William Davidson Foundation gives $6.5M to 2 Detroit cultural institutions

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The William Davidson Foundation has donated $6.5 million in grants to two of Detroit's most renowned cultural institutions in memory of the brother-in-law and sister of the foundation's founder.

Byron and Dorothy Gerson were longtime supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which will receive $5 million, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which will receive $1.5 million, the William Davidson Foundation announced Wednesday. Dorothy Gerson, who died in April last year, sat on the DIA's board and the DSO's development committee. Dorothy and her late husband also funded and donated the acquisition of several pieces for the DIA's collection.

"These grants, in memory of my mother and father, are a reflection of both family and Foundation priorities,” said Ralph Gerson, treasurer and director of the William Davidson Foundation, in a press release.  “My mother and my uncle had a very close relationship throughout their lives, going back to their time growing up as children living in the city of Detroit. Together, they were introduced to world-class art, music, and creative talents beginning at a young age. It was important to them that families across the region enjoy similar experiences for generations to come.” 

Visitors look at industry murals by artist Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts on Friday, February 14, 2020. The museum recently received a $5 million grant from the William Davidson Foundation.

The grants are the latest boost to the DIA and DSO as both organizations work to build their endowments. In November last year, the William Davidson Foundation also gave $5 million to the Michigan Opera Theatre, its largest gift ever, to put toward programming and much needed updates to the Detroit Opera House.

Along with building its endowment, the DIA plans to use its $5 million gift to support the museum’s American Art department and its curator position, which will now be named the Byron and Dorothy Gerson Curator and Department Head of American Art. It also plans to create a new lecture series in 2023 that will bring experts on 20th and 21st century American art to Detroit for free events.

Salvador Salort-Pons, the DIA's director, president and CEO, called the Gersons "dedicated and passionate leaders" who were generous in supporting the museum over the last 40 years.

The DIA and the DSO are getting $6.5 million in grants from the William Davidson Foundation.

"We are grateful for this new gift from the William Davidson Foundation that will help continue the work that Bud and Dottie loved so much, and allows us to commemorate their legacy in the art world," said Salort-Pons in a press release.

The William Davidson Foundation was founded in 2005 by Davidson — the former owner of the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Shock and Tampa Bay Lightning — to support causes he cared about. He died in 2009.

The DSO said the $1.5 million gift, to build up its endowment, will help attract and retain top musicians and guarantee education and youth programs in the future.

“My father and my aunt grew up going to youth concerts at the DSO, which created memories that lasted for their lifetimes,” said Ethan Davidson, grants committee chair and director of the William Davidson Foundation. “Our family and Foundation’s commitment to music in Detroit spans three generations of our family and we want to maintain that in my aunt’s memory.”