Friday, April 24, 2015
How Big Foundations Saved the Detroit Institute of Art
It all started with Gerald Rosen, the judge who was mediating between the city and its creditors. He called in an all-star squad of foundation presidents—the newly appointed chief of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker; Kresge Foundation head Rip Rapson; the Knight Foundation's Alberto Ibargüen; and the Kellogg Foundation's La June Montgomery Tabron—and made a jaw-dropping proposal: All they had to do was come up with more money than any group of foundations ever had.
At first the chiefs balked. As Walker told the museum after an earlier request, "Foundations fund the future. They don't pay for the mistakes of the past." But Walker had come from the Rockefeller Foundation, where he had led the post-Katrina recovery program in New Orleans, and the situations seemed similar; many described Detroit's prolonged decline as a slow-motion Katrina.
The second time they convened, Rosen's idea didn't sound so outlandish. Walker was the first to pledge a historic amount—$100 million, which his board soon raised to $125 million—and Rapson, at Kresge, followed suit with $100 million. Soon the foundations had pledged a total of more than $366 million....