“But, what has he done for me lately?” is a characteristic New York approach to memorial institutional names commemorating historic instances of philanthropy. Yet, paying off a donor’s heirs to let you take his name off the building so you can sell naming rights all over again constitutes a very special pure-New-York kind of tackiness.
Since its adolescence more than four decades ago, the New York Philharmonicâ€™s home at Lincoln Center has been known as Avery Fisher Hall. Now, as the orchestra prepares for a major renovation expected to cost more than $500 million, 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.
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 Centerâ€™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 donorâ€™s name emblazoned over the door.
â€œThis unties the Gordian knot,â€ Katherine G. Farley, Lincoln Centerâ€™s chairwoman, said of the agreement. She said it was too early in the process to discuss whose name might replace Mr. Fisherâ€™s on the building or what the price tag for such a high-profile philanthropic mantle might be.
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