Edward Bass’s Mega-Gift of $160 Million Will ‘Transform’ Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History

The museum will use the donation to fund its renovation and expansion.

Edward Bass. Photo: Gary Logan. Courtesy of Yale University and the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Even though the size of philanthropic donations to museums continues rising with the tide of private wealth, precious few institutions expect to unwrap a single gift totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars on any given day. But Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History just entered that rare air. This morning, Yale announced that Edward P. Bass, an alumnus and former senior fellow of the university’s board, has pledged a stunning $160 million to the museum’s renovation and expansion.

Bass’s contribution supercharges an effort to reinforce the Peabody and Yale’s joint history as a world leader in scientific research. Opened to the public in 1925, and now boasting a collection of more than 13 million objects ranging from dinosaur fossils to mammal displays to minerals, the museum will add 50 percent more gallery space after its renovation. It will also receive generous updates and augmentations to several other aspects of its exhibitions and operations. However, the final details and timing of the project are still being discussed, and fundraising will continue.

View of the new entry ramp around the Peabody. Photographic rendering courtesy of Centerbrook Architect and Planners.

Through his mega-donation to the Peabody and his past philanthropy, Bass “has transformed the scientific landscape at Yale,” according to university president Peter Salovey. “Imagine an expanded natural history museum where the exhibits reflect the most current science; where faculty members and students can more efficiently use the collections; and where our investigators have spectacular research facilities. This is a magnificent gift.”

Bass’s donation is only the latest and largest philanthropic airdrop on American museums. Last October, David Geffen pledged $150 million to the fundraising campaign for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Peter Zumthor-led remodel—only 18 months after donating $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art’s renovation and expansion. This April, the Art Institute of Chicago received an unrestricted $50 million gift from trustee Janet Duchossois and her husband, Craig, as well as an additional $20 million from board chair Robert Levy and his wife, Diane, for operations and acquisitions. And just last month, Kenneth C. Griffin donated a total of $20 million to the Norton Museum in Palm Beach.

Other institutions can likely expect big money to keep pouring in, too. According to David Callahan of Inside Philanthropy, more than 4,000 gifts of $1 million or more were made to arts and cultural institutions between 2005 and 2014 alone. Bass and his peers demonstrate that the wave has continued unbroken in the time since.

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