Private philanthropy is an American tradition. Out country is full of public buildings gifted by successful individuals who believe that their success comes from the American system and the strength and independence of its people.
One example treated to a whole chapter in Amity Shlaes book on the great depression, The Forgotten Man. Andrew Mellon was an incredibly successful man who not only created great wealth. He also served in the administrations of three Presidents. Because of his success, he was a target of the Roosevelt government for tax evasion. This while he was planning his gift of a fabulous art collection and a new building to house it to the American people.
He eventually defended himself in the tax case and gave the people of the United States what is now the National Gallery.
In his mind, he was demonstrating that private citizens could be better stewards that the government if freed from unreasonable taxes and constraints at the same time Roosevelt was trying to strip wealth from the people who created it.
“But what was new was something that Mellon was only now revealing– what had been on his mind all these years, the philosophy behind the donations of the collection. Mellon was not trying to bribe the government, or even placate it. He was trying to outclass it.”
This new art museum in Arkansas is a demonstration that this spirit in American entrepreneurs is still strong. The Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville Arkansas is being built to house the collection of American art collected by Alice Walton. America would be a much poorer place if Roosevelt had succeeded in striping the wealth away from successful people. This collection and this museum would never exist if we depended on the government to create it.
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- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas Names a New Director (nytimes.com)