Andrew Carnegie used wealth for museums, library, music hall

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Andrew Carnegie gave a library, music hall, art and natural history museum to Pittsburgh because he believed it was the best use of his wealth. In a speech, he said citizens would decide "whether the tree planted in your midst shall wither or grow."

He called the museums "wise extravagances" and hoped that "men capable of his own zeal" would run them while the community supported them. When Carnegie gave the main Oakland library and eight branches, the city's original agreement called for it to give $40,000 annually to the library.

Initially, Carnegie gave $11 million to the museums, money that was spent on prospecting for fossils, mineral specimens and prize money for winners of the Carnegie International, a showcase of contemporary art.

Contrary to a persistent myth, Andrew Carnegie did not endow the library, music hall or museums. In 1911, he set up the Carnegie Corp. in New York and asked it to give away $180 million, the remainder of his fortune. Over the years, the corporation donated funds to the Carnegie International.

Carnegie's hopes for his palace of culture have born fruit. After the Allegheny Regional Asset District Board was established, it began distributing half of the revenue from a 1 percent sales and use tax in Allegheny County. In 1995, the board's members deemed the museums a "contractual asset." This means that each year, the museums are guaranteed an allocation of $1,886,000.

Since 1995, the RAD board's allocations to Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh have risen consistently. For 2012, RAD gave the museums an operating grant of $2,841,000 plus a capital grant of $200,000 for a total allocation of $3,041,000.

In July, the museums asked the RAD board for additional money in 2013: $2,983,050 in operating funds and $3.5 million in capital grants. The large capital grants would be used to update aging buildings: upgrade security systems, modernize elevators, replace windows and roof panels, and make entryways accessible to disabled patrons.

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