DC Buys Bronze Bobbleheads for Billionaires

DC Buys Bronze Bobbleheads for Billionaires

As part of its economic recovery effort, the DC Government commissioned $700,000 worth of sculpture for billionaire Theodore Lerner and his family. DC already built $611 million Nationals Park for the Lerners, who own the local Major League Baseball franchise, and the government wants to decorate it to suit the wealthy tenants. Who knows, this might even encourage the Lerners to actually pay rent on the stadium.

You can admire the artistic gifts your tax dollars bought for the Lerners at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, April 8th, when the sculptures will be dedicated. RSVP to Deirdre Ehlen at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) by email or phone (202-724-5613). The event is free, so go see the art you paid for before you have to buy Nationals tickets to do it.

Forbes estimates the personal wealth of Theodore  N. Lerner at $2.5 billion, but why spend your own money on art when the taxpayers will commission it for you?  The DC Government dead- panned that the baseball art belongs to DC and is only on loan to the Lerners, an assertion worthy of a Larry Neal Award for fiction.  The sculpture  is site-specific, so saying the art is on loan is like saying you don’t own the fillings in your teeth, you only rent them.

[Update: Theodore Lerner is now worth $3.2 billion.]

The Lerner  family certainly  loves art. Mr. Lerner’s wife Annette  is co-hosting a fundraising party for an art museum today in Palm Springs, California.  Mrs. Lerner, herself a visual artist, is a noted art collector. The Lerners are  generous with their persnal art collection, and loaned a painting by American Impressionist Childe Hassam to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibit. The jewel of Bethesda’s Imagination Stage is the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre (Lerner son-in-law Robert K. Tanenbaum is on the Board).

But Lerner Enterprises is the largest private real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area. The Annette M. Lerner and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation reported making charitable gifts of $2,150,700 in 2006. The family gave $550,000 to alma mater George Washington University towards the building of Theodore N. Lerner Hall. Ted and Annette Lerner own homes in Chevy Chase,  Palm Springs, and  Kent Island.  Mark Lerner, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, Robert K. Tanenbaum,  Debra Lerner Cohen — children and sons-in-law,  all Nationals owners — have substantial assets, too. Note to DC Government: these people can — and do — buy their own art; you do not have to buy it for them. To do so is bad public arts policy and bad government. If you do not know what “opportunity cost” means, ask the Lerners.

Art is good. Baseball is good. Family is good. The Lerner family loves art and baseball; they are  generous, cultured, civic-minded, haimishe, and unpretentious, but they can surely afford their own art, and should have refrained from out-bargaining the inept DC government on this issue just because they could. The Lerners derive direct benefit from the sculptures; they should donate the price of this art to DCCAH  so it can be used to fund public art projects that really are public.

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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6 Responses to “DC Buys Bronze Bobbleheads for Billionaires”

  1. Sharon Farmer Says:

    Wow….and artists can’t get decent grants…I’m for a Fenty recall….he’s not a good mayor for this city!

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Sharon: Sadly, DCCAH leadership seems tone-deaf when it comes to arts policy, and DCCAH advises the Mayor on culture.

    Since DC’s executive branch abandoned meaningful support for the arts, the DC Council tried to fill the gap, resulting in wasteful and ill-advised earmarks. No wonder DC is losing artists and cultural organizations.

    It is long past time to restore accountability, effectiveness, and professionalism to the DC Arts Commission.

  3. Hattie Says:

    Wasn’t the era of excess supposed to be over?

  4. Nationals unveil freakishly cool statues outside center field gate Says:

    […] One critic has a solid point, though. The Lerner family, owner of the Nats, is very into art and is worth over $3 billion. The Lerners will no doubt appreciate this, yet the $700,000 cost of this project was handled by D.C. taxpayers on top of the $611 million they already coughed up for the new ballpark. So, yeah, maybe they could have contributed some cash. […]

  5. Frank Sutherland Says:

    Do not point the proverbial finger at the Lerners sirs: You have only your good selves to blame for supporting local Government and I have no doubt that in the end this will all work out for the best for all.
    The Lerner record stands for itself and I humbly suggest that if your country was run by just such a family, everyone would be better off, including we north of the 49th.

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    Frank Sutherland wrote: Do not point the proverbial finger at the Lerners sirs: You have only your good selves to blame for supporting local Government and I have no doubt that in the end this will all work out for the best for all.

    Good news: the government that mandated the public give-away was voted out of office, and the Arts Commission has returned to professional leadership. The bad news: those statues remain behind a fence and citizens who paid for them can’t see them wiithout buying a ticket. Of course many critics would like the art placed behind a much taller fence, in a remote area.

    The Lerner record stands for itself and I humbly suggest that if your country was run by just such a family, everyone would be better off, including we north of the 49th.

    Mr. Sutherland is just sore because the Nationals used to be a Canadian team, the Montreal Bluejays. And a handful of rich families (the Koch brothers, et. al.) do run our country. And his (Bronfman family, et. al.).

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