Catalyst Adrienne Arsht

Safeguarding a More Resilient Future
Adrienne Arsht wearing a black, long-sleeved dress with bejeweled frog broach standing next to the Smithsonian logo
Adrienne Arsht celebrates the announcement of the Adrienne Arsht Community-Based Resilience Solutions Initiative at the Smithsonian on Oct. 25, 2022.
PHOTO Joyce N. Boghosian

Philanthropist and business leader Adrienne Arsht is a longtime supporter of arts and civic institutions in Miami, New York and Washington, D.C. Among the many organizations she has bolstered, she is founding chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation, a board director emerita of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and executive vice chair of the Atlantic Council, as well as chair emerita of TotalBank in Florida.

Arsht was the 11th woman admitted to the Delaware bar and was the first woman to work in the Trans World Airlines’ property, cargo and government relations departments.

In 2022, she made a $10 million gift to the Smithsonian to launch the Adrienne Arsht Community-Based Resilience Solutions Initiative, a program to advance conservation resilience and education. This contribution will fund a multiyear project to study the resilience and sustainability connecting complex tropical systems and the people who depend on them, and provide seed funding to further programs focused on resilience across the entire Smithsonian, including a virtual tour focused on resilience-themed objects and stories.


You like to give to “game changers.” How does this drive your philanthropy?
I like to get things done. When I see something that I think needs changing, that needs help and isn’t already in progress, that’s what I like to take on. Resilience is a popular word now, but back when I started, the word was rarely used.

What moment crystallized your connection to the Smithsonian and your vision for resilience?
The moment crystallized earlier this year while I was on a boat crossing the Panama Canal to visit the island of Barro Colorado, where the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is located. My host and guide was Ellen Stofan [Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian]. With my strong interest in Latin America, I was emotionally swept away by the concept of a research center in the middle of the canal, given what the canal has meant in American history and even more so globally today.

Your gift provides funding for the Adrienne Arsht Community-Based Resilience Solutions Initiative. What is your vision for its future?
This is the foundational gift for what I hope is a much larger project, where the focus on resilience will be expanded beyond the current projects. One part of the initiative that I’m excited about is the resilience tour throughout the entire Smithsonian, where the museums can include objects that represent resilience in science, history, culture and art. These will be available virtually so anyone in the world can tour the Smithsonian through objects and stories of resilience.

What gives you hope for the planet?
I’m an optimist so I assume that the planet will continue to spin. I don’t think we’ll just shut down. I am excited about the existence of the Smithsonian—every nook and cranny, every museum. The structure of the Smithsonian is so intellectually challenging, it’s impressive.

Published February 2023 in IMPACT Vol. 9 No. 1

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