On Renaming Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall!

Dear Commons Community,

One of New York City’s venerable institutions, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, will have a new name soon. The announcement last week was that the Fisher family has agreed to relinquish the name so the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center can lure a large donor with the promise of rechristening the building. As reported in the New York Times:

“The unusual agreement, announced on Thursday, is a significant turnaround from 12 years ago, when the family of Avery Fisher, the music philanthropist who gave $10 million in 1973 to support the building, threatened legal action if the concert hall was rebuilt or renovated under a new name.

Lincoln Center is essentially paying the family $15 million for permission to drop the name and has included several other inducements, like a promise to feature prominent tributes to Mr. Fisher in the new lobby of the concert hall.

While the ability to raise money through naming opportunities has become a staple tool for arts organizations, perhaps no event speaks louder to its utility as a fund-raising mechanism than Lincoln Center’s willingness to pay the family of a veteran donor to step away so it can court a new benefactor…

Organizations like the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center cannot hope to raise the sums required for ambitious reconstructions or expansions without being able to dangle the carrot of a donor’s name emblazoned over the door.

“This unties the Gordian knot,” Katherine G. Farley, Lincoln Center’s chairwoman, said of the agreement. She said it was too early in the process to discuss whose name might replace Mr. Fisher’s on the building or what the price tag for such a high-profile philanthropic mantle might be.

The New York State Theater at Lincoln Center became the David H. Koch Theater in 2008, when Mr. Koch, the oil-and-gas billionaire, contributed $100 million toward its renovation. That same year, the New York Public Library’s flagship on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street was named for Stephen A. Schwarzman, a Wall Street financier who donated $100 million toward that building’s expansion.

The Fisher agreement, which came together over the last three months, was made with the three children of Mr. Fisher, who died in 1994: Nancy Fisher, Charles Avery Fisher and Barbara Fisher Snow.”

Unfortunately the cost of major renovations have forced Lincoln Center to make these kinds of decisions but it seems crass to me that we are selling the names of New York City’s cultural jewels to the highest bidder. There are many New Yorkers, for instance, who resent the fact that the New York State Theater now bears the name of David Koch who has become a poster child for the corrupting impact of unrestrained and undisclosed money in American politics.



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