Photo credit: The music center

Photo credit: The music center

News from the surging Los Angeles arts philanthropy scene finds former City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski and her family foundation making a $12 million gift to the Music Center’s (TMC) new “Plaza for All.” The funding will be used as seed money by the new TMC Arts Fund, which aims to broaden the Music Center’s reach by providing free and low-cost public programming, educational initiatives, and dance at the plaza and other Music Center venues. Miscikowski serves as vice chair of the center’s board and chair of the Ring-Miscikowski/The Ring Foundation.

As the name of the plaza suggests, this gift is yet another example of an arts funder focusing on accessibility and all of its forms. Music Center President Rachel S. Moore said the raised, outdoor space is now better integrated with its urban surroundings and more accessible to foot traffic, a “physical manifestation” of the center’s commitment to access and inclusion.

The TMC Arts Fund, meanwhile, addresses programmatic accessibility by housing the center’s various offerings, including community engagement activities, classes, and public concerts. “It’s to really breathe life into our new vision of deepening the cultural lives of every resident of L.A. County,” Moore told the Los Angeles’ Times’ Deborah Vankin. The Music Center has raised an additional $2 million for the fund, bringing its total windfall to $14 million, which nearly triples the center’s $5 million goal to support plaza programming.

At the plaza’s official re-opening in late August, which came after a 20-month, $41 million renovation, the center announced it exceeded its $11 million capital campaign goal. Moore called the Miscikowski gift “a huge vote of confidence in the direction the Music Center is going in…It will allow us to not only expand on our current programming, but will also serve as research and development for innovation and new programs that help us find new ways of sharing this incredible, new public resource that we have at the Music Center—this new space—with all people across the county.”

Accessibility and the Arts

Architects revamped the Music Center plaza with an eye toward “universal design and passive recreation,” aesthetically integrating it with the center’s other venues, like the Ahmanson Theatre and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which sits across the street. The center, which received $30 million in support from the County of Los Angeles and is located a few blocks from The Broad, is also a key component of the larger renovation plan for Downtown Los Angeles. “The renovation of The Music Center Plaza encourages greater access and enables everyone to more fully experience the wide breadth and diversity of the arts, culture and music of L.A. County and the First District,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis.

The Music Center’s place in a burgeoning-but-still-scrappy downtown L.A. provides an intriguing contrast to developments 3,000 miles to the east. The newly opened Shed is also located in an up-and-coming neighborhood. In its case, however, the neighborhood is the upscale, Dubai-like Hudson Yards, dubbed by some as a “billionaire’s fantasy city,”some gated community in Singapore,” and, most apocalyptically, “the poster child for middle-class destruction.”

The concern here is that because it’s surrounded by multi-million-dollar condos and towering office buildings, the Shed may alienate the very segments of the population that it hopes to engage.

The Shed, which opened its doors earlier this year, has actively worked to dispel these concerns by providing discounted admission and recently launching an “Open Call” artist commissioning program dedicated to developing and presenting new works from artists based in New York City who have not yet received major institutional support. Open Call’s lead sponsor, TD Bank, will also fund a program that provides priority tickets to individuals who typically cannot afford them, including underserved families, residents of NYCHA public housing and students at Title 1 schools.

As for the Music Center, Moore said, “It’s not about imposing art onto the community, but engaging with the community and finding out what people want—it’s a dialogue…Regardless of one’s cultural heritage, economic, social background or physical ability, The Music Center Plaza is welcoming all.”

Donors have also been tackling the other component in the “accessibility” equation—financial barriers to access. A few months ago, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) board of trustees president Carolyn Powers announced a $10 million gift that will enable the museum to offer free admission. The new policy aligns with the MOCA’s “civic-minded” vision of removing financial barriers and making the museum more accessible, said director Klaus Biesenbach.

That’s a lot of accessibility for Los Angeles, a city that, as previously noted, is also experiencing a glut of museums thanks to a steady flow of funder dollars. Fortunately for the Music Center, Miscikowski and her fellow donors weren’t concerned about market saturation. Additional lead gifts to center’s campaign came from Lisa Specht, current chair of the Music Center, and vice chair Robert J. Abernethy. The plaza also received major grants from the Ahmanson Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the Rose Hills Foundation.

Loyal Hometown Donors

The Music Center’s fundraising success serves as a useful reminder that it takes more than a handful of billionaire patrons like Eli Broad, David Geffen, and Lynda and Stewart Resnick to cultivate the country’s hottest arts philanthropy scene. Los Angeles’ moment in arts philanthropy spotlight wouldn’t have been possible without relatively smaller gifts from less publicly renown donors like Miscikowski and her former husband Douglas R. Ring.

Miscikowski represented the 11th District on the Los Angeles City Council for two full terms from 1997 through 2005. Previously, she was an aide to Councilman Marvin Braude and the Executive Director of the Skirball Cultural Center. She served as the President of the Board of Harbor Commissioners under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, overseeing the Port of Los Angeles. She a member of the board of directors for economic development entity Genesis L.A. and the Hammer Museum, and sits on the UCLA’s School of Art & Architecture board of visitors.

Douglas R. Ring, who passed away in 2009, was an influential Los Angeles philanthropist and developer with extensive holdings in Marina del Rey. He founded the Ring Group, a real estate investment firm where Cindy has been general and managing partner since 2009, sat on a number of public boards, and was instrumental in rebuilding the Los Angeles Central Library after two arson fires. Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation, said Ring was “quiet as a philanthropist” but gave generously to a wide array of causes, particularly scholarships and programs benefiting inner-city children.

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