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State Theater to be renamed for $100 million donation


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1. Sports franchises are doing this -- naming arenas and stadiums after sponsors.

2. It's consistent with the fact that City Ballet and Lincoln Center are now being run according to a business model. From the business point of view it makes sense. And let's be clear that this isn't City Ballet's issue. It's' a Lincoln Center board decision.

3. If the theater should be named for anyone, it's the late Nelson Rockefeller. He did far more than Mr. Koch to create it.

4. There is some irony, is there not, with putting a business-man's name, however, wealthy, alongside that of Abraham Lincoln? There was once a generation that gave without things like this; who would have refused it because of the incredible bad taste involved. But this is the Age of Bloomberg.

MP

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It's my understanding that the New York State Theater is owned by the City of New York which leases it to Lincoln Center. I have to raise an eyebrow to the City allowing Koch's name to be applied to City owned property - no matter what his contribution.

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My prediction: it will take a decade before people start routinely referring to it as "Koch Theater," it will be pronounced "kotch" not "coke," and everyone will think it's named after Mayor Koch ...

After all, some folks are still trying to wrap their heads around "Avenue of the Americas," although it's starting to roll off of the tongue pretty easily now after what, 60 years?

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Here in Seattle we've named buildings and parts of buildings after donors for many years, and the process can verge on the ridiculous.

When the local opera house (which used to be called the Opera House) was renovated, the McCaw family (cell phones) gave what is becoming called a 'naming gift' so that the hall itself would be named after their mother Marion Oliver McCaw. Which would, if we really followed through on the acronym, make it MOM Hall. Inside the theater, the main auditorium is named after another donor, the small lecture hall named after a donor and a donating company, each of three lobbies named after different donors, a couple meeting rooms ditto, and the plaza outside named after yet another.

If you can't afford to give on that scale, you can donate a smaller amount and have your name on a seat (or seats) in the auditorium.

And on the bottom of a pillar in the main lobby, underneath many other names, is a small plaque recognizing the citizens of Seattle, who are still paying for the bonds that financed a big chunk of the project.

And yet, they missed a significant opportunity. One of the big improvements that came with the remodel was the addition of almost twice as many women's toilets. Previously, you really had to plan your liquids if you were at an event in the hall -- there were nowhere near enough toilets to actually serve the number of women in the hall. I know this sounds a bit silly, but it was a real difficulty. I was at the press conference where they revealed the new designs , and "more women's toilets" was every other slide in the power point presentation.

And yet, they didn't offer a naming opportunity for bathroom stallls.

The gods know my sister and I would have been first in line (after rushing out of the auditorium to get in line time and again), but somehow that didn't get in the budget.

On the flip side, though, an anonymous group of donors got together here and bought the naming rights to the museum's outdoor sculpture park, with the understanding that it would keep the name it started with, the Olympic Sculpture Park, named after the mountain range you can see in the distance. Sometimes people get it right.

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1. Sports franchises are doing this -- naming arenas and stadiums after sponsors.

2. It's consistent with the fact that City Ballet and Lincoln Center are now being run according to a business model. From the business point of view it makes sense. And let's be clear that this isn't City Ballet's issue. It's' a Lincoln Center board decision.

3. If the theater should be named for anyone, it's the late Nelson Rockefeller. He did far more than Mr. Koch to create it.

4. There is some irony, is there not, with putting a business-man's name, however, wealthy, alongside that of Abraham Lincoln? There was once a generation that gave without things like this; who would have refused it because of the incredible bad taste involved. But this is the Age of Bloomberg.

MP

I see nothing inappropriate or particularly upsetting about this. There's also Avery Fisher Hall, he was a businessman, albeit a violinist and I've got one of old Fisher record players still. There's the Lila Acheson Wallace Library at Juilliard and the Lila Acheson Wallace World of Birds at the Bronx Zoo. There's Alice Tully Hall. For someone who thinks 'State Theater' is something to cherish, maybe it matters. I personally think 'Philharmonic Hall' as a name is a much greater loss, there is nothing distinguished about 'New York State Theater' per se. When was there a 'generation that gave without things like this'? Some remained anonymous in the past, some do now. If he gives $100 million and wants his name there and they agree to it, I see no bad taste whatsoever. It's not like the American Airlines Theater, which is particularly odious. There's the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles. The moneyed patrons get cultural centers names after them, and I don't see why 'old money' is in better taste for naming the places than new (I don't know about Mr. Koch's money vintage, but if he's nouveau, that's cool.), in any case the Rockefellers' money's origin is merely not as visible as it once was.

Juilliard itself is named for its founder (or the man whose funds were used to realize it), a wealthy businessman. And Lincoln Center was never not business-oriented, nor never independent of wealthy businesspeople. It never meant to be.

