Having made his fortune through the fashion menswear company he founded, The Custom Shop, Mortimer was an outspoken advocate for the arts and dedicated philanthropist. The Levitt family was the primary benefactor of the original Levitt Pavilion in Westport, Conn., which opened in 1974 and transformed the town dump into a community gathering space for free outdoor concerts.
In 1999, the continuing success of the Levitt Pavilion in Westport inspired Mortimer to lay the groundwork for a national network of Levitt venues, so communities across the country could come together through the shared experience of free concerts under the stars. When Mortimer was 90, he sold his company (which included 70 Custom Shop retail branches nationwide) and transferred the proceeds to the Mortimer Levitt Foundation for the purpose of helping communities across America establish their own Levitt venues. He later passed on the reigns of the Foundation to his daughter, Liz Levitt Hirsch, to oversee its venture philanthropy program.
Mortimer passed in 2005 at the age of 98. In 2012, the Foundation was renamed the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation in honor of Mimi’s contributions to philanthropy and advancing the Levitt mission. Mimi passed in 2019 at the age of 97. Liz now serves as the Levitt Foundation Board President, and her brother, Peter Levitt, is a board member.
Over the past two decades, Levitt’s venture philanthropy model has expanded to become a national network of Levitt venues and Levitt AMP concert sites, each creating positive social impact and vibrancy in their communities. Mortimer’s long held belief that all people, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstance, should have access to the joy of free, outdoor music continues to inspire the work of the Foundation.
Both Levitt venues and the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards are community-driven and focus on transforming underused public spaces into thriving, inclusive community destinations where all feel welcome. Since 2003, grants totaling more than $20 million from the Levitt Foundation have supported Levitt venues and Levitt AMP concert sites across the country. To date, the Levitt Foundation has supported the development of nonprofit Levitt venues in nine cities, with four additional venues in development, and has provided funding to nonprofits presenting the Levitt AMP Music Series in over 50 small to mid-sized towns and cities.
The work of the Levitt Foundation also includes research, sharing Levitt’s impact and learnings with the field and at cross-sector convenings, and ongoing conversations with civic leaders and communities nationwide on the role of creative placemaking and arts investments to elevate overall well-being and create positive social and economic impact.
As the Levitt program evolves, the fundamentals remain based on Westport’s organic beginnings. Both Levitt Pavilion venues and the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards are community-driven and focus on transforming neglected public spaces into thriving community destinations where all feel welcome.
Since 2003, grants from the Levitt Foundation have brought Levitt Pavilion venues to seven cities. In its first year in 2015, the Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Series took place in 10 towns and cities, coast to coast. To date, the Levitt Foundation has awarded more than $3 million total to more than 50 communities across America through the Levitt AMP grant program, including the 33 communities that will present the 2023-2025 Levitt AMP Music Series.
On November 30, 2023, we announced the Levitt Foundation will spend down our assets by 2041—significantly increasing the Foundation’s ability to support free outdoor concerts and vibrant music ecosystems in more communities across America. The Foundation has become part of a growing movement in philanthropy to spend down assets at an accelerated rate, realizing that resources are most impactful when used to support the needs of communities today. By expanding our giving over the next two decades, the Levitt Foundation will help center free, live music in public spaces as a key driver for positive change, building social capital and economic vitality in communities.
With the success of The Custom Shop, New York-based Mortimer and Mimi Levitt begin spending their summers in Westport, Connecticut. In the coming years, their family grows and so does their embrace of philanthropy, leading to their support of a community-driven project in Westport that sets the stage for a big idea.