How do you enrich any community in its arts and culture and transform it into a vibrant and caring area?

Traditionally in this country, with its tax laws, it’s been some individual making a lot of money in private business, then recognizing that he owes something to give back to the community. Based on the tax laws, this has usually meant the creation of a foundation to oversee the accumulated wealth of this individual, and determine how best to give his assets to improve his interests in philanthropic activities.

Part of the  Woodruff Foundation grant will fund a renovation of  the Alliance Theatre auditorium (TVSDesign)
Part of the Woodruff Foundation grant will fund a renovation of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre auditorium (TVSDesign)

All this came to mind last week when the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation announced that it would give $38 million to the Woodruff Arts Center, the largest gift in the Center’s 46 year history. Not only that, but the gift will begin an $82 million Art Center campaign to boosts its endowment by $50 million, and raise $32 million in capital improvements to the Center.

You don’t get announcements like that every day, if you are in Atlanta. Locally, Gwinnett County’s arts and culture charities have never had such a gift.

All this emphasizes what it takes to benefit any community’s culture: it takes people making money in private business, and having the capacity to realize that all this was not accomplished by them alone, but with the help of others, and therefore, they need to “give back” to the community. Without significant extremely successful business ventures in any area, there’s no financial wherewithal to make large cultural and charitable gifts.

That’s why the South, in particular, has been bereft of capital to benefit its geography. Compared to the industrial center of the North and Midwest, the South has suffered from lack of financial resources.

There are few foundations benefiting Gwinnett. The largest is the Scott Hudgens Family Foundation, with assets exceeding $100 million, which annually contributes about $5 million to cultural and charitable activities, mostly in Gwinnett.

The next largest foundation in the county would be the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia, which has $30 million in assets. We know of no more major large foundations in Gwinnett. (Other local foundations, such as the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation and Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation, are not in the same activity as private foundations, but set up mainly to receive donations to benefit that specific institution.)

But the point is that Gwinnett has few other private foundations awarding major grants.

Atlanta is a prime example of what it takes to have a major charitable foundation. The major Atlanta foundations came as a result of one product: Coca Cola, and its bottling companies. These foundations and their assets include:

  • The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation: $3.088 billion
  • The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, $1.302 billion
  • The Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation, $1,302 billion
  • The Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, $420 million

You can see how these four foundations, all run from basically one office, contribute mightily to Atlanta.

Individuals in business who realize they “owe back” have stepped up and given of their treasures to make life better for others. The top five foundations in the country and their assets are:

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: $37 billion
  • Ford Foundation: $11 billion
  • J. Paul Getty Trust: $10 billion
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: $9 billion
  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: $8 billion
  • For a list of the 100 largest foundations in the country, visit this site

Accumulating wealth is not easy, as we all know. But some people find ways to do it, and the good ones find ways to spread their wealth and improve communities.

Who’s ready to step up next?

Editor's Note: this story first appeared at the Gwinnett Forum.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,