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I have no problem with naming a building after a rich person who gives a ton of money. I guess the larger and more disturbing potential problem relates to whether these rich donors will have undue unfluence over what is presented at the cultural institution to which they have made an enormous donation. As an example, we all have seen that in the programs at ABT that various dancers are "sponsored" by patron xyz or abc corporation. It's disturbing to think that artistic decisions as to who is cast may be influenced by whether a particular dancer is connected to the richest or most influential donor.

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Not to mention Carnegie Hall.

Andrew Carnegie built that hall, he didn't just pay for half of its refurbishing 40+ years later. I agree with Michael that the renaming business is tasteless. Isn't the opportunity to make a civic contribution satisfaction enough?

My prediction: it will take a decade before people start routinely referring to it as "Koch Theater," it will be pronounced "kotch" not "coke," and everyone will think it's named after Mayor Koch ...

Thanks for the laugh.

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As an example, we all have seen that in the programs at ABT that various dancers are "sponsored" by patron xyz or abc corporation. It's disturbing to think that artistic decisions as to who is cast may be influenced by whether a particular dancer is connected to the richest or most influential donor.

I'd be interested to know how far such things have ever gone, yes. If they don't have backgrounds in the particular art, many don't interfere all that directly, do they? Anyway, if it's a common problem (I doubt, but don't know), that would be interesting. Isn't it mostly a matter of serving on the boards. I noticed Juilliard was president of the Met Opera from 1892 till 1919, and I knew a lady in the Met Guild, but I don't know what that was exactly(she was Old New York). The old days were less strict, as we all also remember that Frances Schreuder got onto the NYCB board by just sending in a check, and that was the end of the purely pay-your-way practice.

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Well now that the generous donation has been made, I hope there are serious efforts to revamp the building, which has too many problems to name, but I'll start:

1. The poor acoustics. Might have made dancing shoes quieter, but the orchestra (to me, a greater part of enjoyment at the ballet than loud pointe shoes) has never sounded good.

2. The shabby interior decorating, which always looked like the Met on the cheap. The gold circles, the sad, shabby looking gold curtain (that now looks less than golden).

3. The poorly designed orchestra area, which has no walkways besides the ones at the very sides of the auditorium.

4. A better designed lobby, which might include a small gift shop. There seems to be plenty of space within the theater, it just isn't used widely.

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There are so many parallels today with the second half of the 19th century (the Gilded Age and the time of Carnegie Hall et al.). The top ranks of the wealthy once again have reached a new level of stratosphere. Since everything else seems to up for sale, why not the opportunitiy to plaster (or bronze) one's name on the facade of major "public" buildings?

There is at least one potential risk, however. Economic difficulties can mean the donor can't llive up to the commitment, which has happened in the past and leads to considerable shame. Or ... someone else richer can come along, as Carnival Cruise Lines discovered when Adrienne Arsht out-spent them, leading to a rather quick change from the Carnival Center (Miami) to the Arsht Center. (MCB and ABT perform there.)

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There is at least one potential risk, however. Economic difficulties can mean the donor can't llive up to the commitment, which has happened in the past and leads to considerable shame.

Yes, this is exactly what happened with Alberto Vilar's substantial pledges to various arts organizations, including the Met Opera. Vilar made enormous pledges of funds, but when the market went down, he could not make good on his pledges. Additionally, he got into legal trouble relating to a fraud case (which is apparently now being tried). The Met Opera wiped Vilar's name off of its Grand Tier restaurant very quickly after Vilar failed to make his promised donations.

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Why not call it the Balanchine Theatre. After all, his company did such a great deal for Lincoln Center. Now that would show class, and give a bow to the man whose works invigorated and reconfigured American ballet in the 20th century! If not that, why not the Julius Rudel Theatre! Or to Beverly Sills, whose reputation in opera set the State Theatre rolling!

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Why not call it the Balanchine Theatre. After all, his company did such a great deal for Lincoln Center. Now that would show class, and give a bow to the man whose works invigorated and reconfigured American ballet in the 20th century!

...

...and naming it for its real creator would bring far greater honor to Mr. Koch, who now faces a future of either confusion with an ex-mayor, or worse, a soft drink or a drug. Think of a certain other man whose name is so frequently misplaced on city theaters, that when you google it looking for what used to be the Juilliard Theater it is like searching through a maze.

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Not to mention Carnegie Hall.

Andrew Carnegie built that hall, he didn't just pay for half of its refurbishing 40+ years later. I agree with Michael that the renaming business is tasteless. Isn't the opportunity to make a civic contribution satisfaction enough?

