Nancy Susan Reynolds (1910-85), whose father founded the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, established the Arca Foundation in 1952 as the Nancy Reynolds Bagley Foundation. In 1968 the Foundation changed its name to Arca—the Italian word or “ark,” to evoke an image of “a vessel affording safety and protection.” It was around this time that Arca, like many other U.S. foundations, took a decidedly leftward turn ideologically and began to earmark numerous grants for radical environmentalist groups.
In the 1980s Arca expanded its philanthropy to include also a number of anti-corporate, pro-Sandinista, and pro-Fidel Castro organizations among its grantees. For instance, the foundation awarded numerous grants to groups opposed to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. In 2000 a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, an anti-Castro organization, said: “Arca is a walkup window for free checks passed out to any and all comers with an ideological ax to grind against U.S. policy on Cuba.”
Today Arca’s mission is to “advanc[e] social equity and justice, particularly given the growing [economic] disparities in our world.” Toward that end, the foundation seeks to use its financial resources to “affec[t] public policy” by “empower[ing] the experts on the front lines” to make a cogent case for a variety of leftwing agendas. For instance, Arca supports such policies as widespread wealth redistribution, increased funding for failing public schools, tax hikes on high earners, the implementation of a government-run healthcare system, and a ban on capital punishment.
Ever since the U.S. financial crisis of 2008, Arca’s chief domestic concern has been “the promotion of a more equitable, accountable, and transparent economic recovery”—an objective that, according to the foundation, has been hindered by “the increasingly dominant role of corporations in our Democracy.” To address this matter, Arca directs much of its philanthropy toward projects and organizations that seek to create “a more just economy and Democracy” as well as “greater corporate accountability”—i.e., the idea that a company should have social-welfare goals that take precedence over concerns about profitability.
Internationally, Arca has long viewed America as an antagonist on the world stage. Thus the foundation boasts of its own “long history of supporting policy advocacy that advances more just U.S. foreign policies and human rights.”
Smith Bagley (born 1935), the son of Nancy Reynolds Bagley, served as the Arca Foundation’s president until his death in 2010. He was succeeded by his daughter, Nancy Bagley, who: (a) had been a staffer with the Clinton–Gore presidential campaign of 1992; (b) had worked on the healthcare initiative in the early Clinton White House; and (c) was a trustee on the board of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Perhaps the Arca Foundation’s most noteworthy asset is Musgrove, a secluded, 600-acre estate on St. Simons Island, Georgia, which Nancy Susan Reynolds purchased with her inherited wealth in 1938. Reynolds and her husband subsequently built six houses on the property. For many years, Arca has made this estate available, on an invitation-only basis, for use as a retreat by progressive policy-makers and activists. President Jimmy Carter, for one, held his first pre-inaugural Cabinet meeting at Musgrove in December 1976. To view a list of noteworthy organizations that likewise have made use of Musgrove’s facilities over the years, click here.
The Arca Foundation’s best-known, present-day board member is Margery Tabankin, a New Leftist who studied community organizing at Saul Alinsky‘s Industrial Areas Foundation and is currently a leading figure with the Barbra Streisand Foundation and Steven Spielberg‘s Righteous Persons Foundation. Other Arca board members have had close ties, past and present, with such entities as the AFL-CIO, Mother Jones magazine, People For the American Way, and Progressive Strategies LLC.
Arca’s current executive director, Anna Lefer Kuhn, once served as a program officer at George Soros’s Open Society Institute. She is also an advisory board member with the Youth Engagement Fund, a project she initiated through the Democracy Alliance in 2008.
Of Arca’s former executive directors, the most prominent was Donna Edwards, a staunch supporter of the (now-defunct) community organization ACORN. Edwards today is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she has served since 2008.
From 1952-2007, Arca distributed grants totaling more than $50 million to over 1,700 organizations. One notable recipient of Arca funding is the Center for International Policy. For a list of many additional key grantees of this foundation, click here.
For additional information on the Arca Foundation, click here.
 For example, Arca lauds the success of one of its grantees, the Illinois Death Penalty Education Project, in helping persuade Illinois Governor George Ryan in 2000 to declare a moratorium on executions in his state, thereby sparing the lives of some 167 death-row inmates.