New York City
Hey, Big Spenders!
Unlike the old/new money protagonists in HBO's The Gilded Age, NYC’s contemporary elite share their wealth more freely—to the city’s benefit.
Money, money, money . . .
On HBO’s The Gilded Age that’s all anyone seems to be thinking about. The period drama from the mind of Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), which returns for its second season on October 29, centers around the power struggle between New York’s old and new money at the turn of the century.
The Russells, a robber baron family with Carrie Coon’s Bertha as matriarch, are determined to break into the elite social circles while the van Rhijn-Brooks, led by Christine Baranski’s Agnes, are dead set on keeping them out.
These days, new money and old money are a little less antagonistic—and New Yorkers are the beneficiaries. The wealthy denizens of the Big Apple have been putting more effort into improving the city than in squabbling over who gets invited to the debutante balls.
Here are five recent projects that have been aided in part by large charitable donations from NYC’s elite:
New York’s cultural landscape shifted in April 2019 with the opening of The Shed in Hudson Yards. This multifaceted center for the arts includes exhibition spaces, event halls, and a 500-seat theater that has already hosted a concert series programmed by 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, and the movie premiere of 6 Underground. The world premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s final musical Here We Are is currently in preview with its opening night on Sunday, October 22.
The Shed was sponsored in part by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $75 million to the project. Former CEO of Bloomberg, L.P., Daniel Doctoroff was founding Chairman of the Board, until he handed the title over to Jonathan Tisch.
In May 2021, the Hudson River’s dilapidated Pier 54 was reimagined as the public park, Little Island, due largely to the money and influence of Barry Diller and his wife Diane von Fürstenberg. Diller, who started out in the mailroom of William Morris and eventually founded Fox Broadcasting Company, worked with his legendary fashion designer wife and the Hudson River Park Trust to create the structurally ambitious floating island—which sits atop tulip-shaped columns. In addition to being a park, Little Island also hosts numerous performance events in its 687-seat amphitheater each summer.
David Geffen Hall
While Lincoln Center’s home for the New York Philharmonic has been open since 1962, by the 2010s it was in need of a major overhaul and a little TLC. As a part of the refurbishment, Lincoln Center auctioned off the naming rights to David Geffen for $100 million. The billionaire—who founded multiple record labels in addition to film company DreamWorks—single-handedly provided a fifth of the funds needed for the new home of the New York Phil.
Perelman Performing Arts Center
The post-September 11 World Trade Center complex has been in construction for over two decades now (and still has two buildings to complete), but 2023 marks the opening of the area’s new performing arts space. The Perelman Performing Arts Center already has a full calendar with dance productions, a holiday concert series, and conversations with high profile names on the docket. In addition to government funding, billionaire banker Ronald Perelman donated $75 million to the project, with Bloomberg topping it up with an additional $100 million.
The mission of the Success Academy is to deliver “equity in education,” regardless of background or income: one of New York City’s premiere charter school operators, it opened its first location in 2006 and now runs 47 schools. And while some of its funding comes from the government, it also relies heavily on philanthropy, especially as it continues to expand. Earlier this year, billionaire and founder of the hedge fund Citadel Ken Griffin donated $25 million to the charter school operator for its ambitious expansion plan. Success Academy hopes to increase its student size by 50 percent—achievable thanks only to donations (whether they come from old money or new).
Hero photo of Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell in The Gilded Age courtesy of HBO