And as far as Carnegie knew, it was the Music Hall. It didn't acquire its patron's name until some time after his death. Of course, now you can enter Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium (I have absolutely no problem with that) and watch performers on the Ronald O. Perelman Stage. The same structure now houses Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall and Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall.
:P

I usually sit up in the fourth ring. The carpeting in certain spots is in shreds. Let's just hope they don't buy the same carpeting as the one at City Center, which is the ugliest I have ever seen.

Ugly for sure, but worse, it's dangerous. It's very hard to see where the tread ends, which matters a lot when not all threads are of equal depth.

Maybe they'll finally dust off the top of that decorative whatnot above the proscenium.

If the theater should be named for anyone, it's the late Nelson Rockefeller. He did far more than Mr. Koch to create it.

If it should be named for anyone, it should be George Balanchine. I'm sad that that option seems lost to posterity.

Nelson and David Rockefeller were no more responsible for NYST than for the entirety of Lincoln Center -- but there already is a Rockefeller Center less than a mile to the south.
:wink:

Mr. Koch said that he considered Mr. Schwarzman's gift to the library [which will name its main building for Schwarsman] an inspiration. "I admire people like that immensely — who have great wealth but are generous in terms of supporting worthy causes," he said.
A worthy cause would seem to be the perpetuity of one's name. It has been said, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Perhaps we should change it to " . . .those who can't, underwrite." Without an opportunity to glorify their names, would they? That bothers me. It's not giving, it's buying, and we should recognize it for what it is.
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New York City Theatre sounds like the nicest name for it, since the article said it hadn't been state property since 1965, but rather city--and since they are not New York State Ballet and New York State Opera. Although I am about the only one who thinks David H. Koch Theatre is just fine. The gift is so enormous and needed that the price of 'vulgarly' naming it after someone who gives that much cash seems incredibly small to me. I don't think he was 'just buying his name on the place', although he has cancer centers and others with his name; and he does serve on many non-profit boards, including ABT. But what if he was? The mess has got to be cleaned up. Agree with canbelto on how tacky 'little Met' it looks. As long as NYCO and NYCB are both going to stay, it wouldn't make sense to use Balanchine/Rudel/Sills etc. unless names from both were used. I understand people can be sentimental about these things, though, and I could hardly bear it when the zingy old PanAm Building was renamed MetLife (with a much uglier logo, too, which makes the prospect looking up Park Avenue seem especially battered.) In any case, I can't see deploring the 'Era of Bloomberg' too strongly, even if I knew he more or less bought his way in; because he is anything but an incompetent mayor, and there are many improvements over the 'Era of Giuliani' (I'm not being political, I'm talking about cultural eras.) Anyway, the building itself is being more or less respected, which the much better Juilliard Building has not been in many ways (the inside has practically become opaque, although the library has not been restructured, and it is especially beautiful). That graceful walkway that went across 65th street was so much like an organic connection from the conservatory to the great houses of music and dance. I can't believe they took it down, it was so elegant.

I imagine that, as a billionaire, he may find amusing his AMNH David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing (could even be a pterodactyl wing, I guess.)

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Bravo to Mr. Koch for being so incredibly generous; I do think that this part of the story is what matters. That said, I agree with PhiladelphiaOrchestra that it would have been nice (years ago, in fact) to rename the NYST after Mr. B. Of course the NYC Opera might not have liked that. For over 32 years I always say I'm going to the NYCB - I rarely mention the venue (since everyone knows where they are). I also don't think I've ever actually said, "Avenue of the Americas" (and don't know any other New Yorker who calls 6th Ave anything other than 6th Ave). However -- they are just names. Does it really matter?

But just let them try to rename "Yankee Stadium" (I'm a season weekend ticket holder) anything other than "Yankee Stadium" -- then I would

sing a different tune:;

Mr. Koch, I tip my NYCB and Yankee cap in honor of your outstanding gift. Thank you!

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As a frequent attendee at the New York State Theater, I am very grateful to Mr. Koch for his enormous generosity. With a donation like that, he deserves to have his name on the building. The important thing is that it will still continue to house the NYCB, which is what brings me to the NYST in the first place. And how wonderful it will be to have a newly renovated house! Thank you to Mr. Koch for taking such good care of Mr. B’s company!

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Without an opportunity to glorify their names, would they? That bothers me. It's not giving, it's buying, and we should recognize it for what it is.

We don’t live in an era where rich men hide their light under a bushel. Also, the missus is reportedly a social climber of Everest proportions. (Edith Wharton would recognize the Kochs immediately.)

There is at least one potential risk, however. Economic difficulties can mean the donor can't live up to the commitment, which has happened in the past and leads to considerable shame.

Not likely with Koch Industries. The worst thing that could happen, I suppose, is that Koch bumps off a relative in the manner of Frances Schreuder, who underwrote “Robert Schumann’s Davidsbundlertanze.” However, I’m sure vetting procedures have improved since back then. :wink:

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