New York City is one of the world’s epicenters of art, music, and culture. But it didn’t just acquire this reputation overnight—New York’s status as a cultural mecca is in large part due to the many philanthropists who have supported the arts in the city.
New York bears a rich history of philanthropists investing in cultural infrastructure, such as expansive concert halls and world-class museums. Beyond the construction, donors and patrons have sustained the operation of these institutions, where great talents aspire to perform or to display their work.
Philanthropic support for the arts is not unique to New York City, of course. The following six institutions, however, particularly exemplify the ways in which philanthropy nurtures creativity, provides livelihoods for artists, and creates civic institutions where people come together to celebrate culture.
Completely funded by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Hall opened in 1891. The hall has amassed a global reputation for high quality acoustics and a tradition of performances by the best musicians and ensembles. The New York Philharmonic, for example, maintained its residency at Carnegie Hall from 1892 to 1962.
In the 1980s, Carnegie Hall needed significant renovations, both structurally and from a business standpoint. A philanthropist named James Wolfensohn stepped in with his own money, organized a fundraiser that yielded $80 million, and broadened the venue’s donor base to more than 9,000 entities. Carnegie Hall stands today as one of the world’s leading performance venues.
Guided by the efforts of philanthropist John Rockefeller III, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts started taking shape in the early 1960s. The project required $185 million to get off the ground, and subsequent contributors, such as Frederick Rose, led later expansion efforts. Lincoln Center includes these three impressive venues:
David Geffen Hall – The New York Philharmonic left Carnegie Hall in 1962 upon the completion of Philharmonic Hall. Since then, the venue has received two new names as a result of donations: Avery Fisher Hall and David Geffen Hall. The former served as the name from 1973 to 2015, and the latter came by way of a $100 million donation that will support renovations scheduled to begin in 2019.
David H. Koch Theater – Two years after Philharmonic Hall opened, the New York State Theater joined the Lincoln Center family. The New York City Ballet, established in 1948, has since performed in this venue, which recently underwent renovations. David Koch sponsored these efforts with a $100 million donation, and the venue bears his name as a result. The David H. Koch Theater faces David Geffen Hall from across the Lincoln Center main plaza.
The Metropolitan Opera House – Four years after Philharmonic Hall opened, the Metropolitan Opera House hosted its first production. The Metropolitan Opera had been in operation for more than 80 years at that point, performing at an older building located at 1411 Broadway. The Metropolitan Opera House created in 1966 is one of the premiere venues of its kind.
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Frederick Rose directed valuable expansions at Lincoln Center, both on the main plaza and off. One of the more popular off-plaza facilities is Frederick P. Rose Hall, which is the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, directed by the famous trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.
The venue comprises the Rose Theater, The Appel Room, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the Irene Diamond Education Center, and the Ertegun Atrium. Each of these halls adds to the overall versatility of Frederick P. Rose Hall, and several are named for prominent contributors to the American jazz tradition.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
During a dinner conversation in 1866, a group of prominent Americans agreed to help establish an art gallery that would stand as a national institution in the United States. A committee later was formed, and in 1872, the museum opened its doors. Railroad executive John Johnson held the first position as president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which he donated several objects of art and $250,000 to build the museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art gained international attention in a relatively small amount of time, and business magnate J.P. Morgan helped solidify its position in the art world. Morgan donated works of art from his personal collection, and his leadership as president propelled the museum to rank among the very best.
Museum of Modern Art
Years prior to John Rockefeller III leading the Lincoln Center development, his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, co-created the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Rockefeller, along with her co-creators Lillie Bliss and Mary Sullivan, opened the museum in 1929 in a rented space. A decade later, the museum relocated to its current facility. The Rockefeller family has since donated more than $6 million to MoMA.
The first Guggenheim Museum opened in 1939 with the support of philanthropist Solomon Guggenheim. After 20 years of steady growth, the museum moved to its current building, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and has since become one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The Guggenheim has evolved into a world-wide network of cultural institutions, and additional museums operate in Italy, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.