The recent imbroglio over the naming rights to Lincoln Center's big concert hall underscores the fact that in the world of philanthropy, sometimes there's no such thing as a happy ending — especially when naming rights are concerned.
Sometimes the positive outcome is a stitched-together compromise in which an expensive legal battle is mercifully avoided. After the dust settles, involved parites consider the agreement tolerable, albeit speckled with glimmers of hope, as if an uneasy truce has been reached. Such is the case with Lincoln Center, and so a quick refresher is in order.
Avery Fisher, the founder of the Fisher electronic company, donated $10.5 million in 1973 toward the renovation of the former Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center. As a result, the hall was renamed the Avery Fisher Hall. Fast forward to November 2014. Lincoln Center officials announced their intention to remove Fisher's name and sell its naming rights to the highest bidder as part of a $500 million fund-raising campaign. Enter David Geffen, who forked over a check for $100 million.
Presto, meet your new David Geffen Hall. (That said, detractors argued that Geffen's gift wasn't large enough to warrant the renaming of such a prominent building, given that it represented just 20 percent of the projected renovation cost.)
At first, the Fisher family threatened to sue, but those objections were ameliorated when the center paid them $15 million, proving that even when you factor in things like inflation and an excessively progressive taxation system, $15 million still goes a long way.
But this detente involved more than money. The Lincoln Center also agreed to feature prominent tributes to Mr. Fisher in the lobby of the new hall, give a higher profile to the Avery Fisher Artist Program, and continue to roll out the Avery Fisher Prize, which recognizes outstanding achievements in music.
Then there's the Avery Fisher Career Grants. Worth $25,000 each, the grants support young musicians or chamber ensembles with the potential for "major careers." The Lincoln Center recently announced the winners — violinists Alexi Kenney, Tessa Lark and Sean Lee; cellist Jay Campbell, and pianist George Li.
The process wasn't without its roadbumps, but at the end of the day, everyone seems to be a winner. Geffen's name adorns the hall. The center's renovation is slated to begin in 2019. And we imagine the family of Avery Fisher is pretty happy. His legacy is alive and well.
In a related IP post, check out the contention that the Fisher pay-off — and make no mistake, it was a pay-off — conveniently ignored a more disturbing scandal that no one wanted to talk about.