Houston Billionaires Unite

Two Houston billionaires spearhead $330 million museum push — right before the oil bust

Houston billionaires spearhead $330 million museum push pre oil bust

News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Cornelia Long, Lynn Wyatt, Jan. 2015
Major donors Cornelia Long, from left, Lynn Wyatt and Rich and Nancy Kinder at the MFAH luncheon announcing the new $450 million project. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Courtney Sarofim, Gary Tinterow, Jan. 2015
Courtney Sarofim and Gary Tinterow in the midst of the exhibition of the expansion plans. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Brady Carruth, Zane Carruth, , Jan. 2015
Brady and Zane Carruth, left, with Amy Purvis and BBVA Compass Bank CEO Manolo Sánchez at the MFAH luncheon. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Rich Kinder, Ed Emmett, Jan. 2015
Rich Kinder, from left, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and MFAH director Gary Tinertow discuss the new master plan. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, guests view model, Jan. 2015
Guest admiring plans for the MFAH's new Fayez S. Sarofim Campus. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts, dinner, Jan. 2015
Bobby and Phoebe Tudor at the MFAH announcement dinner that followed the luncheon activities. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Michelle Hevrdejs, Frank Hevrdejs, Jan. 2015
Michelle and Frank Hevrdejs at the MFAH expansion announcement dinner. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Wally Wilson, Jeanie Kilroy Wilson, Jan. 2015
Wally Wilson and Jeanie Kilroy Wilson at the MFAH expansion announcement dinner. Photo by Jenny Antill
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Cornelia Long, Lynn Wyatt, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Courtney Sarofim, Gary Tinterow, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Brady Carruth, Zane Carruth, , Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Rich Kinder, Ed Emmett, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, guests view model, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts, dinner, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Michelle Hevrdejs, Frank Hevrdejs, Jan. 2015
News, Shelby, Museum of Fine Arts donor dinner, Wally Wilson, Jeanie Kilroy Wilson, Jan. 2015

Move over Texas Medical Center and Rice University. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has successfully tapped into some of the city's deepest pockets for the Fayez S. Sarofim Campus expansion, revealing a generous spectrum of bold support for the arts.

While philanthropic largesse in Houston has been most heavily directed to medical and educational institutions, this week's announcement of the $450 million expansion and redesign, affirms the MFAH at the top tier of fundraising. In this campaign, the museum received 41 gifts of $1 million or more with lead gifts coming from billionaire Sarofim at $70 million and the Kinder Foundation, led by billionaire Rich Kinder, at $50 million.

Traditionally, it has been M.D. Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital and Rice University that have boasted the eight-figure gifts. Not to be overlooked, however, is Caroline Wiess Law's monumental $450 million bequest to the museum following her death in 2004.

 "We have achieved something extraordinary." — Gary Tinterow 

"I'm really thrilled and somewhat surprised," said museum director Gary Tinterow. "I come from Houston. I know about Houston philanthropy. I know about Houston's atmosphere when a group of like-minded individuals come together and what they can achieve . . . we have achieved something extraordinary."

In only two years, the campaign raised $330 million with eight contributions of $10 million or more. Count Cornelia and Meredith Long, the Alfred C. Glassell family and Lynn and Oscar Wyatt in that group that included the Brown Foundation Inc., the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, the Duncan Foundation, the Cullen Foundation and the Wortham Foundation as those generous donors.

Museum development director Amy Purvis noted that with the two lead gifts, it was clear "that we could make this a reality. And from there we were off and running. From there, it inspired everyone else. We were, for a while, just amazed at the numbers that were coming in from these conversations that we had."

 "I don't think that this oil downturn is permanent . . . but I'm just very happy that we have been so successful so far." 

Earlier this week, just before the official announcement of the project, BBVA Compass Bank came on board with at $5 million gift, the largest corporate gift of the campaign. Attending the announcement luncheon, Manolo Sánchez, BBVA Compass CEO, explained, "We believe art really changes people's lives and we think that part of building the infrastructure for a city like Houston around art, not just seeing it but also being able to nurture the artists and create an environment where artistic talent can be prosperous is part of it."

With Tuesday's announcement, the fundraising for the additional $120 million began in earnest. But that effort could be hampered by oil's swan dive from more than $100 a barrel last spring to a global benchmark today of under $50.

MFAH board chairman Kinder commented, "I don't think that this oil downturn is permanent. But I think the fact that you have lower costs is going to have a negative impact. We have a more diversified economy than we've had in the past but energy is still a big component of the city. So I'm just very happy that we have been so successful so far." 

While Tinterow shared that his fellow museum directors have been in awe ("dropping their jaws") at the recent fundraising successes, he acknowledged that falling oil prices could have an effect. "That will definitely have an impact and that is something that we are bracing ourselves for," he said, optimistically adding, "I think that Houston's philanthropic community and its generous spirit will triumph over even the price of oil."