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Younes and Soraya Nazarian. Photo: Irfan Khan for the LA Times.

Nazarian Family Gifts CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center $17 Million

The Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge received a $17 million gift from first-generation Iranian immigrants Younes and Soraya Nazarian last Tuesday, Jeffrey Fleishman of the LA Times reports. The donation is the largest single arts gift ever awarded to the state’s university system.

Younes Nazarian, head of the Los Angeles–based Nazarian Enterprises, which invests in alternative energy, logistics technology, aerospace, and real estate, and his wife Soraya Nazarian, a sculptor who often works with Italian marble, fled their home in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution and migrated to California.

Four decades after the revolution, the Nazarians decided it was time to give back to their community. With their contribution to the 1,700-seat Valley Performing Arts Center, the couple hopes to boost the center’s visibility and strengthen its programming. Younes and Soraya’s daughter Sharon Nazarians, the president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, said, “Los Angeles is a very invigorating place to be in terms of art. It wasn’t always like that. When we first came from Iran, LA was not really well known as a mecca of the art world. But I think today we’re a serious player. The creativity California represents is penetrating the arts world.”

For Thor Steingraber, executive director of VPAC, the Nazarians’ commitment highlights the center’s status as a leading San Fernando Valley venue that showcases diverse programs that reflect the community. “The Nazarians are an immigrant family. That sentence means a lot,” said Steingraber. “It’s important and exciting to have a major donor who shares our values around the diversity of the American tapestry. The Valley is changing so quickly right now.”

The Nazarians have been longtime supporters of the Southern California art scene. Previously, they donated to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Skirball Cultural Center through the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation. The center at Cal State Northridge, which has staged performances by a variety of artists including Chinese classical pianist Yuja Wang, the Russian National Orchestra, and Mariachi Vargas and Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble, will be renamed the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, or “the Soraya” for short.

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