I've been preoccupied with some work lately, and have only now read through this thread, so I have the advantage of seeing everyone in a bunch -- forgive me for the cherry-picking here!
We have a long history of wealthy people with histories that some consider unsavory, who donated huge sums of money that benefitted everybody. Andrew Carnegie ... Andrew Mellon ... Ford Foundation ... Rockefeller Foundation ...
A good point, and not just a 19th-20th century phenomenon. Some people have equated this kind of public giving with the old practice of buying indulgences from the Catholic Church, an attempt to ameliorate the backlash for certain behaviors by currying favor, though I wouldn't go anywhere near that far! Philanthropy is motivated by all kinds of elements, some truly self-effacing, but most not. In general, the current emphasis for board membership and/or donation is more on civic engagement and networking/promotion than on wielding some kind of influence over artistic content, though that does still happen.
What I would prefer to see is that donations are funneled through some sort of arts umbrella organization and are effectively anonymously passed on to the individual arts organizations.
This actually does happen, more often than I think the denizens of this board believe, based on the response to this comment. In Seattle, a socially prominent part of the community banded together as PONCHO (an acronym I can't find the source for) to raise money for the arts in the 1960s through a series of auctions, the proceeds of which were disbursed by a separate committee who fielded applications. The application process has been pretty rigorous, and an unintended side product of it was that if you managed to get a PONCHO grant other funders figured you knew what you were doing and looked at you a bit more favorably. More recently, Arts Fund has done a similar thing, raising money from corporations and disbursing it rather like the United Way does with social/health safety net funding.
Altria is all over the arts world. The only thing that's changed is the name. In 2009, the company gave $3 million to arts organizations.
I don't think bart meant that the tobacco companies have gone away entirely. They still give but it's more on the downlow than it used to be and organizations are more chary of being associated with them too openly. Some of that is window dressing, yes, but nevertheless there has been a sea change in how the tobacco companies and their sponsorships are viewed. So all of those protests and complaints weren't all in vain.
I do know of several groups that have not solicited or accepted funds from tobacco companies or their agents, but as many people point out, it is difficult to say 'no' to an opportunity.
At this point I think it would be exceptional for a performance venue not to be named after a donor.
I agree -- I was gobsmacked when a group of local donors gave a substantial gift to the local art museum to acquire the acreage for an outdoor sculpture park with the caveat that it could not be named after them. Instead, it's named after the mountain range it looks out to.
If I had beaucoup $$$, there would be something associated with electricians at some opera house named after my parents.
My sister and I really wanted to donate something to the local opera house when it was remodeled, if they would let us name a bathroom stall after our mother, who used to complain about the lack of facilities!
(this is my first go-round with the "multi-quote" function -- what a time-saver!)