From Legal Trouble to Arts Revival: A Bay Area Funder Bounces Back

SFMOMA was among koret's recent grantees. photo: EQRoy/shutterstock

SFMOMA was among koret's recent grantees. photo: EQRoy/shutterstock

Big changes are afoot at the Koret Foundation, and Bay Area and Jewish organizations will want to pay attention. Things have been publicly quiet with this funder for a while following a legal battle involving grants that were allegedly made outside the scope of the foundation’s mission and other allegations.

When we first covered this topic a little over a year ago, we were a little concerned about how the Koret Foundation—a sizable funder with more than $600 million in assets—would recover and reestablish itself in the Bay Area philanthropy scene. In addition to the misguided grant allegations, there were also some sexual harassment claims and conflicts of interest thrown in the mix. Ted Taube and Susan Koret stepped down from the board in fall 2016, and leadership has been shifting ever since.

Fast-forward to December 2017, when the Koret Foundation reemerged from the shadows and came out swinging with a new $10 million arts and culture commitment. Back in 2016, the funder made a $50 commitment to higher education institutions in the Bay Area, but this time around, it was all about the arts.

This is very locally focused arts grantmaking. The grants came out of a new arts and culture initiative that was created to adjust to the changing landscape of cultural participation in the region. Essentially, this translates into themes of equity and diversity, with efforts to expand access to the arts and draw in more diverse audiences. These are themes we're seeing a lot these days in arts funding world. But there’s also a refreshing capacity-building component to Koret’s new initiative and hopes that future funding will help arts organizations stabilize and become more resilient for the long-term.

“We believe that in a time of great change in the nonprofit cultural sector, it is important to support bold ideas that catalyze innovation and build the next generation of artists and art enthusiasts,” said Dr. Michael J. Boskin, president of the Koret Foundation.

Some of these ideas are coming from new major grantees like SFJAZZ, San Francisco Ballet, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Oakland Museum of California, San Francisco Opera, Stanford Live, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here, as elsewhere, legacy arts organizations are under a lot of pressure to step up their game—especially when it comes to connecting with diverse new audiences. Forty-two small and mid-size arts and culture organizations are also seeing Koret’s support right now, and a main focus is piloting and expanding arts education programs.

A majority of the new grants were between $150,000 and $1 million each, with the biggest grants going to arts education causes. For example, million-dollar grants went to the San Francisco Symphony to expand its Music and Mentors program and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to support a K-12 arts education program and a new intern program. Meanwhile, $2 million went to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for a renovation and expansion capital campaign.

If you’re looking for more information on where Koret Foundation funding is headed next, you’ll have to wait a little longer. The foundation is in the process of launching a new website, so we’ll be circling back to Koret’s broader priorities and strategies in the near future.

But from what we can tell, Bay Area anchor institutions and Jewish community activities will still be at the heart of what the Koret Foundation does going forward. Since its founding in 1979, Koret has awarded over $500 million in grants.