Troubled Carnegie Hall shares new chair with the Met

Carnegie Hall has installed Mercedes Bass as interim chair and announced a new governance committee to oversee the day-to-day running of the business.

Mrs Bass, a long-term Carnegie trustee, is also Managing Director of the Board of Trustees and Executive Board of the Metroplitan Opera. She is a huge donor to both companies.

Her appointment is both a stop-gap and an illustration that the number of super-rich who support classical music and opera in New York is diminished to a tiny handful. Carnegie is struggling to replace its former billionaire chairman, Ron Perelman, who accused the chief executive Clive Gillinson of exceeding his authority. Press release follows. This saga is not yet laid to rest.

carnegie hall interior

NEW YORK, NY—Carnegie Hall today announced that Mercedes T. Bass has been elected as Acting Chairman of Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees. Mrs. Bass has been a dedicated Carnegie Hall trustee for 26 years, having joined the board in 1989 and served as a Vice Chair since 2006. She succeeds Carnegie Hall’s outgoing board chairman, Ronald O. Perelman, and she will hold this post while a search process for a Chairman is completed. Mrs. Bass was elected at the Annual Meeting of Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees, held on Thursday afternoon, October 8, chaired by Carnegie Hall President Sanford I. Weill.

At the Annual Meeting, the trustees also elected its slate of officers to include: Kenneth J. Bialkin, Acting Secretary; Edward C. Forst, Treasurer; as well as Vice Chairs Clarissa Alcock Bronfman,Klaus Jacobs, Peter W. May, and Burton P. Resnick. Mr. May will continue to serve in his role as Chair of Carnegie Hall’s Board Development and Nominating Committee.

In addition, the Board approved the creation of a new Governance Committee, charged with overseeing policies and practices related to board stewardship, providing guidance and recommendations to the board at large. The new committee will be chaired by longtime trusteeRobert I. Lipp, who has served on the board since 2000. Mr. Lipp will be be joined by committee members: Carnegie Hall Chairman Emeritus Richard A. Debs; trustee Don M. Randel, board chair of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and former President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation who was newly-elected as a Carnegie Hall trustee at the October 8 meeting.

 

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  • I was already heavily involved with nonprofit arts organizations in New York when Mercedes Bass emerged on the scene with her marriage to Sid Bass. Since that time, I have observed Mrs. Bass at relatively close range. (By the way, she deserves to be referred to by the more formal appellation of Mrs. Bass.)

    For decades, I thought she was an intelligent woman, but more adept at choosing wardrobes, menus, and dinner guests. When given the opportunity, she proved to be much, much more. She is driven, smart, and dedicated. She loves music; perhaps as a self-taught aficionado, but devoted to continually informing herself about the art form. She actually ATTENDS with regularity. This is a lot more than I can say for a majority of those sitting on nonprofit boards. When Mrs. Bass was charged with raising money for organizations, she was focused like a laser—informed and tenacious. Don’t count her out (all of you BSDs out there…).

    I will never forget my first time actually in conversation with Mrs. Bass. She has a unique ability to focus absolutely on whomever she is speaking with. I felt as if I was the only person in the room. She is a seductress, and that is a compliment.

    Ron Perelman was not wrong in his assessment of the Carnegie board’s right to be fully informed of the finances of the organization, otherwise, how could it otherwise knowledgably exercise its legal fiscal duty? His mistake was picking up his toys and going home. Witnessing how Mrs. Bass stood out amongst her peers during the Met’s labor negotiations last year by seriously questioning some of management’s tactics, I would advise Carnegie Hall to try to engage her for the long-term as Chair.

    • To provide more insight about the draw backs of letting the wealthy formulate our cultural lives, we might remember that Mrs. Bass (to use the “more formal appellation of Mrs. Bass deserves” (ha!)) was a financial supporter of Rick Perry, who has been an outspoken opponent of federal health-care reform proposals and of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, describing the latter as “socialism on American soil”. (The USA is the only developed country in the world without national health insurance.)

      America alone carries on with the quasi-feudalistic idea that the wealthy should fund the arts. We must accept that the professionalism and broader base of support created by public funding systems are far superior and prevent the issues that Carnegie and countless other arts organizations in the USA continually face.

      • Actually, Mrs. Bass, is vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of the Met, and one of a group of managing directors. A few seconds on the web could have clarified that. I may not like her politics, but that has nothing to do with her generous, often enlightened patronage. The same can be said of Ronald Lauder.
        The system of health care in the United States, which under Obamacare is actually somewhat similar now to the sickness funds (Krankenkassen) of Germany and Austria, which do not have a ‘single payer’ system like the UK and Canada, has nothing to do with its system of private arts patronage. I, for one, am proud of the magnificent collection of world-class art museums in the United States, with their generous private endowments. Compare them to the often sleepy, often neglected, art museums found in many places in Western Europe, which generally lacks a tradition of private patronage.

        • Public arts funding and national health insurance are both manifestations of social democracy, a modern form of government used by all developed countries except the USA. Even a cursory comparison shows how much better public arts funding works, especially for the democratic distribution of the performing arts.

          The Grand Tier at the Met is named after “Mrs.” Bass. Perhaps they should refer to her as the Duchess. In any case, she divorced Mr. Bass in 2011 and is thus more Ms. and Mrs.

        • I have the feeling that a person in the US who has to sell their house to pay medical bills or decide between food or medication might have a different slant on Ms. Bass.
          For a buck the met will name anything after you, remember Vilar anyone ?
          Did they ever return his supposed ill gotten gains .

  • I believe that’s a huge unsupportable assumption – that only a handful of rich support classical music in NYC. Rather, I would suggest that, in a rapidly changing world focused on the digital, only a handful of the wealthy have the skills and experience necessary to manage a major arts organization. It’s not an “in name only” thing. It’s actual work and strategy and very, very difficult. Mrs. Bass should be commended for all she does. She seems from the outside looking in to be an extraordinary person.

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