PHILADELPHIA — The University of Pennsylvania will drop the name of Annenberg from its Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, founded in 1971. The performing arts center was named for the late Walter Annenberg (1908-2002), the publisher of TV Guide, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Seventeen magazine. The Annenberg family was extremely generous with Penn, as well as USC, and other institutions.
The venue is Philadelphia’s leading “multidisciplinary arts presenter and one of the nation’s premier urban performing arts centers on a university campus.” It will now be known as Penn Live Arts. Wording for the name change was curious; they announced the rename as they are holding a 50-year anniversary celebration over “multiple years.” The news release could win a p.r. award for doublespeak, as the press release “honors the Annenberg Center’s long legacy of world-class quality and progressive artistry, while also positioning the organization for future growth.”
It is unfortunate that the Annenberg name has been removed in the year following Black Lives Matter awareness. Annenberg, a Republican who was Ambassador to the Court of St. James, was a giant in supporting educational causes, and gave away over $2 billion in his lifetime. He was far ahead of his time in understanding the need to support the education of Black youths. In 1990, Annenberg gave $50 million to the United Negro College Fund. If regular market returns are figured in, this gift would be worth half a billion today. He also gave $50 million to the Philadelphia school system.
″Unless young blacks are brought into the mainstream of economic life they will continue to be on the curbstone. The key to this problem is education,″ said Annenberg, in the Los Angeles Times, at the time of the gift. ″Black colleges have got to be supported. The entire country has to get behind this. Foundations, corporations and private citizens. We can’t just leave this for the government to do.″
“Penn Live Arts more accurately reflects our position as Philadelphia’s leading presenter of diverse and cutting-edge programming, along with a deeper integration with the University of Pennsylvania,” said Christopher Gruits, executive and artistic director of Penn Live Arts, in a press release. “It’s fitting to kick off our multi-year 50th anniversary celebration with the announcement of our new identity and begin this exciting new chapter of progress. Our goal is that this rebrand serves as the catalyst for new performance works, new creativity and new connections both in and outside of the theatre.”
Recently the organization announced the naming of the Julia Mag Mally Stage and the Feintuch Family Lobby, named for Richard D. Feintuch and his wife Merry Henig Feintuch. Let’s home for their sake that their naming opportunity doesn’t run out in 2071.
The late Philadelphia architect Vincent Kling designed the Annenberg Center, one of many his many Philadelphia commissions. The brutal/modern style architect Kling, also a designer of urban landscapes and parks, worked with urban planner Edmund Bacon on the city’s post World War II redevelopment. (A side note; the c. 1970 arena, Richmond Coliseum, is under the threat of demolition.)
It could be said that there is some confusion in the arts world, as there a Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California. That institution, founded in 2013 and nicknamed “The Wallis”, is independent and named for Roger Annenberg’s daughter. It also has a different identity and mission, and has a much larger budget of $11 million. Wallis Annenberg is a philanthropist in her own right, and leads the Annnenberg Foundation.
Below, watch the promotion of the name change and upcoming season; it will make you wonder why they are making a name change at all. A better solution to the issue could be to keep the name of the Annenberg Center, and hold and promote a performing arts series entitled Penn Live Arts.