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Seattle arts community get some welcome $9 million news

caption: Jane Lang Davis and Richard Lang, 1973
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Jane Lang Davis and Richard Lang, 1973
photo courtesy Lang Family Collection

Seattle’s beleaguered cultural community got some welcome news this week when the estate of the late art patrons Jane Lang Davis and Richard Lang announced awards totaling $9 million to nine different arts organizations.

Half of those gifts will endow the creation of new work. The rest can be used at the recipients’ discretion.

“My parents believed in legacy, and they believed in paying forward,” says Lyn Grinstein, Davis’ daughter. “We’re all enjoying the largesse of people who were here 100 years ago.”

Grinstein is president of the Friday Foundation, established after her mother's death in 2017 to carry out her desire to invest in the arts organizations she and her third husband, Lang, loved during their lifetimes.

Two of the foundation’s largest bequests, totaling $4 million, went to Seattle Art Museum, where both Davis and Lang were longtime board members. Half of that award was earmarked specifically for Covid relief.

Seattle Art Museum director Amada Cruz says the $2 million emergency donation is the single largest the museum received for pandemic relief. She says the gift sent the staff “over the moon.”

While Cruz is delighted by the foundation’s generosity to the museum, she’s equally pleased they decided to include so many of the city’s major arts groups in their giving plan.

“I think the beauty of this gift is that it gives support to such a big portion of the arts sector in town, which has been so hard hit,” Cruz says.

Seattle Opera, the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, and Pacific Northwest Ballet each received $1 million to fund creation of new works. Seattle Symphony received $1.5 million for the same purpose.

Symphony president Krishna Thiagarajan says part of the money will be used to “reimagine the concert experience,” in an era when live performances have been put on hold due to ongoing social gathering restrictions.

Lia Chiarelli, who oversees development and marketing for Pacific Northwest Ballet, says proceeds from the Jane Lang Davis and Richard Lang endowment will fund ballets by under-represented choreographers.

“Jane was an incredible friend to PNB,” Chiarelli says, “and we’re really grateful for this gift.”

But Chiarelli calls it an investment in the organization’s future, which is precarious. Like the symphony and other performing arts groups across the country, the ballet is closed to live audiences indefinitely.

“We have to survive this moment we’re in right now in order to utilize this gift,” Chiarelli says.

The Friday Foundation decided how to distribute funds long before the pandemic hit last spring. Grinstein says while her parents couldn’t have envisioned the economic devastation it wreaked on the cultural community, they would have strongly supported the investment in Covid relief efforts, especially her stepfather.

“He recognized that the healthy pillars of the cultural community were critical to the growth of a thriving civic environment,” Grinstein says. “He was passionate about that.”

The foundation also awarded unrestricted gifts of $100,000 each to Seattle Chamber Music Society, ACT Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, and $275,000 to Arts Fund for its Covid relief emergency fund.

Richard Lang and Jane Lang Davis, who remarried after Lang’s death in 1982, were both longtime, active supporters of Seattle arts organizations. In addition to their service on Seattle Art Museum’s board, Lang Davis helped establish Pacific Northwest Ballet and served on its board for four decades.

During their marriage, the couple amassed what experts call a “significant” collection of mid-20th century art, centered on Abstract Expressionism. The Friday Foundation now owns this collection; some of the work was sold at auction to fund the $9 million awarded this week. According to Grinstein, the foundation will announce what it intends to do with the balance of the collection in early 2021.

Ultimately, Grinstein hopes what she calls the “forever gifts” to Seattle arts organizations will inspire a new generation of philanthropists, especially among the many newcomers to the Seattle area.

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