Patricia Illing­worth, an editor of Giving Well: The Ethics of Phil­an­thropy, believes that naming rights are a mixed blessing from an eth­ical stand­point. To some degree, “the arts seem to be a place where people from all walks of life and all social classes can gather together in sol­i­darity,” she noted. “So if bil­lion­aires are branding insti­tu­tions and orga­ni­za­tions with their names,” that can alienate some people.

Nev­er­the­less, Illing­worth believes that named build­ings can serve as an example and encourage increased giving from others.

Does an arts insti­tu­tion risk alien­ating patrons by asso­ci­ating with a major donor who holds a con­tro­ver­sial per­sonal agenda? “The point is, [patrons] are going to walk in anyway,” said Pogrebin. “They may object but it’s not going to keep them away. Time passes and people get used to things.”

A more com­plex pic­ture emerges if a donor feels at lib­erty to dic­tate pro­gram­ming. According to a recentNew Yorker piece, a doc­u­men­tary film was halted because of pres­sure applied on PBS from David H. Koch. Opin­ions differ as to whether this occurs within per­forming arts organizations.

We like to think that the demo­c­ratic process is what deter­mines the social agenda,” said Illing­worth. “And yet when phil­an­thropists start acting like gov­ern­ments, in a sense they can deter­mine the social agenda. Naming rights can exac­er­bate that.”

Read the article at WQXR →