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$100M gifted to Southeast Michigan cultural institutions

Receiving one of the largest annual grants from the Wilson Foundation is the Detroit Institute of Arts at $700,000.
Receiving one of the largest annual grants from the Wilson Foundation is the Detroit Institute of Arts at $700,000.

Art and cultural institutions in southeast Michigan will receive long term annual support from a $100 million donation from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The foundation announced it will contribute nearly $60 million over 10 years creating an endowment to provide permanent operational fund streams for 11 of the region’s largest arts and culture institutions.

The Wilson Foundation will also provide $3.75 million to the same organizations over nine years to “ensure the program has immediate impact on the sector and regional economy” while the endowment is built. This will allow grant making to begin in 2022.

Gifts of recurring undesignated funds are not a regular occurrence for these organizations.

“The most unique thing is the fact that it is renewed for nine years in a row which is really unprecedented for any of us in the nonprofit world in general,” Elana Rugh, president of the Detroit Historical Society, said.

The Detroit Historical Society will receive $200,000 annually from the endowment. But receiving some of the largest annual grants are the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at $700,000.

Jill Elder is with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She said although they are holding live converts again, their ticket sales remain under full capacity. The grants, she said, will have an “immediate and much needed impact.

“This really gives us a great sense of stability in this year in particular,” Elder said. “And because of the way that they structured the grant, it truly is funding our operational costs. So what it (is required) to pay our world class musicians, our incredible staff, to take care of our building, the facility where we perform music and then also our community work.”

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will receive $300,000 annually. Neil Barclay, the Wright Museum's President and CEO, said the pandemic greatly reduced or eliminated income generated from visitors, large events and more.

“(The grant) gives us a great assurance that we're at least going to be able to kind of continue to grow in a very uncertain environment,” Barclay said.

Rugh also said the Detroit Historical Society had taken a hit from the pandemic.

“This gift doesn't get us all the way whole but it really does help us get closer to where we were before,” she said.

The Arab American National Museum, the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Detroit Zoological Society, the Henry Ford Museum, the Michigan Opera Theatre, the Michigan Science Center and the Motown Museum are also receiving gifts ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 annually.

The Wilson Foundation also committed $5 million to the Motown Museum's $55 million capital campaign to expand and renovate its facilities.

The foundation also dedicated $500,000 annually to support other arts and culture nonprofits, primarily of small to medium size, across the seven counties of Southeast Michigan. The Wilson Foundation said the first grants will be awarded by the end of 2022 but will be awarded flexibly, based on organizational and community needs.

The remaining $250,000 will go toward managing and operating the endowment and grant program.

This is the first time the Wilson Foundation has stepped into arts and cultural institutions. Cultural leaders said they hoped the donation sets a precedent for supporting these institutions.

“We hope that it will inspire other people to think about these kinds of strategies that would give long term stability to arts and cultural institutions because we are so dependent on people coming through the doors,” Barclay said.

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