The $5 million that MacKenzie Scott donated to the Museum of Chinese in America isn’t the biggest gift that Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced in her latest philanthropy blitz Tuesday. But, to the museum, it feels like a game changer.
In her third round of charitable giving, Scott wrote in a Medium post Tuesday that she gave out $2.74 billion to 286 organizations across America, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Apollo Theater, Ballet Hispánico, and numerous other New York City cultural institutions.
“This monumental gift enables us to cement our mission and legacy for years to come, ensuring the health and future of our organization, which has been recognized as one of America’s Cultural Treasures,” Ballet Hispánico tweeted, though they did not disclose the amount of the gift.
Scott wrote that she and her team “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.”
Scott’s personal wealth has continued to increase to an estimated $60 billion during the pandemic because of Amazon’s rising stock prices despite her giving away nearly $6 billion last year, according to the New York Times.
For MOCA president Nancy Yao Maasbach, that unrestricted $5 million is a game-changer for the small non-profit museum in Chinatown whose annual budget is about $2.8 million.
She was first notified about two months ago of the donation but Scott’s representatives told her to keep it a secret until Scott announced it herself.
“I kept calling it Willy Wonka in my head,” Maasbach said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The gift comes as MOCA is recovering from a devastating January 2020 fire that damaged its archival space in Chinatown, as well as creating programming to address the rise in anti-Asian rhetoric and bias attacks in the midst of the pandemic. And the museum is trying to move to a larger space than its current home on Centre Street, which Maasbach said would be a $180 million project.
Maasbach said she was struck by how well Scott’s representatives seemed to understand MOCA’s mission. “They see us, they see the work that we do, they see the mission, they see the complexity,” she said.
And aside from the value of the donation itself, Maasbach said it lends more weight to the museum’s reputation, its ability to fundraise and to get bank loans. “For a small cultural (organization) that has a small annual budget and basically had no balance sheet, something like this also changes the way other people see us,” she said.
“This is the best professional news I’ve received in my life,” Maasbach added.