For these 5 L.A. community groups, a $50-million windfall from MacKenzie Scott

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26, 2019: Kristen Johannesen, Olivia Ramos and her mother Dora Magaña, from left, work on paper mache skulls for Day of the Dead at the Self Help Graphics Community Arts Workshop. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Kristen Johannesen, left, Olivia Ramos and her mother, Dora Magaña, work on papier-mâché skulls for Day of the Dead at a Self Help Graphics & Art community workshop in 2019. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Theater company East West Players, community arts center Self Help Graphics & Art, the Japanese American National Museum, the California Community Foundation and Homeboy Industries: These Los Angeles organizations are among those receiving transformative gifts from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who announced Tuesday that she and her husband had given $2.7 billion to 286 groups.

In a blog post titled "Seeding by Ceding," Scott announced the recipients of her latest round of funding including arts and culture organizations, social justice nonprofits and two- and four-year colleges and universities with students from underserved communities. Scott, who is Jeff Bezos' ex-wife, has donated $8.5 billion in less than a year after pledging to give away most of her wealth. Among the California organizations that received grants were Long Beach City College, Pasadena City College, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Alonzo King Lines Ballet.

"These are people who have spent years successfully advancing humanitarian aims, often without knowing whether there will be any money in their bank account in two months," Scott wrote.

The Japanese American National Museum in downtown L.A. received $10 million, the largest single gift in the organization's history. Opening to the public in 1992, the Little Tokyo museum was created to share and celebrate the Japanese American experience.

“After a year that profoundly challenged the museum, the nation and the Asian community, we are deeply grateful for this landmark gift and to Ms. Scott for her generosity and visionary support for organizations across the country which are focused on achieving social impact in their communities,” said Ann Burroughs, president and chief executive, in the museum's announcement.

For East West Players, one of the nation’s largest Asian American theater companies, Scott's multimillion-dollar gift is the largest in its 56-year history, artistic director Snehal Desai said via email. Desai did not specify the amount but said the donation is larger than EWP's annual operating budget, which was more than $1.4 million in 2018.

In her blog post, Scott wrote that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, plus "a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisors — we are all attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change. In this effort, we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others."

Over the first few months of 2021, Scott and her team identified and evaluated "equity-oriented nonprofit teams working in areas that have been neglected."

That list included Self Help Graphics & Art, which was founded during the 1970s Chicano movement and has long nurtured Latino artists. The nonprofit received $1 million from Scott.

“To be on the radar of philanthropists of this level and be gifted alongside wonderful organizations doing the grassroots work in their communities is an honor,” Betty Avila, Self Help's executive director, said in the group's announcement.

The California Community Foundation received $20 million, a gift that will be used toward the L.A. Arts Endowment Fund to support small and midsize arts organizations. Earlier this year, the foundation was part of a network of funders that created the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund, which awarded more than $36 million to 90 arts organizations across the county struggling through the pandemic.

Homeboy Industries, the organization that helps formerly incarcerated and gang-involved people find jobs, plans to use its $20-million donation to establish an operating reserve, develop housing options for program participants and create additional jobs through expanding its social enterprises, including catering, electronics recycling and a diner at L.A. City Hall.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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