The crowd was on foot, shouting and clapping as Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Hamilton cast bowed, concluding the opening-night performance of the musical’s brief but high-profile stint in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Miranda was restaging the show—and returning to his title role—to raise money for a new charitable endeavor called the Flamboyan Arts Fund.
Among the audience’s big names (Jimmy Fallon, José Andrés) was the couple behind the Flamboyan Foundation, which is creating the fund with Miranda and his family. But it turns out that Kristin Ehrgood, the foundation’s CEO, and Vadim Nikitine, a real-estate developer, are based not in San Juan but in DC. So how did the megastar get involved with a little-known Washington philanthropic group?
Ehrgood and Nikitine met while pursuing master’s degrees at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and they actually hatched the idea for a nonprofit on their first date. “We were total geeks,” says Ehrgood. “[We asked,] ‘If we were going to start a nonprofit, what would we do?’ We wrote it out on this napkin.”
The relationship blossomed, and so did their idea. In 2008, they launched the Flamboyan Foundation, focusing on improving education in Nikitine’s hometown, San Juan. They moved to Washington that year and later expanded to include DC public schools.
When Hurricane Maria decimated the island in 2017, Flamboyan was searching for ways to help. It turned out one employee’s spouse knew Miranda’s father, Luis, and offered to make an introduction. That led to a lunch, during which Luis mentioned his family’s plan to start an arts fund in Puerto Rico linked to Hamilton. Right there, he asked Ehrgood and Nikitine if they’d consider partnering.
“When I have good feelings about something, I go with my gut,” Luis says. “Intellectually and personally, I knew they would fit with my family.” Soon, the Mirandas made their offer official. “We said, ‘Sure!’ ” recalls Nikitine. “Complete mission drift, but . . . why not?”
Less than a year later, Luis announced from the San Juan stage that they’d raised $15 million for the fund. The first batch of grantees includes Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Teatro UPR. According to Ehrgood, culture should be an essential part of rebuilding. “As the island is thinking about revitalization,” she says, “how does it remember to weave in the arts?”
As Luis told the room after the San Juan performance, the goal is “dejar a Puerto Rico un poquito mejor que lo encontramos”—“to leave Puerto Rico a little bit better than we found it.”
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.