Big donations from arts philanthropists are what keep institutions like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra afloat. Early this morning, the ASO announced a hefty gift with a twist: The Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation, with ties to Atlanta and St. Louis, has awarded $1.85 million for the ASO’s endowment and includes a bonus for the musicians, the Mabel Dorn Reeder Honorary Chair.
It’s a merit-based award for an ASO player who “demonstrates excellence in musical artistry, leadership, collegiality and community engagement. The chair may be granted to any tenured orchestra member, including those who already occupy a named chair. Recipients will be awarded a one-time $10,000 stipend at the start of their five-year term as the honoree, to be utilized for professional development. The award will be celebrated every five years.”
A five-member committee — ASO Music Director Robert Spano, President Stanley Romanstein, board Chairman Ben Johnson, General Manager John Sparrow and an orchestra volunteer — will pick the musician, with a likely announcement in May.
Born in South Carolina, Mabel Dorn Reeder was the daughter of a state senator and wife of Thomas H. Reeder of Atlanta. After she died at 98 in 2007, the foundation began making sizable contributions to cultural organizations in Atlanta and St. Louis. Over the past three years, it has given the ASO half a million dollars toward various projects, and contributed to the Atlanta History Center and Atlanta Botanical Garden.
In July 2010, the foundation, led by Reeder’s goddaughter Mabel Purkerson, a St. Louis physician, gave the St. Louis Symphony a $2 million endowment gift and named a Reeder Honorary Chair with that orchestra. In November, the foundation also gave $2 million to Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the largest single gift ever received by the internationally renowned summer festival. Reeder Foundation honors also have gone to St Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine, among others.
IRS tax forms from 2009, the most recent available, list the foundation’s worth at about $15 million. By the looks of it, at least, the foundation isn’t giving from interest off its principal but is actually giving the whole thing away.
The $1.85 million gift will go into the ASO’s $70 million general endowment, which has a targeted draw of 5 percent annually. Of that, a (tiny) portion will fund the $10,000 musician stipend, once every five years in perpetuity. But the orchestra’s debt remains huge. Last June, Romanstein told me that the accumulated deficit was $6 million, with $3.3 million of it added in fiscal year 2010. The rate of debt growth is slowing — $3 million more is expected to be added to the total in fiscal 2011 — but a debt north of $9 million is, well, staggering.
About the new gift, Romanstein calls it “historic.” It “represents a new model for supporting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra — in which a contribution can transcend Symphony Hall and marry our institutional goals with unique philanthropic vision. The Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation’s honorary chair model will inspire others to think outside of the traditional named gift, and I look forward to the creativity and generosity gifts like this will undoubtedly inspire.”