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Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell in HBO‘s The Gilded Age

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.

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:

The Shed

Exterior of The Shed, Hudson Yards, NYC
Multifaceted center for the arts, The Shed, is one of the most significant additions to New York City’s arts and culture scene in decades. Photo by Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Hudson Yards, NYC

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.

Stavros Niarchos and Dasha Zhukova Niarchos
Founding member Dasha Zhukova Niarchos, seen here with her husband, Stavros Niarchos. Photo by Madison McGaw, Angela Pham, and Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com
Misty Copeland, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre
Misty Copeland, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, is another of the prominent NYC names on The Shed board. Photo by Rupert Ramsay/BFA.com
Frank McCourt and Monica Algarra
“The Shed is in, and of, New York, but its impact, and its audience, will be global,” said founding member Frank McCourt, seen here with his wife, Monica Algarra. McCourt, who is also a property owner in the neighborhood, donated $45 million. Photo by Aria Isadora/BFA.com
Andrés Santo Domingo
Andrés Santo Domingo has sat on the board of The Shed since its inception. Photo by Hunter Abrams/BFA.com
Jonathan Tisch, board chair of The Shed, NYC
Jonathan Tisch joined the board as a founding member in 2013 and was elected chair when Daniel Doctoroff stepped down in 2022. Photo by David Benthal/BFA.com

Little Island

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.

Little Island, Hudson River Park, NYC
After opening in May 2021, Little Island hosted a million visitors during its inaugural year. It occupies the site of Pier 54—where the RMS Carpathia brought the survivors of the Titanic. Photo by Praneeth Thalla, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Barry Diller and Diane von Fürstenberg
Little Island was developed by Barry Diller, seen here with wife Diane von Fürstenberg. The Diller-von Fürstenberg Family Foundation continues to support the project. Photo by Darian DiCianno/BFA.com

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.

Karlie Kloss, Wendi Deng Murdoch, David Geffen, and Dasha Zhukova in 2016
The Lincoln Center home of the New York Philharmonic was renamed the David Geffen Hall after the entertainment mogul helped kick off the $550 million renovation with a $100 million gift. With, from left, Karlie Kloss, Wendi Deng Murdoch, and Dasha Zhukova at The Beatrice Inn in 2016. Photo by Aria Isadora/BFA.com

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.

Perelman Performing Arts Center, Fulton Street, Lower Manhattan
On Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan, the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) is a major piece in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. The actor/producer also sits on the board of PAC NYC. Photo by Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com
Ronald Perelman
Ronald Perelman jump-started construction in 2016 with a $75 million gift. The center—which promises to showcase theater, dance, music, chamber opera, and film—opened in September 2023. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for NRDC
Gino Martocci, Doris Meister, and Michael Bloomberg
Board chair Michael Bloomberg (with Gino Martocci and Doris Meister) gave a generous gift in support of PAC NYC. He also donated to The Shed. Photo by Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.com

Success Academy

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).

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin
Billionaire Citadel CEO Ken Griffin gave $25 million to Success Academy in April 2023. He previously gave $10 million to the charter school operators in 2014. Photo by Patrick. T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Hero photo of Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell in The Gilded Age courtesy of HBO

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