What that $55M gift to Philadelphia Orchestra says about the value of culture’s “civilizing influence”

Posted on: July 18, 2019

At the Philadelphia Orchestra, “It’s hard to overstate the significance of this recent $50 million infusion to the endowment plus an additional $5 million toward operations from an anonymous couple,” writes Peter Dobrin in Saturday’s (7/13) Philadelphia Inquirer. “This bold gesture … grows the yardstick by which a meaningful gift … is measured…. The [anonymous] donors didn’t give because they loved Beethoven, but because ‘they value very highly what I would call the civilizing influence of art and culture on our society,’ as orchestra board chairman Richard B. Worley put it…. The donors’ definition of art as a ‘civilizing influence’ highlights a shift in the orchestra’s raison d’etre…. Philanthropists, especially younger ones, are moving in the direction of supporting causes that solve problems in society…. This season the orchestra can declare some huge wins on several such initiatives…. Investing in the future of the orchestra is also a validation of a larger idea very much under duress: the value of institutions…. Institutions, though, are simply a vehicle for collective action, and as a metaphor for what society can be, nothing is better than an orchestra. Within its sound there may be multitudes, but what emerges can be a powerful fanfare to the common good.”

Posted July 18, 2019

In photo: The Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Assistant Conductor Kensho Watanabe, gives a free neighborhood concert at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. Photo by Jessica Griffin.