Entertainment Industry Dominates Perceptions of L.A. Philanthropy

While New York and Los Angeles both have a large number of nonprofit organizations and foundations, along with abundant wealth and complex social problems, the perception of philanthropy in L.A. is largely shaped by the city's love affair with celebrity, the New York Sun reports.

In Los Angeles, "celebrities are the draw; in New York, wealthy people are the draw," said entertainment journalist Zoe Alexander, who has worked in both cities. It's a view shared by many. "There are so many events supporting so many charities [in L.A.], it starts to feel like just another party," said Alesandra Dubin, the bureau chief for the trade publication BizBash. "You forget what the event is raising money for."

One of the best-known organizations connecting Hollywood to philanthropy is the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which awards small grants to more than three hundred L.A.-area nonprofits. The organizations behind the popular entertainment award shows are another conduit for the city's philanthropic dollars. The Academy Awards will spend more than $10 million this year through its Academy Foundation on artists' grants, cultural programs, and a public film archive. Meanwhile, the Golden Globe awards, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, will award grants totaling $1.2 million to a variety of nonprofit groups, including the California School for the Arts, the L.A. Latino International Film Festival, the Ghetto Film School in the Bronx, and Columbia University's film school.

Still, many Los Angelenos argue that the centrality of the entertainment business to the city's philanthropic landscape is a misperception. Aside from high-profile donors such as David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, some of the city's best-known philanthropists, including Eli Broad, Michael Milken, Richard Atlas, and Peter Norton, made their fortunes in other fields. "In L.A., philanthropy is not totally driven, as everyone seems to think, by the entertainment industry," said Judy Berk, West Coast head of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. "Some of the best work is going on at nonprofits nobody has ever heard of."

And in an era of globalization, when New York City-based foundations are playing a major role in rebuilding New Orleans and the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve public health in the developing world, the whole notion of philanthropy as a regional phenomenon may just be passé.

"Donors here are like donors all over the world," said Berk. "They're scratching their heads and thinking about how best they can make a difference."

A.L. Gordon. "To Live & Give In L.A.." New York Sun 01/15/2007.