Costa family to give $1 million to Gallo center

Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa and his family will donate $1 million to the Gallo Center for the Arts. The contribution, announced Monday, will be used to provide tickets for low-income students and to underwrite the costs of low-income young people performing at the Modesto center.

"Our family's main charitable contributions have been with those that are less fortunate," said Costa, who along with his wife, Denise, grew up on Modesto's less affluent west side. "That's always been the the soft spot for us."

Costa said he hopes to inspire other donors to contribute toward increasing low-income access to the arts. He encouraged donations of $10 to $20.

The Costa family's contribution is one of the larger private donations the Gallo Center has received, second to big-time contributors the Gallos, the Rogers family (namesake for the center's 1,250-seat theater) and the Foster family (namesake for the 444-seat theater). The plaza in front of the center will be named after the Costa family, said Ron Emerzian, chairman of the center's board.

"It's very exciting," Emerzian said. "During these economic situations right now, this obviously helps to support part of our mission and goal to make certain that arts are there for all."

The money will not be applied as matching funds toward the $1.5 million challenge grant offered last month by E.&J. Gallo Winery and the Rogers family. The challenge grant is to reduce the Gallo Center's operating deficit; the Costa donation is earmarked to increase access for low-income students.

Lynn Dickerson, the center's chief executive officer, said she would like to use the donation to bring more junior high and high school students to see performances. The center already welcomes many elementary school students.

She is considering partnering with organizations such as The Salvation Army's Red Shield Center and the Youth Entertainment Stage (YES) Company to provide arts opportunities for low-income young people.

None of the details for how to use the Costa donation have been made final, Dickerson said. "It's really broad and open-ended in terms of using our imagination," she said.

Costa has run several businesses over the years, beginning with the Velvet Creamery ice cream and sandwich shop, which he started at age 21. He later bought Modesto-based outdoor clothing company Royal Robbins Inc. and started 5.11 Tactical, which makes uniforms and gear for law enforcement agencies. He eventually sold the company but continues to work as its chief executive officer and retains a 20 percent interest.

Costa and his family previously contributed $50,000 to the center and said they've always thought it a great addition to the community. The only reason the family didn't make a bigger contribution before is because it wasn't in a position to do so, Costa said.

He said he wants to give today's children the same sense of wonder he had when as a young boy he went on a field trip to San Francisco to see the musical "Annie."

"It was incredible," he said. "It was a like a different life almost. There were young kids acting. It inspired me."

He said it's important that Modesto's youth are exposed to culture and the opportunities of the world.

"If you give them that vision, give them that hope, they'll go out and get it for themselves," he said.

Bee staff writer Lisa Millegan can be reached a or 578-2313. For more on Modesto area arts, visit or