David Geffen’s $100-million gift in N.Y. raises arts-naming issues in L.A.

Shown is the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. Officials say the 51-year-old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, at right, needs a $350-million renovation that would require a fundraising campaign.
Shown is the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. Officials say the 51-year-old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, at right, needs a $350-million renovation that would require a fundraising campaign.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

This post has been updated. Please see below for details.

“What’s in a name?” was a question for Juliet when she was falling for Romeo, but David Geffen’s $100-million gift to Lincoln Center in New York City demonstrates that it can be one of the trickier questions that an arts organization trying to raise large sums must face.

Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, will become David Geffen Hall in September, in recognition of the entertainment magnate’s gift toward the venue’s $500-million renovation campaign.

The Associated Press reported that Lincoln Center agreed to pay $15 million to the family of Avery Fisher to free up the naming rights that led to Geffen’s big gift in New York.


It gives Geffen, a New York native but a longtime Los Angeles resident, a presence on the cultural scene in New York to go with the three Los Angeles arts venues that bear his name -- or will, once built.

Several Los Angeles arts organizations are in fundraising mode now, or expect to be, including the Music Center, which is L.A.’s performing arts equivalent of Lincoln Center.

Music Center officials have estimated it will cost $350 million to renovate its original venue, the 51-year-old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has set a $600-million goal for a makeover of most of its campus, and Center Theatre Group is expected to embark on a campaign to boost its endowment in conjunction with its 50th anniversary in 2017.


Howard Sherman, interim president of the Music Center, envisions no name-switch dealings when it’s time to begin a campaign for the Chandler Pavilion renovations.

The families whose names are on the Pavilion, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre all are important to the downtown performing arts center’s present as ongoing donors, he said.

“We’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with all four of these families and never discuss” freeing up a building’s name to attract new donors, he said.

But Sherman said the Music Center still has naming opportunities to dangle: for its plaza, which also is a candidate for renovations, and for the performing arts complex as a whole.


“Those are opportunities that at some point we would actively pursue,” he said.

Music Center spokeswoman Joan Cumming said the center has not begun courting donors for the Chandler Pavilion renovations because the Music Center wants L.A. County to make the first commitment -- as it did last year when the Board of Supervisors voted to provide $125 million toward LACMA’s overhaul, more than a fifth of that campaign’s goal.

LACMA’s plan calls for replacing four old county-owned buildings with a single new one designed by architect Peter Zumthor, which also would be county property.

The art museum will have to address some potentially tricky name-related questions because three of the buildings it wants to demolish carry the names of major donors on the Los Angeles scene: Hammer (after oil magnate Armand Hammer), Ahmanson (after the L.A. banking family that has donated art as well as funds to build the campus that opened in 1965) and Bing (after Anna Bing Arnold, a founding trustee and major contributor to the museum).


“The names will not disappear” from LACMA’s campus, museum director Michael Govan said in an interview last year about the plan to replace four buildings (the other is the Art of the Americas building).

Geffen has given $40.2 million, in 2015 dollars, to place his name on the three L.A. cultural buildings that carry his name. In 1995, he gave an inflation-adjusted $7.7 million to what was then the Westwood Playhouse, which was renamed the Geffen Playhouse (he followed that with an additional $6.5-million gift in 2002 toward the Playhouse’s renovation).

In 1996, $7.5 million from Geffen for an endowment campaign led to the Museum of Contemporary Art changing the name of the older of its two downtown venues from Temporary Contemporary to Geffen Contemporary.

In 2013, Geffen contributed $25 million to the ongoing $300-million campaign to launch the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences aims to open in 2017. Its big domed cinema will be named for Geffen.


For the record, March 5, 1:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the question`What’s in a name?’ to Romeo instead of to Juliet.

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