SEATTLE — The 20th annual American Graffiti Festival, hosted in Modesto, California, serves to honor filmmaker George Lucas’s philanthropy and his first popular and critical success with the film “American Graffiti.”
Success of “American Graffiti” Inspires Lucas’s Hometown to Give Back
Lucas was born and raised in Modesto on a walnut farm and chose his hometown as the setting for his first major film. The movie follows a group of friends as they drive around town on the last night of summer, which he based on his own experiences as a teenager. “American Graffiti” was a major success and was nominated for five Oscars in 1974, including Best Picture and Best Director.
As the movie has become a classic, it has grown more beloved to the people of Modesto, who continue to honor the film every year at the festival. The festival kicks off every year with a parade featuring classic cars and then showcases the vehicles throughout the weekend.
All the proceeds of the festival are donated to 37 local organizations, including the Stanislaus Education Foundation, the Haven Women’s Center and the Children’s Crisis Center. Judy Herrero, a member of the North Modesto Kiwanis Club, which puts on the festival, told The Borgen Project, “Our goal is not to have money in the bank but to give it back to the community immediately.”
George Lucas’s Philanthropy Supports Education
In the same way the festival gives back, Lucas does the same. As he has amassed his fortune over the years through films like “American Graffiti” and “Star Wars”, Lucas’s philanthropy has become a prominent part of who he is and what he does.
In 2012, when Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4.05 billion, he made a commitment to donate the majority of the profits to charity. This incredibly generous pledge is not a surprise, given that in 2010 Lucas joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, agreeing to give away at least half of his fortune in his lifetime.
Lucas has made it clear that his biggest priority as a philanthropist is education, opining that the ability to educate and adapt “is the key to the survival of the human race.” Lucas founded his own educational foundation, Edutopia, in 1991 and aims to illuminate what is working in education and how educators can best apply strategies to the classroom. The organization also conducts research in order to identify practices for schools, teachers and students that have a constructive influence on learning and lifetime success. The grand goal of Edutopia is a revitalized educational system where students are encouraged to be creative and innovative thinkers and all people are empowered to make education the best it can be.
Lucas has also supported education through his other nonprofit, the George Lucas Family Foundation. In 2017, Lucas donated $10 million to the University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program, having already donated the same amount a few years prior. The money is earmarked for the George Lucas Family Foundation Endowed Student Support Fund for Diversity, which financially supports underrepresented students through college. With the help of donors like Lucas, USC is able to help all qualified applicants afford an education.
As “American Graffiti” continues to be celebrated and honored, Lucas’s philanthropy will remain a constant force for good in the world.
– Sarah Dean