$20 Million Donation to Dance at the Music Center
March 17, 2009, Los Angeles Times — In one of the largest such gifts ever to the Music Center or any of its resident companies, Los Angeles philanthropist Glorya Kaufman is donating $20 million to the Dance at the Music Center program.
The donation, to be announced today, surpasses all but a handful of contributions to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Center Theatre Group or the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
"It's a record -- and, as far as we know, the largest gift to support dance ever in America," Music Center President Stephen D. Rountree said in an interview.
Kaufman can also count among her major gifts to dance $18 million to UCLA to fund the renovation of its historic dance building and $6 million to the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as well as $3.5 million to the Juilliard School in New York to fund the Glorya Kaufman Dance Studio.
She is the widow of Donald Bruce Kaufman, founder with Eli Broad of the home construction and financing firm Kaufman & Broad, now KB Homes.
"We have a terrible economy, and what happens first is that all the arts disappear," Kaufman told The Times. "And to me, dance is one of the most important that there is."
Dance at the Music Center began in the 2003-04 season, when it presented the first self-produced dance series at the center in 39 years. Although the Joffrey Ballet had appeared as a resident company there from 1983 to 1991, that first season, which included San Francisco Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Chinese company Shen Wei Dance Arts, sharply raised the profile of dance in the city.
More recently, the program has included American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, the José Limon Dance Company, Miami City Ballet and the Kirov Ballet's "Nutcracker." In June, the New York-based Ballet Hispanico will make its Music Center debut.
Kaufman said she chose to support the program instead of donating money to a single dance company partly because of the economic fragility of many dance institutions -- one exception being the well-established Ailey company, whose 50th anniversary tour is bringing it to the Music Center for five days beginning Wednesday. (See accompanying story.) But the main reason for her donation, she said, was that she wanted to do "something for this city."
"It's the perfect time," Kaufman said, "because everyone is starting to get into the doldrums. They're not spending money, not doing this, not doing that. What this does is, we can have music on the Music Center courtyard, we can have little bands and people learning to dance. . . . Everyone is happy dancing."
In November, the Music Center announced that it would have to cancel the scheduled June 26-28 performances of the Nederlands Dance Theater I, part of the current Music Center dance season, because of a lack of funds.
Kaufman added that she hoped the endowment would generate funds to expand the dance series' educational programs, which already include a collaboration with the Ailey company, known as AileyCamp at the Music Center, funded by the Glorya Kaufman Dance Foundation.
The Ailey company has maintained a continuing relationship with the Music Center in recent years, appearing at the Chandler pavilion every other year.
"Her magnificent new gift symbolizes the importance of dance not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States and the world," Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison said. "And it will bring the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to center stage at the Music Center for many years to come."
Rountree said Kaufman's gift is the largest single donation to the Music Center with the exception of major gifts from the late Lillian Disney, Walt Disney's widow, who launched the construction of the $274.5-million Walt Disney Concert Hall with a $50-million gift.
Including Lillian Disney's gift, the Disney family has donated more than $100 million for the hall, and Walt Disney Co. gave $20 million. The Disney family also made a $25-million gift to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to endow the Walt and Lilly Disney Chair in Conducting.
Rountree said the Music Center dance program already had a modest endowment of $400,000 from various charitable foundations. When that is added to the $20 million, he said, the endowment should generate about $1 million a year in income.
Presenting a dance season of five or six companies a year, Rountree said, costs about $1.5 million. Although the Music Center will still have to raise $500,000 a year, he said, the gift "will allow us to plan dance over a longer horizon."
"For example, Russian companies that want to tour are planning two and three years out, and we haven't had the ability to commit to them because we didn't know about the funding," Rountree said. "Now we have the funding to bring companies to Los Angeles that might have come to New York, but no one on the West Coast could have afforded to bring them here."
Both Rountree and Renae Williams, director of dance presentations at the Music Center, said that, although the donation should provide greater programming flexibility, the income it generated would not be sufficient to develop a resident dance company for the Music Center.
"Right now, we're happy presenting dance and bringing in great dance companies," Rountree said. He added that, although the Music Center might in the future be interested in forging a resident relationship with an existing Los Angeles dance company, the city does not yet "have a dance company that rises to the level of the quality that we want at the Music Center."
Williams said she envisioned Kaufman's grant as a catalyst for allowing the dance program to expand its educational and audience development efforts. Included on her list are technological experiments in live blogging -- perhaps inviting audience members backstage to talk with artists or production staff -- or group discussions at intermission via hand-held devices.
And "we would love for our audience to see the historical connections between dance artists," Williams said. "When someone comes to see Merce Cunningham, we want them to know that he danced with Martha Graham. What better way to do that than through computer-based technology?"