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Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announces $100 million for Western New York’s arts and culture community

RCWF 12.02.21 Mary Wilson.jpg
Posted at 2:09 PM, Dec 02, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a $100 million for Western New York’s arts and culture community Thursday.

"This is a tremendous day for our community," Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo president and CEO, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker said.

The foundation said an endowment will be established to "support the sector now and forever." $60 million will be contributed over 10 years to establish the endowment at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

"This investment will create permanent operational funding streams for 13 of the region’s largest arts and culture institutions that play a critical role as economic drivers and provide an annual grant opportunity for additional arts and culture organizations across the region," a release says.

"When he started this foundation, his one determination was that it would be a 20-year spin-down," Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation life trustee, Mary Wilson said. "The reason he did it is because he didn't want his foundation to go in a direction that didn't reflect his life and what he cared about."

Mary Wilson is the wife of the late Buffalo Bills founder and owner Ralph C. Wilson.

"When he started this foundation, his one determination was that it would be a 20-year spin-down," Wilson said. "The reason he did it is because he didn't want his foundation to go in a direction that didn't reflect his life and what he cared about."

She said they are seven years into the 20-year money distribution plan.

"It's going to make a big impact on our arts and culture and I'm just excited to be able to be a part of all of this," Wilson said.

Over the next decade, the foundation will invest more than $60 million to build an endowment at the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo.

Dedecker said, "Our role will include managing the significant endowment, along with distributing grants on an annual basis in keeping with the vision of the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation with a focus on advancing, access and inclusion."

Those dollars will remain untouched for a 10-year period of time.

Once fully funded after 10 years, approximately $3.75 million in annual payout will be generated to permanently support the operations and sustainability of the sector. The foundation will provide an additional $3.75 million annually over nine years to ensure the program has immediate impact and allow grantmaking to begin in 2022 while the endowment is built. A $5 million capital campaign gift to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum will also be made by the foundation.

So what will those dollars be used for?

To ensure the program has immediate impact on the sector and regional economy, the Wilson Foundation will provide an additional $3.75 million annually over nine years, for a total of $33.75 million, allowing grant-making to begin in 2022 while the endowment is built, according to the foundation.

The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission is one of them. It is set to receive $100 million annually.

"An endowment into perpetuity is a real game changer for an organization like ours. We are, historically, organizations like ours for whatever reason, has been marginalized or ignored for such opportunities. So, this is truly a game changer for us dealing with the challenges that all of our culture anchors along with our commission, have to meet everyday, in terms of our budgets, our operations and our finances," Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission executive director, Terry Alford said. "That definitely leverages other opportunities through grants, through either other endowments who will look at you seriously now and say this is an organization that may be worth investing in."

There was a parallel $100 million investment that was also announced Thursday morning in Detroit, making the total announcement today $200 million.

Ralph had a deep and personal appreciation of the arts, and we recognize that arts and culture institutions collectively contribute to very fabric of community identity, making them essential in retaining and attracting top talent that fuel our business community. Through the Foundation’s economic development focus, we are proud to invest in the long-term health of these organizations as economic drivers – and in the cultural vibrancy of Western New York. While our aim was to make a substantial impact, we know there is more to be done and hope this gift will inspire others to continue to fund operations and endowment of cultural organizations across the sector.
- Mary Wilson, life trustee, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

The 13 institutions that will receive fund through this commitment include:

  • Buffalo AKG Art Museum ($500,000 annually);
  • Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park ($100,000 annually);
  • Buffalo History Museum ($150,000 annually);
  • Buffalo Museum of Science ($200,000 annually);
  • Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra ($500,000 annually);
  • Buffalo Zoo ($200,000 annually);
  • Burchfield Penney Art Center ($100,000 annually);
  • Explore & More: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum ($200,000 annually);
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House ($100,000 annually);
  • Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and anchor institutions ($100,000 annually);
  • National Comedy Center ($250,000 annually);
  • Shea’s Performing Art Center ($100,000 annually);
  • The Strong National Museum of Play ($500,000 annually)
We are building upon years of substantial investment by critical public funding streams and philanthropic funders that have helped these institutions become the cultural treasures and economic drivers they are today. As a regionally focused foundation with a limited life, we saw a unique opportunity to make this significant contribution to impact the region’s quality of life and economy through jobs, tourism and more. We hope this annual operating support will help to strengthen the financial condition of these institutions allowing them to continue to develop creative, audience-centered initiatives that make them more inclusive, welcoming, and accessible places for all.
- David Egner, president & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation