They're One of America's Richest Families, With a Passion for the Arts

Last year, Edward C. Johnson III ceded control of Fidelity Investmentsone of largest mutual fund firms in the worldto his daughter Abigail Johnson, who now serves as president and CEO. 

We've written about the multifaceted Johnson philanthropy in the past; the family doles out money through several different outfits. In recent years, the Johnsons' main giving vehicle, the Edward C. Johnson Fund, has increased its giving. It held more than $300 million in assets and gave away around $82 million in 2013.

The Johnsons are famously low-key—and famously rich, too, with a combined net worth of worth more than $25 billion. 

The Johnsons don't say much about their philanthropy, but we know they care about the environment, have funded historical preservation societies (they're in New England after all), and support the arts. The Johnsons are big art collectors, and a common pattern we see is that wealthy collectors often end up as significant patrons of the arts. 

That's the case here, but with an interesting twist: The family has an entirely separate foundation dedicated to the arts.

Let me explain. By far the biggest recipient of arts funds over the years from the Johnson Fund has been the Brookfield Arts Foundation. Founded in 1999 by Johnson, the Brookfield Arts Foundation purchases art and then lends it to museums. The foundation had more than $260 million in assets as of the end of 2013, a huge jump from a few years go. We don't have 2014 data yet, but our bet is that Brookfield's assets are even larger now. This is quite a stash of arts cash that the Johnson family is building up here. And yet the foundation has no website or public presence.

It will be interesting to see what this organization does, especially now that Edward Johnson presumably has more time on this hands to focus on his philanthropic legacy. (Johnson himself is worth some $7 billion.) Is he planning some really big move that will put him on par with the top arts philanthropists of our time? 

Related: Edward C. Johnson Fund: Grants for Visual Arts 

Apart from Brookfield Arts, Johnson has been a trustee at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston since 1971. In recent years, the Museum of Fine Arts has received more than $4.5 million from the Johnson family through their fund.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts has also been a recipient of large funds and more than $20 million has gone to the museum. Other outfits receiving smaller sums include the Institute of Contemporary Art and the American Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based group that supports acquisitions, conservation, and research at Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Fidelity has three main offices in the U.K.

In recent years, the Furniture Society in North Carolina and International Netsuke Society, which has local U.S chapters in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, have received funds. The Johnson fund isn't just confined to the Boston area when making grants, though it does appear to be a preference. 

It's worth noting that Johnson's kids sit on the board of the fund, and given their father's age, they are sure to help pilot its giving going forward. What's less clear is how much family money is ultimately destined for philanthropy, and when.