What's Behind a Mystery Donor's $10 Million Gift to Princeton University?

What's more exciting than the "grateful alumnus?"

Why, that'd be the grateful anonymous alumnus.

So mysterious. So unknowable. So generous. And, best of all, they're not likely to be very high-maintenance. After all, how much can you coddle a donor if you don't even know who they are? 

The grateful anonymous alumnus (there isn't just one of them, by the way) has struck again, this time in Princeton, New Jersey, where a $10 million gift will be directed toward Princeton University's Music Building, which is part of the University's larger arts complex, currently under construction.

The new building will meet both an immediate and more conceptual need. To the former, it will create a space—23,000 square feet to be exact—where student musicians can do their thing. To the latter, the gift helps to push Princeton's ambitious Art Initiative forward to its next phase. 

The initiative, which sprang to life in 2006—powered by a $101 million gift by the late billionaire Peter Lewis—has the ambitious goal of expanding Princeton's programs in the creative and performing arts, all while establishing itself as a "global leader in the quality of its offerings and in their integration into a broader liberal arts education."

The Arts Initiative plays to the strength of a top university that's unusual for its lack of a business, law, or medical school, but which does have a rich liberal arts tradition. 

The complex will serve as the home of arts facilities associated with both the Department of Music and the Lewis Center for the Arts. The new site, in addition to increasing its programming, will help Princeton create an environment where all students can have a meaningful experience in the arts. And who knows—maybe as a result, not so many of them will head to Wall Street when they graduate. Sounds like money well spent, right? 

Much like named grateful alumnus Helen Frankenthaler—who noted, "All of my Bennington College memories melt into one joyful stream of laughter, invention, serious concerned pursuits, intense friendships, and the opening of my already 'analytic mind"—Princeton's mystery donor is equally grateful.

"Attending Princeton was a formative experience," he/she said. "It was there that I developed a deep and lasting interest in the arts. All students should have access to the arts and to the music program as part of the unique educational experience of Princeton."

In fact, it seems to be a good time to be an Ivy League school looking to scale up in the arts. This mystery gift comes on the heels of news that Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman gave $150 million for the Yale University Cultural Hub. (He's an alumni too. Of course.)

Schwarzman's gift prompted grumbles across the blogosphere, with some noting that with an endowment totalling $23.9 billion as of 2014, plus a 654-seat theater already in operation, Yale didn't need the gift. 

Actually, given the hullabaloo over at Yale, I can understand why our mystery Princeton donor may want to remain a mystery.