Out of interest, is it common for theatres to be named after donors in the US? In the UK if theatres are named after someone it's usually theatrical luminaries, Ashcroft, Gielgud. Olivier etc. With arts funding drying up and organizations trawling around for sponsors that may change though.
At this point I think it would be exceptional for a performance venue not
to be named after a donor. Naming rights are even awarded to parts of venues. Carnegie Hall, for instance, houses three separately named theaters: Stern Auditorium, Zankel Hall, and Weill Hall. The former is named after the violinist Isaac Stern, who was instrumental (um, no pun intended) in saving Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball in the 60's. (Thank heavens 1) that the house was saved and 2) that the organization had the grace to name the largest auditorium after someone who did something other than write checks to make that happen.) The latter two, however, are named after donors.
It's also not uncommon for non-stage sections of venues--e.g., atriums and terraces-- to be separately named. Most famously, the Metropolitan Opera's "Vilar Grand Tier" was rather unceremoniously unnamed
when the donor (Alberto Vilar) was convicted of fraud and failed to deliver the amount he'd pledged. (His name was taken off of the Royal Opera House, too, if I recall correctly.)
Here's a list of Lincoln Center venues. My guess is that every name used (with the exception of the Metropolitan Opera, of course) is that of a donor.
- David H. Koch Theater
- Damrosch Park
- Metropolitan Opera House
Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met
- New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
Vivian Beaumont Theater
- Josie Robertson Plaza
- Avery Fisher Hall
- Alice Tully Hall, Starr Theater
- The Juilliard School
Morse Recital Hall
Paul Recital Hall
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
Stephanie P. McClelland Drama Theater
- Samuel B. & David Rose Building
The Clark Studio Theater
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse
Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Rehearsal Studio
- The Walter Reade Theater
Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery
- Hearst Plaza
Barclays Capital Grove
- Time Warner Building
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
Irene Diamond Education Center
As you can see, the performance hall inside Alice Tully hall now called "The Starr Theater." But other parts of the hall have been re-named as well: we now have the "Citi Balcony," "the Morgan Stanley Lobby," and the "Hauser Patron Salon" (admittance by invitation only).
So far, no one's ponied up enough $ to bump Abraham Lincoln from top billing.
The mere mortals among us may name seats. For a mere $5,000, for instance, you can name a seat in Alice Tully Hall. (But note that a "prime" seat -- center orchestra rows J-T-- goes for $10,000. You get a $1,000 per seat discount if you name two ...)
It's not just the arts -- big sports arenas now sell naming rights to large corporations. (You would not believe the outcry when this first happened!) Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, was once Enron Field. Lo how the mighty have fallen.
It would be gracious if a big donor were to say "Oh no, please name it after fabulous artist or humanitarian X, not me!" of course, but I actually find it less offensive to name a theater after a donor than to name a highway after a sitting State Governor or Legislator. That always rubs me the wrong way, even if said governor or legislator was instrumental in wangling the requisite pork. That's what they're paid to do, after all ...