Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Music center in los angeles. shuttersv/shutterstock
Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Music center in los angeles. shuttersv/shutterstock

In Los Angeles, a performing arts mega-donor is digging deep to engage audiences and artists of color in the age of COVID-19.

Music industry legend Jerry Moss and his wife Tiny Moss gave the Music Center a $25 million gift to support three new program initiatives: an annual free summer concert at the newly named Jerry Moss Plaza, free and low-cost events, and a new partnership with community organizations to uplift artists, with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

The $25 million gift, the largest single contribution for programming that the Music Center has received in its history, comes a year after board chair Cindy Miscikowski and the Ring-Miscikowski/The Ring Foundation donated $12 million as seed funding for the launch of TMC Arts Fund, the center’s programming arm.

The Moss gift comes at a precarious time for performing arts organizations. The pandemic has compelled some funders to divert their attention away from the arts and toward urgent needs like public health, food and housing insecurity, and financial assistance for low-income families. Performing arts funders have also ramped up efforts to build a more inclusive sector as calls for racial justice continue to reverberate across the philanthropic world.

This donation aims to bridge these issues by laying out a potential role for the performing arts in a world transformed by the pandemic, while also giving greater voice to artists of color.

“Given its focus on reaching even more Angelenos with meaningful, relevant programs, the Music Center is well-positioned to realize our dreams for this gift,” said Tina and Jerry Moss in their announcement. “We are thrilled with the organization’s plans to not only… build capacity to deepen the cultural lives of L.A. residents, but also to pay it forward and help strengthen the ability of artists who don’t often have the chance to create and innovate due to lack of support.”

Performing Arts Funders in Retreat

In August, Inside Philanthropy surveyed a broad swath of philanthropy professionals—including development officers, foundation reps, donors, and consultants—to gauge their pandemic-era priorities and challenges. A total of 187 respondents worked in the performing arts, and their collective outlook ranged from the grim to the existential.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they’ve noticed “reduced funder interest and resources” as a result of the current shifting of funds for COVID and racial justice. Fourteen percent said the same is true as a result of a gradual trend over the years.

The Moss gift may provide such organizations with cause for cautious optimism. It suggests that loyal donors like Moss, who has been a Music Center supporter since 1968, won’t leave their beloved grantees high and dry, especially if audiences won’t be able to enjoy indoor performances without masks or social distancing until late 2021.

On the other hand, the Moss gift is something of an anomaly. Most arts organizations don’t have access to donors like Moss, whose net worth stands at approximately $800 million. To put this gift in context, the Mosses’ one-time $25 million commitment is $1 million shy of the combined 2014-2018 grantmaking of the sector’s 10th most generous music grantmaker, the William Penn Foundation, according to Candid data. The gift also represents almost a quarter of the $110 million raised by the New York Community Trust’s NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund, coming from 1,300 donors.

Prior to the Mosses’ commitment, the biggest single gift earmarked for programming to the center was in 2009, when Glorya Kaufman donated $20 million to create the “Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center” series.

An Emerging Funder Playbook

Inside Philanthropy survey respondents from the performing arts field cited “centering racial justice” as the strategy most worthy of “increasing attention and commitment from the philanthropic sector.” That finding poses a logical follow-up question: What are some effective ways to center racial justice across the performing arts sector?

A closer look at our recent arts and culture coverage suggests that a funder playbook is beginning to take shape. Some grantmakers are adopting more inclusive eligibility guidelines, while others are holding listening sessions with historically undercapitalized BIPOC organizations. Funders are encouraging grantees to tap into the expertise of local organizations with deep connections in the diverse communities they serve, while others are promoting intersectionality, an integrated approach where programming addresses social, economic and health issues affecting these audiences.

The Music Center appears to be following some of these strategies. Thanks to the Mosses’ gift, the center will establish the Music Center’s Partner Network Initiative, “co-designed with community partners, including those focused on health and wellness, which share the conviction that the arts can heal and transform lives,” reads the center’s press release. This initiative will “help ensure BIPOC artists have more opportunities to present their work at the Music Center and in neighborhoods across Los Angeles County.”

Deepening Civic Engagement

The Mosses’ gift will also enable the center to realize its goal of making the Jerry Moss Plaza—formerly the Music Center Plaza—a civic-oriented space. On the heels of last year’s $12 million gift from Miscikowski and the Ring-Miscikowski/the Ring Foundation, Music Center President and CEO Rachel S. Moore told the Los Angeles Times Deborah Vankin that the new TMC Arts Fund sought to “breathe life into our new vision of deepening the cultural lives of every resident of L.A. County.”

The center’s vision wasn’t “about imposing art onto the community,” Moore said, “but engaging with the community and finding out what people want—it’s a dialogue.”

The center plans to use a portion of the Mosses’ gift to purchase amenities like a state-of-the-art sound system for the outdoor, 35,000-square-foot Jerry Moss Plaza. Looking ahead, TMC Arts will share civic programs on the plaza’s LED screens, offering Angelenos a place to come together “in dialogue about civic issues and matters critical to one another, to the many communities in Los Angeles and to society overall,” according to the center. “That may include showing the latest political debates—of course, representing all sides of the political spectrum—town hall meetings, panels, talks and the like.”

In the announcement, Moore said the Mosses’ gift “makes it possible for the Music Center team to expand and deepen our work as a cultural anchor institution and to be a model for transformational change—to advance programming that is not only geographically, economically and culturally representative of L.A. County, but that also resonates in the hearts and minds of all Angelenos and meaningfully impacts their lives.”

Steady Support for L.A.-Based Organizations

The 85-year-old Moss grew up in the Bronx, received a degree in English from Brooklyn College, and served briefly in the Army before moving to Los Angeles to become a music promoter. Teaming up with Herb Alpert, the two formed A&M Records. Releasing artists such as Carole King, Joe Cocker and Peter Frampton, A&M became the world’s largest independent record label in less than a decade. Polygram purchased the company in 1989, netting Alpert and Moss a huge payday. Tina Moss is a psychotherapist, a health and relationship expert and the founder of LifeDr.com.

Moss has been relatively steady in his philanthropy over the last 25 years, having made between $1.5 and $2.5 million in grants through his and former wife Ann’s Moss Foundation nearly every year since 1990. The pair announced their divorce in 2017; Jerry married Tina two years later.

Moss’ giving has generally flowed to health, education, environment, animal welfare, and arts and cultural organizations located in Southern California. Previous grantees include the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Geffen Playhouse, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the University of Southern California, the Shoah Foundation and Painted Turtle, a camp for children with serious medical conditions.

Last year, Moss donated $1 million to UCLA’s Moss Scholars program, providing full scholarships to art and music students. “I have always believed that art and music are global in nature and transcend boundaries,” Moss said at the time. “From the beginning of the Moss Scholars program, it was important to me to help attract a diverse cohort of local and international students and give them the chance to learn at this great university and from each other.”

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