For years, many Philadelphia arts groups could count on a little marketing help from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest. The prominent philanthropist put some of his millions each year into billboards, TV spots, and radio ads promoting upcoming concerts and events and featuring celebrities like Kevin Bacon and Tony Bennett extolling Philadelphia’s arts scene.
But Lenfest died a little more than a year ago, and now the Love the Arts in Philadelphia program he supported for about a decade and a half has ceased operation.
Joel Gibbs, program director of Love the Arts, said that he has received a letter on behalf of Lenfest’s estate saying that funding will no longer flow to the program, and so it has come to an end.
“I have no knowledge as to the why,” said Gibbs. “It was terminated. That’s it.”
Gibbs declined to say how much money Lenfest gave to the program each year, but at Lenfest’s death, the Lenfest Foundation said the philanthropist had given $24 million to Love the Arts in Philadelphia since about 2000, making it the 11th-largest recipient of his generosity.
Gibbs said Lenfest had wanted the program to continue; that he had a letter of intent from Lenfest, dated June 2018, committing support through 2023; and that representatives of Lenfest’s estate offered no explanation for why that letter of intent would not prevail.
“It was wonderful and very, very helpful for so many years. It was great for the city,” said Gibbs. “And for whatever reason, Mr. Lenfest’s wishes are not being honored. That is all there is to say.”
His widow, Marguerite Lenfest, who is in the process of working to settle her husband’s estate, declined to comment, except to say that “the estate decided to terminate it, and that’s that.”
Lenfest, who died in August 2018, was once the owner of the Inquirer and its related media entities.
The program was responsible for billboard buys on I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway trumpeting specific upcoming events at the Mann Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and by other groups of various sizes. Among the personalities appearing in the TV ads were Billy Crystal, Reba McEntire, John Lithgow, John Legend, Kristin Chenoweth, Bobby Flay, and William Shatner, said Gibbs, adding that he and his wife, along with son Ken, ran the program.
“It is an immense loss,” said Philadelphia Chamber Music Society artistic director Miles Cohen. “We never get this kind of widespread exposure and we’re sad that it’s going away. It was something we’ve gotten accustomed to, and obviously we hear from patrons all over Philadelphia who say, ‘We saw your billboard’ or an ad on TV. It was a terrific thing. Do they sell tickets? Yes. Was it a huge component of our marketing budget? No. But we will miss it enormously.”
The program’s termination was revealed by Gibbs to the arts community last month at a meeting of arts staffers and board members. At that meeting, discussion turned to the suggestion that the money that had been going to the Love the Arts program would now be split between the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Museum of the American Revolution, according to two arts leaders who attended. Asked about that, Gibbs declined to comment.
The Museum of the American Revolution has not been informed of such a decision, a spokesperson for the museum said.
Philadelphia Inquirer publisher and CEO Terrance C.Z. Egger said it was not the case that money formerly devoted to Love the Arts would now be redirected to The Inquirer or to the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns the paper.
“I can tell you none of that money is coming to us,” he said.