Give it up for Ann Ziff

What a class act is Ann Ziff.  She just gave the Metropolitan Opera $30m.  Not a pledge, not a fancy members lounge or a lobby with her name on it, not a half-dozen new productions of her favorite operas, but an unrestricted gift of money (she also sprang for a whole new Ring), the most valuable kind of gift and the hardest to get.  In general, I’d prefer art money were spread around geographically and less piled on a few top-rank institutions in New York, but the Met has been putting opera out there in creative  ways, especially including their live big-screen feeds to theaters all over the world that have tripled their paying audience.  No, opera on a big movie screen, even live, isn’t the same as a live performance you attend in person, but it’s opera and people are seeing it who don’t live where there’s a live opera company, let alone one with as many productions as the Met.

There’s more: Ziff doesn’t like everything that goes on the boards, and that’s OK: “Whether I like a new production or not, I don’t feel is important,” she said. “To get these new audiences, we need to try new things.”  I love Ann Ziff, philanthropy done right. Bravissima!

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Give it up for Ann Ziff”

  1. A nice thing about the Met is that they have a lot of pretty cheap seats. When I lived in NY City for a while recently my wife and I went to see several operas where out seats were $15 each. They were obviously not wonderful seats, but given that movie tickets in NY are at least $12, we thought it was a pretty good deal for going to see world-class performers live. Let's hope this gift helps make things like that even more possible.

  2. I applaud Mrs. Ziff's generosity, and especially the self-less nature of such, as described in the post. However, whenever I hear something like this, it gives me pause, as I imagine the good that $30M could do for a charity designed to fight illness or hunger. I am certainly in no place to judge or criticize, as Mrs. Ziff can do what she likes with her money, and I am certainly no big philanthropist, but it just makes me wonder sometimes. While I don't belittle the cultural significance of operas and museums, I doubt that the opera director's claim, as stated in the linked NY Times article, that it is in a position of "significant financial challenge" will be met with much sympathy by those struggling to feed their kids.

    However, as noted, I'm not in a position to judge, and I do applaud Mrs. Ziff on her actions. I just think this is a good area of discussion.

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