"The jaw drops, what can I tell you?" said Thora Jacobson, director of the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, the small school and museum in South Philadelphia administered by the Art Museum. "Five hundred million? Good for them, if they can do it."
Actually, few doubt that the museum can do it. But Philadelphia's known donor pool is relatively small, and all of these campaigns hitting simultaneously has caused donor fatigue to set in, says Nancy Kolb, president of the Please Touch Museum, which still has more than $30 million to raise for its proposed move to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park.
"I think the usual suspects are probably getting tired and burned out, so I think it's a matter of cultivating new friends," Kolb said. "There is a lot of new money in this community that is not yet philanthropic-minded. There are a lot of young people on the Main Line who made a lot of money. Some of them like children, some of them like libraries, and some of them like art."
Rebecca W. Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, also wants more heavy hitters to get in the giving mood.
"There is a lot of money in the Philadelphia region, and some of that is new to the region and some is newly made money, and we have to get them excited and get them to take an ownership position," Rimel said.
She says Philadelphia must recognize that some of its assets are nationally renowned, and fund-raisers must start to look outside the region for funds.
Case in point: the Barnes Foundation, whose move to the Parkway Rimel has headed.
"We have over 35 donors having committed $100 million," she said. "I believe the campaign now has to go international and national."
The National Museum of American Jewish History is raising money in Boston, Chicago and New York and plans to take its campaign national to continue raising $100 million for endowment and a new 90,000-square-foot building, its leaders say.
Other arts groups, too, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, are increasingly following the money wherever it takes them - to Palm Beach in the winter, to Maine in the summer, and, often, to New York.
Arts officials say that if anyone can raise $500 million - the plan calls for $200 million in government money and $300 million from private sources - the Art Museum can. Such optimism stems from the fact that the museum recently exceeded expectations with a $247 million campaign - and because the museum's board is loaded with civic heavy hitters and is headed by former cable-TV baron H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who has become one of the region's most generous benefactors.
It will also help that the museum is phasing in the project it announced Tuesday in such a way that parts can happen as funding falls into place.
Still, even over 10 years, some arts groups foresee tough competition ahead.
"It's always a concern when a major cultural group starts a campaign when your group is doing a campaign. I'm choosing to be optimistic," said Hilary Alger, director of development for the Pennsylvania Ballet, which has $9 million in pledges on a $10 million campaign for endowment, facilities and artistic initiatives.
"I think what it has done is stratify the cultural community in the dramatic way," Jacobson said. "There are the big institutions - and then there are the second-tier institutions," she explained, referring to the size of their annual budgets. "And I think it's going to make it difficult for the second-tier organizations to raise funds. The major donors are going to want to invest in the first-tier institutions."
There is, however, a significant bright side, potentially for everyone. Many arts leaders subscribe to the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats theory - that is, that supersize efforts such as the $265 million Kimmel Center, the legal and financial maneuvering to move the Barnes Foundation into a new building downtown, and now the Art Museum expansion are somehow salutary for the city's psyche, in terms of getting people to expand their estimation of what's possible.
"I think Philadelphia is at a tipping point," Rimel said. "The tipping point occurs when enough really important things happen and the dots get connected. I think we're there."
"The great thing about Philadelphia since I've been here in the past seven years is people are latching onto the idea of rolling out vision," Lane said.
The museum's particular vision is nothing less than a remaking of itself.
The $500 million will pay for a new parking garage hidden underground; a "big dig" removal and replacement of the courtyard to carve out a much larger special exhibitions space underground; a larger American art gallery; new high-ceiling spaces for modern sculpture; new education facilities and loading docks; and substantial updating of the building's systems.
"There will be more art to view, but it will be very integrated with the whole story that the museum seeks to tell," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, the Art Museum's director. "Being a comprehensive art museum is a great thrill, because you can connect the art of today with art of 2,000 years ago. The visitor will find so much more architecturally beautiful and capacious public space in which to have many different things going on."
This new plan follows on the heels of a recently completed $247 million campaign, which boosted museum endowment (whose current market value is $270 million), and paid for acquisition and renovation of the Perelman Building across the Parkway; for technology and education initiatives; and for acquisition of art.
Combined, the two efforts bring the museum's fund-raising total to three-quarters of a billion dollars - very big money by any city's standards.
Also important to remember, arts leaders say, is that new buildings and expansions do nothing to solve the crisis in raising money every year for operating support.
True, the city got the Kimmel Center built. And now it is running deficits.
Art Museum chairman Lenfest is among those seeking a new source of funding for day-in and day-out operations of the arts in Philadelphia. He is advocating that the suburbs, whose populations come into the city for the arts, join the city in paying a portion of funding the operations of arts groups.
"Long-term funding of the arts will require an increase in sales tax," he said.
Mayor Street has expressed interest in starting a dedicated funding source for arts and culture groups. In February, he said that the arts needed a new revenue stream of $50 million to $100 million each year and that he was working quietly on a mechanism for putting that funding in place.
He has so far not indicated where the money would come from - a tax, an endowment, or some other mechanism.
City Commerce Director Stephanie W. Naidoff said in a statement that among the strategies being researched are a united arts fund and state tax revenues.
Making the right argument for public funding of the arts will be important, Rimel said.
"If we position it as 'the arts are needy' or that 'it should be done' - those things are true," she said. "But this is about return on investment for the taxpayer or whatever funding stream gets put in place."
Contact culture writer Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or email@example.com.
Arts and Culture Campaigns in Philadelphia: A Selection
Campaign Goal Raised
Barnes Foundation $150 $100
New building and endowment
Calder Museum 70 NA
Free Library of Philadelphia 150 50
Building addition and endowment
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts 90 25
Endowment and/or debt-reduction
Mann Center for the Performing Arts 13.2 10.5
Renovations and facilities improvements
National Museum of American Jewish History 100 70
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 35 32.5
Building acquisition and renovation
Pennsylvania Ballet 10 9
Endowment, new building and artistic initiatives
Philadelphia Orchestra 125 95
Philadelphia Theatre Company 27 12.5
New building, endowment and programming
Please Touch Museum * 82 41.8
New building renovations and endowment
NA Not available
* Includes $10 million expended on building proposed for Penn's Landing
Source: Individual organizations