Update on the Rosenbach-Philadelphia Free Library merger
This is an update to my previous story posted about the merger of the Philadelphia Free Library and the Rosenbach Library. My article noted involvement of the Pew Memorial Trusts in the merger. There’s more to this than meets the eye.
An opinion article from 2007 by Marie C. Malara, “The New Goals at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Fate of the Nonprofit Sector” (Nonprofit Quarterly, volume 14, summer 2007:70 – 72). In this piece, the author attacks president of Pew, Rebecca W. Rimel, who wishes to make Philadelphia (Pew’s home) into a major center for the arts in the US. The author cites the case of the Barnes Foundation which Pew interfered with in order to move it to Center City Philadelphia. She regards this as a betrayal of the Pew’s founding principles.
The article, probably rightly, did not receive much play outside the supporters of the old Barnes Foundation. My own take? I don’t agree with the thrust of the piece. Merger is the continuing story of foundations urging smaller organizations to consolidate in order to survive and (we all hope) thrive. Pew and Rimel may make some mis-steps, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of bad faith and betrayal of founding principles. There’s a lot to be said for Rimel’s vision in an extended (post-1980) period of economic contraction and reduced government funding. Still, pieces like this one should make us pause, and ensure that we’re really engaged in an alignment of activities, mission and founding ideas.
By Paul Romaine
Paul Romaine is a grant writer and independent curator in New York City.