Levitt Foundation Announces Spend Down of $150 Million in Assets
to Build Movement for Free Concerts Across America

Social impact funder ramps up support for free, live concerts in public spaces nationwide
to foster equitable, healthy, and thriving communities.

MEDIA CONTACT: Chris Dzialo, chris@levitt.org | (213) 201-6120

LOS ANGELES (November 30, 2023)—The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, a social impact funder at the intersection of music, public space, and community building, today announced it will spend down its $150M in assets over the next two decades and will close its doors in 2041. This shift will significantly increase the Foundation’s ability to support thousands of free outdoor concerts in communities across America, fueling the movement for centering arts investments in public spaces as a key driver for positive change, building social capital and economic vitality in communities.

By becoming a “spend down” foundation and dedicating all financial resources to creative placemaking over the next two decades, the Levitt Foundation will deepen the impact of its giving at a time when many communities in our country are at a crossroads, with shifting industries, changing demographics, and increasing social isolation contributing to more divisiveness in our country. There is a pressing need for programs that foster social cohesion, create a sense of belonging, and increase community resiliency and economic opportunity, and the Levitt program of free concerts in underused spaces for social and economic impact is a proven model that is transformational for communities.

Fulfilling Mortimer’s Legacy

Born in Brooklyn in 1907 to immigrant parents of humble means, as a boy Mortimer Levitt would often visit the dazzling Luna Park on Coney Island where his father worked as a street vendor. Unable to afford admission to the park’s rides and shows, Mortimer would stand outside the gates of ticketed events and musical performances. These early childhood experiences inspired his later support of free outdoor music and belief in making the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of one’s ability to pay.

In 1937 Mortimer founded The Custom Shop, an affordable made-to-order menswear company, which expanded to multiple locations and made Mortimer a millionaire. He later leveraged this success and grew the family’s wealth through commercial real estate. Together with his wife, Mimi, the couple created the Levitt Foundation in 1966 to support the arts, culture, and education and became noted New York City philanthropists. As summer residents of Westport, Conn., they were approached by the local community in the early 1970s to support a project transforming the town dump into an outdoor amphitheater to present free concerts for the community, and it was there that the first Levitt Pavilion opened in 1974. In 1997, Mortimer sold The Custom Shop and put the proceeds from the sale into the Levitt Foundation, with the purpose of laying the groundwork for a national network of Levitt venues based on the Westport model.

Mortimer and Mimi’s daughter, Liz Levitt Hirsch, has carried that mantle forward and deepened the Foundation’s commitment to strengthening communities through music. A philanthropist over the past four decades in Southern California, serving on numerous nonprofit boards and supporting organizations that foster social justice and access to the arts, she became involved with her family foundation in 2000, championed its professionalization, and has been Board President of the Levitt Foundation since 2012. She led the first venture philanthropy effort to develop a Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, followed by Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles in MacArthur Park, serving as a founding board member for both organizations. Liz’s engagement with communities also helped bring the Levitt program to life in Arlington, Texas (2008), Memphis (2008), Bethlehem, Pa. (2011), and Sioux Falls, S.D. (2019).

“When my father handed me the reins of the Foundation, we knew free concerts would make a difference in communities,” said Levitt Hirsch. “Here we are two decades later in dozens of communities, seeing the incredible impact of this work. It’s fueling our decision to spend down.”

Currently, the Foundation supports nonprofits presenting free outdoor concert series in 45 communities coast to coast, from large cities like Los Angeles and Denver to rural communities, including across Appalachia, the Midwest, and the South. Grantees include seven Levitt venues—state-of-the-art outdoor performance spaces in large metro areas, each presenting between 40 to 50 free concerts per year—as well as 33 Levitt AMP concert sites that present 10 free concerts annually in small to mid-sized towns and cities. Community driven and designed to generate local support and additional investment, all Levitt programs are matching grants.

Reflecting its commitment to support access to live arts experiences, the Levitt Foundation also partners with nonprofits presenting inclusive music festivals and events. In addition, the Levitt Foundation commissions multi-year research and supports conferences and field-building initiatives that foster cross-sector collaborations, advance shared learning, and nurture an equitable arts and music ecosystem.

Becoming a Spend Down Foundation

The Levitt Foundation is a rarity amongst arts funders in deciding to become a spend down foundation. Traditionally, foundations are established to last in perpetuity, and in the U.S., foundations are legally obligated to spend only a minimum of 5% of their assets for charitable purposes each year. There is 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.

