With assets of more than $270 million, the Windgate Charitable Trust is one of the country’s largest foundations that exclusively gives money to other organizations. All out of a modest office suite located off Ranch Drive in west Little Rock.
Better known as the Windgate Foundation, the organization, once based in Siloam Springs, has since made the move to central Arkansas and Patricia Forgy has been its executive director since September of last year.
“I have known about Windgate for many years,” Forgy says, “and am deeply honored to be involved with an organization that supports art education programs, contemporary craft and visual arts, and programs for disadvantaged children in our state.”
The foundation made headlines in January when it was announced they were donating $20 million to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway for the new Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts, along with scholarships to art students.
Windgate is supported by donations of Wal-Mart stock and has given $751 million to the arts since it was founded in 1993.
It has also given recent notable gifts in the arts to other universities around Arkansas such as Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Arkansas-Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and $40 million to the University of Arkansas in 2017.
That’s all part of the mission, Forgy says.
“We feel supporting art is vitally important because simply experiencing art connects people more deeply to the world and opens them to new ways of seeing,” she says. “This can help create the foundation to build social bonds, cultural awareness and empathy. An entire community can benefit from the positive impact of the arts, both socially and economically. Crystal Bridges is a great example of an art organization affecting an entire region in a very positive way.”
Windgate partnered with the art museum to fund a distance education project for the arts through the Arkansas Department of Education.
The American Art museum just off the square in Bentonville, has become a destination for the arts and is entirely the creation of Alice Walton, who funded its construction and ongoing operations. Walton, born in Newport, is the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and is the world’s wealthiest woman with an estimated net worth of $46 billion.
“The projects you see on campuses across that state are actually the result of many years of relationship-building and getting to know both the leadership and art programs at those institutions,” Forgy adds. “It may seem like they’re happening in rapid succession but each request that comes to us is unique and is considered separately.”
Inside Philanthropy, a magazine and website devoted to philanthropy says about Windgate, “this foundation prioritizes craft arts, which is a very rare niche funding area.”
“It is well known that an arts-integrated education has a tremendously positive effect on student success,” Forgy says. “Those students who have art included in their curriculum learn valuable skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, self-expression, coping with failure and collaboration with others. These skills help all students, whether they continue in an arts-based education or go on to other fields.”
That’s very similar to the mission of North Little Rock’s Thea Foundation, and Windgate donated a $500,000 matching grant to fund scholarships for students pursuing careers in the arts.
Robyn Horn, a wood sculptor and painter in Little Rock, serves on the Windgate Foundation board and says the organization is unique because, “everybody on the board is an artist. So that artist’s eye and vision goes into Windgate’s decision making.”
“The art programs speak for themselves,” Forgy says. “We simply lend support to the good work they are doing. With funding for the arts declining, we feel the work we do is more important now than ever before. Art is simply a form of communication and has an important place in our culture and our lives. It helps to teach us our history, expand our viewpoint and enhances brain function and well-being.”
Other notable Arkansas-based foundations supporting the arts:
Rob and Melani Walton Foundation
Walton Family Foundation Inc.
Harriet and Warren Stephens Family Foundation
North Little Rock