture, specifically, falls under "Enjoy," alongside recreation and physical activity. 

The arts lost a seat at the table, and that alarmed the city's arts proponents.

Fortunately, for them, Dr. Andrew Viterbi enjoys the theater.

Dr. Viterbi, the Italian-born co-founder of Qualcomm and philanthropist announced a $5 million gift that will create the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Fund. The fund, which supports the theatre’s artistic and arts engagement programs, will name the Globe’s artistic leadership position and confer on Barry Edelstein the honor of a new title: the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director of The Old Globe.

The gift markers an impressive foray into the arts for Dr. Viterbi, who also supports education, health and social services, and biomedical research causes.

In addition to setting the Globe on a path towards long-term financial sustainability, Dr. Viterbi hopes the gift will, according to the Globe's press release, "encourage other philanthropists to chip in to support the theater."

History points to an encouraging precedent.

Back in March of 2004, the University of Southern California School of Engineering was renamed the Viterbi School of Engineering in his honor, following his $52 million donation to the school. Eight months later, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mark Stevens gave $22 million to the newly-renamed USC Viterbi School of Engineering to create an institute that commercializes technological innovations of faculty and teaches students the fundamentals of the commercialization process.

As we noted at the time, past giving leads to more giving, and it's a lesson that clearly isn't lost on Dr. Viterbi.

And so the next year or so should prove telling. Will other San Diego donors pick up Viterbi's mantle and support the Globe? We're sure they'd appreciate it. We took a look at the San Diego Foundation's web site, and while the WELL framework is prominent on its home page, fears about the arts getting lost in the shuffle weren't completely illogical. Hover over the Programs page and you'll see Arts, Culture, and Humanity existing among 10 other "Social Impact Areas" and along side 13 "Programs and Funds."

That's a lot of areas, programs, and funds.