Conversations within the Levitt Foundation about transitioning to a spend down model began in 2019, sparked by turning away communities demonstrating strong potential for impact due to the Foundation protecting its principal, in keeping with the structure of limited giving to exist in perpetuity. The pandemic and racial reckoning of 2020 furthered these conversations.

“We were asking ourselves, what kind of foundation do we want to be? We had seen the dynamic impact of free Levitt concerts in towns and cities of all sizes, combined with research that informs how this work plays a key role in creating equitable, healthy, thriving communities. And yet, we were often saying ‘no’ to communities that made a compelling case. Holding back funds was creating a tension,” said Sharon Yazowski, CEO of the Levitt Foundation. “Recognizing positive interventions can have greater value today, than if delayed to when issues are compounded, we decided to become a spend down foundation.”

With this shift, the Levitt Foundation will increase the number of communities receiving grants for free concerts in public spaces and will continue to nurture the Levitt network with additional support, including capacity building and robust resources informed by the needs of grantees to ensure the sustainability of their series. The Foundation will also continue to support the efforts of Levitt venues as they work collaboratively with local funders and partners on long-term organizational sustainability within their communities.

Beyond the Foundation’s sunset, free Levitt concerts will continue—accelerating a movement that already spans over 40 towns and cities across the country with more than 650 free concerts this year and will grow significantly in the coming years. More than half of the communities no longer receiving Levitt funding continue to present free outdoor concerts; strong evidence that the Levitt Foundation’s funding is leveraged for sustained community support.

“A seed that is not planted cannot grow, so the Levitt Foundation will multiply our resources as a catalytic funder, sparking additional investments in communities across the country for enduring social impact,” Yazowski said. “While the Foundation will sunset is 2041, Levitt venues and concert sites are integral parts of community life, locally realized by dedicated individuals and organizations committed to their series flourishing for decades to come.”

Building the Movement

Recognizing the power of music to build community and foster civic engagement, the Levitt Foundation will expand its grantmaking by launching new creative placemaking programs and partnerships. The Foundation will broaden its support of nonprofits to help create vibrant and equitable music ecosystems across the U.S., with an emphasis on supporting organizations that center equity, diversity, and inclusion in their work.

The Foundation will also continue its investment in research that shows the impact of the arts in community development and place attachment, including how Levitt programs increase social capital in communities and contribute to economic vitality. Previous Levitt Foundation whitepapers demonstrate how consistent and inclusive free concerts in activated, open lawn settings—featuring a wide variety of music genres and cultural performances—create an ongoing community destination, connecting people to each other, creating a sense of belonging, and inspiring pride of place. With no front row or back row, Levitt concerts offer multiple opportunities for social connection. Audience members set up picnic blankets and lawn chairs—ready to relax with friends, get to know their neighbors, dance to the music, and cross paths with those they wouldn’t otherwise.

“Levitt is about creating places where everyone is welcome. Our nonprofit partners across the country show what’s possible when people of all ages and backgrounds come together through the power of free live music,” said Levitt Hirsch. “Music is the universal language and one of the most joyful ways for us to connect with one another and celebrate our shared humanity.”

About the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation

The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation is a private family foundation that exists to strengthen the social fabric of America. Through its commitment to creative placemaking, the Levitt Foundation supports the activation of underused public spaces—such as neglected parks, vacant downtown lots, and former brownfields—into welcoming, inclusive destinations where the power of free, live music brings people together to create more equitable, healthy, and thriving communities. The Foundation’s primary funding areas include Levitt venues and the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards. Both of these programs present free concerts in outdoor, open lawn settings featuring high-caliber talent in a broad array of music genres and cultural performances. Levitt venues and Levitt AMP concert sites attract people of all ages and backgrounds and reflect the character of their town or city, while benefitting from the framework and best practices of the Levitt program.

The Levitt Foundation invests in community-driven efforts that harness the power of partnerships and leverage community engagement. Levitt venue nonprofits and AMP grantees partner with other local nonprofits and community groups to inform programming, outreach and engagement, embodying the Foundation’s funding philosophy and core values to support projects that are inclusive, catalytic, and dynamic, and create connectedness and joy. Reflecting its ongoing commitment to self-reflection and contributing to the creative placemaking field, the Levitt Foundation invests in research to evaluate the social impact of Levitt programs in communities, which in turn informs the Foundation’s evolving philanthropic practice. Learn more at levitt.org.

Images available upon request.

MEDIA CONTACT: Chris Dzialo, chris@levitt.org | (213) 201-6120