Peter B. Lewis, Patron and Cultural Activist


The annals of Cleveland philanthropy are replete with the names of prominent local families, foundations and institutions whose generosity has had an enormous impact on the lives and well-being of the residents of northeastern Ohio. But until the last quarter of the 20th century, Cleveland's long tradition of charitable giving could never claim an individual benefactor with quite the hands-on approach of Peter Lewis.

Chairman of the insurance giant Progressive Corporation, a company founded in Cleveland in 1937 by his father, Joseph, Lewis has been more than just a supporter of causes or a giver of funds. Few other philanthropists, locally or nationally, have been so engaged with the objects of their benefactions, so willing to study problems and offer solutions, so eager to embrace the newand so demanding of concrete results.

It takes a strong leader to turn a little-known Midwestern insurance company selling just $6 million of policies every year into a $7 billion-plus giant of the industry. And Lewis's legendary determination and drivenot to mention a sense of certitude bordering on obstinacyare hallmarks of his philanthropic endeavors just as much as of his corporate career.


Regularly ranked among the top 10 individual philanthropic donors in the country, Lewis is a long-time supporter of the Democratic party and the American Civil Liberties Union (to which, some years ago, he made the largest individual contribution in the organization's history). But he has focused much of his philanthropy on two of his passions: art and higher education.

A devoted collector of modern art, he has been a generous patron of both the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art. More significantly, in the late 1960s he recognized the potential value and took a leading role in the founding of the New Gallery for Contemporary Art (now MOCA), a groundbreaking organization that would introduce the work of nationally known contemporary artists as well as local talents to generations of Cleveland audiences.

Lewis's hands-on approach to giving is even more apparent in his tenure as a trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, where he was the primary force behind the development of a new mission statement and improved governance structure for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, to accommodate its expanding programs and increasingly international profile. At Princeton University, his alma mater, he designated $35 million of a $55 million gift in 2000 to support and expand the nascent Institute for Integrative Genomics, a pioneering program intended to unravel the enigma of genetic function in living organisms.

For Clevelanders, perhaps the most visible evidence of Peter Lewis's characteristically personal approach to philanthropy can be seen on the campus of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). Lewis donated more than half of the $62 million cost of the new home of the university's Weatherhead School of Management (completed in 2002), an eye-popping building of unlikely waves and angles designed by his friend Frank O. Gehry, the internationally acclaimed architect. By championing the choice of a world-class architect to create a world-class structure, Lewis accomplished three objectives. For Clevelanders, he helped to create a landmark building in the heart of the city. For Weatherhead students, he added an enriching inspirational dimension to the educational process. For CWRU, he set a standard of excellence to which he fully expects the rest of the university to aspirenot only in its physical environment, but in the stature of its academic accomplishment. In effect, Lewis turned his gift into a challenge to exceland what more worthy end could a donor hope to achieve?

—Mark Gottlieb

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •