Naming rights (part 3)

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Back in the first part of this series, I wrote that the name of Stephen A. Schwarzman—the exceedingly generous donor who just gave the New York Public Library $100 mil and for whom the iconic Fifth Avenue building is being renamed—would not actually appear on the building because the building is protected by landmark status.

Now the New York Times reports that Schwarzman’s name will indeed appear on the building—FIVE TIMES.

According to the story by Marc Santora, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission agreed to not only the name change but also to affixing it at the base of each of the two centre columns leading to the main entrance; on a gold plaque on the marble floor just outside the front door; and in two locations at the 42nd Street entrance.

His name will not be as big as those of the library’s founders (like Astor and Tilden), but will be from 1 to 2.5 inches high. And it will appear FIVE TIMES.

Check out the Times story – there’s a link to a PDF file prepared by the Landmarks Commission that shows you just where Steve’s name will appear and what it will look like.

I don’t get it. What kind of ego or insecurity is it that drives people to pay to have their names plastered everywhere? There’s Schwarzman and the NYPL, all the people whose names adorn Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and I just noticed that the names of Hilary and Galen Weston are etched into plaques near the old main entrance of the Royal Ontario Museum. The Westons coughed up $20 mil, and, a ROM press release says, the museum will name its 1933 heritage wing on Queen’s Park for Hilary and Galen and the Weston family in perpetuity. (Note to all high-priced donors: “perpetuity” ain’t what it used to be.)

Christopher Isherwood, in a New York Times article last December, called this “the graffiti of the philanthropic class” and asked, “Whatever happened to Anonymous?”

“The naming game is getting a little out of hand, as every nook and cranny of these gleaming buildings is tagged by some wealthy, generous and obviously not publicity-shy donor,” Isherwood wrote.

His article also tells the story of the non-naming of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s business school. The dean was selling the name for $50 mil and no one came up with the dough. He discovered, however, that several donors were willing to contribute to a fund that would ensure that for at least 20 years, the school wouldn’t be “branded.” The no-name fund eventually reached $85 million.

You really ought to read the whole of Isherwood’s article, but I’ll leave you with this:

“Some may ask what the big deal is,” he wrote. “Would you rather they kept the money to themselves, and left the arts to languish? Perhaps not, but I don’t much care for the feeling of being beholden to a law firm, an airline or an investment banking tycoon for the privilege of checking my coat….

“…don’t those who give to the arts do so expressly to benefit a public good? All this naming mitigates the ideally selfless spirit, if not the fact, of such giving.”

(Photo of “Anonymus” is a freely licensed media file from the Wikimedia Commons.)

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