A tribute to Gerry Lenfest
Gerry Lenfest was a giant in the world of philanthropy who used his fortune to transform the arts in Philadelphia and, with his death in August, left a legacy in the local arts community and beyond.
Harold Fitzgerald 'Gerry' Lenfest was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1930. But when he took a job at Annenberg Communications in the 1960s, Philadelphia became his adopted home.
"He's given so much to this universe," says Joel Gibbs, Director of Love the Arts in Philadelphia. "Beyond just what he did for the arts in Philadelphia."
Lenfest built an empire in publishing and cable television and made it his life's mission to donate all of his wealth before he died.
"He was a business leader, a philanthropist, and a change agent," says Gail Harrity, President and CEO of The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Lenfest and his wife Marguerite donated over $1 billion to more than 1,000 cultural organizations and they launched Love the Arts in Philadelphia, a 15-year-old campaign dedicated to promoting local arts organizations.
"From billboards around the city and in prime locations on 95 to radio spots, to television commercials," says Frank Giordano, President and CEO of The Philly Pops.
"He was passionate about it," Kimmel Center President and CEO Anne Ewers says. "It wasn't just giving. It was attending. It was being a part of. It was embracing what we were doing."
Lenfest also served as the Board Chairman for both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Curtis Institute of Music.
"He transformed the school in so many different ways," Curtis Institute of Music President and CEO Roberto Diaz says. "Gerry made it possible for us to purchase the site and then develop the plans for it, and eventually we built what is now Lenfest Hall, which is about 100,000 square feet of extra space for Curtis."
"He never took small steps. He was a big thinker," Harrity says. "His legacy at the Art Museum is almost unparalleled."
When Lenfest died in August, at age 88, he was remembered as a man who loved Philadelphia and the arts.
"Gerry's imprint and fingerprints, if you will, on this city will live forever," says Catherine Cahill, President and CEO, Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
"He loved the arts in every way and did everything he can to keep them thriving and alive everywhere," Gibbs says.