Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has a long exemplified the broad vision and global scope of the Big Philanthropy establishment. His work has attracted its share of criticism on this publication, mainly for its more or less deracinated concept of corporate charity. Philanthrolocalists are quick to point out the ways in which the mayor’s particular idea of social change sometimes tramples the organic patterns of life in the places targeted for his beneficence. Still, that’s not to dismiss the man or his considerable philanthropic work, which has surely shaped the fields of education and health policy, to take but two obvious examples, for years to come.
Now news that the Gotham billionaire and would-be president has donated $50 million to the Boston Museum of Science. Bloomberg grew up just up the road in Medford and remembers spending weekend mornings wandering around the Science Museum in bright-eyed boyish wonder. “[The Science Museum] is where I learned to ask questions, to recognize just how much there is to learn about the world, and to follow science wherever it leads," Bloomberg said when announcing his gift, which is the largest in the 186-year history of the Beantown institution.
So after decades of investing his considerable resources around the country and indeed the world, Bloomberg has brought his philanthropic chickens home to roost. (To be sure, this is actually Mr. Bloomberg’s fourth gift to his hometown museum, but it is by far the biggest and splashiest of the lot.) This is heartening, and philanthrolocalists who may have eyed Bloomberg’s past patterns of giving with suspicion will perhaps find something a little more wholesome in this gift. Bloomberg’s affection for the Museum seems genuine. The New York Times, in reporting on this story, notes that the former mayor often lists the Science Museum as the second biggest influence in his life after his parents.
Which might prompt the question, why has it taken so long for the Massachusetts native to remember his favorite little museum? One hopes it doesn’t signal a kind of late-career tokenism whereby the great and good give back to their childhood haunts merely out of some sense of nostalgia or sentiment. Such a move would make local giving just another department in the philanthropic establishment, ultimately weakening the distinctiveness of homegrown causes. But for now, Bloomberg's gift will help see the Museum of Science through its next 186 years, and for that we can all be grateful.