Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

The Leakey Foundation receives major gift from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts

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Ann and Gordon Getty, 1998. Photo by Bruce Forrester

SAN FRANCISCO- The Getty family’s philanthropic support of art and music is well known, but their passion for science may come as a surprise. 

Gordon Getty and his late wife, Ann Getty, shared a fascination with human origins and evolution. Ann Getty studied biological anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and participated in research expeditions in Ethiopia, Spain, and Turkey. In 1973, Ann and Gordon Getty joined as donors to The Leakey Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to funding human origins research and education. Gordon Getty became chair of the organization’s board of trustees in 1980, a position he still holds today. Ann and Gordon Getty’s son Billy Getty and their nephew Dr. Henry Gilbert, a paleoanthropologist, also volunteer on The Leakey Foundation’s board. 

“Ann viscerally understood the importance of human origins research and saw value in the pursuit of knowledge,” said Dr. Henry Gilbert, “she knew that by understanding our origins, we would better understand how to exist in the present.”

Installation view, the drawing room of Ann and Gordon Getty’s San Francisco featuring works from The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection. Photograph © 2022, Visko Hatfield

This October, more than 1,500 pieces of fine and decorative art, furniture, textiles, and jewelry from Ann and Gordon Getty’s collection were sold at a record-setting Christie’s auction, raising over $150 million for charity.

The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts donated the auction proceeds to six San Francisco Bay Area art and science organizations, including The Leakey Foundation. This gift is one of the largest and most significant in The Leakey Foundation’s 54-year history.

“We are grateful for this extraordinary gift from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts,” said Sharal Camisa Smith, Executive Director of The Leakey Foundation, “Their investment will have a lasting impact on our organization and the work we do.”

Gordon Getty with Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Biruté Mary Galdikas in conversation at a Leakey Foundation event in the 1970s. Photo: The Leakey Foundation Archive.

“Over his decades with The Leakey Foundation, Mr. Getty has helped fund thousands of research projects that have fundamentally altered our understanding of humanity,” said Camisa Smith. “He has also supported hundreds of scholarships and provided opportunities to aspiring scientists around the world. With this meaningful gift, we can propel our work forward, invest in scientific breakthroughs, expand educational opportunities, and do more to protect endangered primates and their habitats.”

“Curiosity about how humans came to be is nearly universal, and the study of our origins rewards those who dig deeply,” said Jeanne Newman, President of The Leakey Foundation. “Ann and Gordon and their family exemplify this intellectual curiosity. Much of what we know about human evolution today is due to Gordon Getty’s generous support of science. No single person has had as much impact on the study of human origins as he has.” 

“When I joined The Leakey Foundation board of trustees in 1973, scientists had identified four species of hominins, and today scientists have determined there are over 20,” wrote Gordon Getty in a statement for the Foundation’s 50th anniversary. “These discoveries inform our understanding of our origins, evolution, and behavior…Since Homo sapiens is the sole surviving human species, these clues might also provide a road map for our own survival. We may never find all the answers to our questions, but that does not mean we should not continue the search.”

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