Who Are the Funders Behind a $6.8 Million Give to the Museum of the Great Plains?

Some foundations like to spend their money in big cities. Think New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. Others, meanwhile, prefer areas off the beaten path. Think Columbia, Missouri. Or Blue Diamond, NV. Or Lawton, Oklahoma.

We didn't pick those last three towns out of a hat. They're actually places whose hometown arts organizations have been the beneficiaries of recent gifts from the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

The foundation recently awarded $10 million in faculty scholarships to the University of Missouri in Columbia. It awarded $600,000 to Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch in Southern Nevada to help fund a 10-year maintenance reserve fund and pay for a litany of capital improvements. And now comes word that Reynolds has awarded a hefty $4.3 million to the Museum of the Great Plains, located at Elmer Thomas Park in Lawton, OK.

The funds, which will be supplemented by additional support from the McMahon Foundation, will help pay for extensive renovation efforts. The museum is currently closed and plans to re-open in October, bigger and better than ever, thanks to new indoor exhibits developed in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota.

"I'm really excited about sharing the history of the Great Plains, using the discovery-based exhibits built by the incredible team at the Science Museum of Minnesota," said Executive Director John Hernandez. "Our visitors will physically interact with history, and that exploration can be really powerful, and very different than watching something on a screen, or reading about an event on a label."

As noted, the other key player here is the Lawton, Oklahoma-based McMahon Foundation, which gave $2.5 million to the renovation effort. In fact, the Museum of the Great Plains owes its existence to McMahon. It first opened its doors in 1961, when the Comanche County Historical Society received a grant from the foundation.

The foundation has traditionally been a strong supporter of local schools and social services organizations. Back in 2014, for example, it allocated $800,000 to local entities. Cameron University received $125,000 for its annual McMahon Scholars program, while the largest recipient was the Armed Services YMCA, which received a matching grant of $600,000 to fund its relocation from its long-time home in downtown Lawton. (We're sensing a pattern here involving McMahon's proclivity for funding renovations and relocations.)

As for Reynolds, the gift to the Museum of the Great Plains certainly fits a pattern. They like funding organizations based in areas of the country—specifically Arkansas, Nevada and Oklahoma—where access to the arts is, at least relatively speaking, limited by comparison to more populated and urban areas.