Golan to Donors: ’Tis Better To Give for the Arts Than To Receive

When milling around outside his Wigglesworth Hall entryway one spring afternoon in 1975, first-year Jay E. Golan ’78 caught a glimpse of the activity that would become central to his career.

A group of people were gathering beside Wadsworth House to celebrate the naming of a small granite bench.

Golan, now senior director and one of the top fundraisers at New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall, describes this as his first exposure to “creating a little event to recognize a donor for a particular enhancement.” He says this, of course, with a slightly joking air, noting that neither he nor his roommates had much respect for the tactic at the time.

But the work of developing non-profit and cultural institutions—by soliciting donors or establishing workshops with famous musicians to educate schoolteachers—has now become one of his passions.

And working at Carnegie Hall, which draws many of the world’s top classical musicians, could not be a better fit. Born to a pianist mother and into a family which he estimates is approximately half professional musicians, Golan says he has been “knocking around with instruments since I can remember.”

“The minute that Carnegie [Hall] called me to see if I was interested in a position there, I remember a thrill that went through me,” says Golan. “It seemed like a wonderful circling back of my personal interests.”

That call came in 1989, asking Golan if he wanted to become director of development for the 57th Street concert hall. Golan, having worked in a similar capacity for the New York Public Library, New York Public Radio and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, knew that he enjoyed this line of work.

For the past two years, he has shared the title of senior director after serving as director of development and director of planning.

While thousands flock to performances inside Carnegie Hall every year, Golan handles the hall’s relationship to the community outside its doors.

“He is the right hand to the executive director, Robert Harth, in terms of government relations, fundraising and the interaction of the hall with every aspect of the outside world,” says S. Donald Sussman, a board member at Carnegie Hall as well as chair and CEO of Paloma Partners in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands.

“I like being of service to an established institution,” says Golan.

Harvard may have played a part in shaping this sentiment, he says, adding that the University gave him an idea of “what a vision and collecting of great resources can produce on the other end—in terms of going out and improving the world.”

And he says that he has welcomed the chance to be near music.

“It simultaneously has so much to offer, both to the mind and to the spirit. It’s an emotional experience to go through a great concert; it’s also an intellectual experience to think about a great concert,” he says. “If anybody polled my house on how we spend our nights, I probably go to 80 to 100 classical music concerts a year and five of anything else, including movies and theater.”

Born in Nadick, Mass., and a self-proclaimed “Boston-boy” until after college, he says it was largely his family that instilled this love in him.

“I grew up in a family where we didn’t feel physically well if we went a few days without listening to music,” he says.

Though he still enjoys playing the piano, his primary instrument became the trumpet, which he played throughout college both independently and in the Bach Society Orchestra. At Harvard, he tapped into a small community of musicians, many of whom lived with him in Dunster House, known in the days before randomization as the hub of student musical talent.

He wrote for The Crimson, reviewing the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra’s concerts with the precision of an expert; in one review, he analyzed the quality of a soloist’s intonation and criticized the orchestra for failing to “negotiate heavily scored passages, while retaining delicacy and clarity.”

Golan says that some of the more common complaints about Harvard today—that it can be overwhelming and unfriendly to the arts—were not the case during his four years.

“It felt like a fairly small, intimate place to me,” he says, adding that he was the third of three brothers to attend. “I was part of a music community that was pretty congenial and tight.”

Accordingly, he says he divided most of him time between his studies and his trumpet.

In his four years, Golan completed both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in European Renaissance Studies—writing his thesis in his junior year on the development of confraternities out of secular, guild-based fraternities and then moving onto a Knox Fellowship at Oxford.

He says that Harvard was at the “cutting edge” of scholarship on that time period, lessening the formal break between the Middle Ages and the Renasissance.

“New movements have a lot of baggage from the immediate past,” Golan says. “And that also helps in negotiation in New York cultural circles.”

But Golan also ventured outside Harvard’s libraries and practice rooms to explore other interests.

He travelled to Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey and the Netherlands as a writer for Let’s Go. He developed the first edition of Let’s Go Italy and after college briefly tested travel writing as a profession.

He says he has always enjoyed developing several interests at once, a freedom he said he had more in his first year than in his later ones. And it is a freedom he has tried to maintain throughout his life.

“I actually loved my first year at Harvard, that sense of freshness and of exploration I thought was great,” he says. “I have tried to structure my life to be more like freshman year. I am always meeting a lot of new people, discussing a lot of new potential.”

His friends also recognize this trait in him, saying that it is well-suited to his profession. Laura H. Pomerantz, Principal of PBS Realty Advisers in New York City who also serves on the board of Carnegie Hall and chairs the Special Events committee, describes him as “analytical and responsible” and a skilled diplomat.

She has known Golan for nearly all of his tenure at Carnegie, meeting him first at a Luciano Pavarotti concert, where she said his love for music and his love for his job were clear.

“When you are dealing with the many different kinds of people that he deals with—from individuals to corporations to governments—it really does take a very strong interpersonal skills as well as a level of professionalism,” she says.

And this year, he is taking his work abroad, moving with his wife and two daughters to Jerusalem, where his wife will complete part of her education as a rabbinical student.

He says he welcomes the change of pace from his New York life, which often keeps him away from home 14 hours a day. And given his previous travelling experiences, including the initially difficult transition from his Boston roots to the artistic and electric center of music he found in New York, Golan says he’s excited for the move.

“I probably have the ability to really fall in love with my current surroundings and to move on without too many regrets,” he says.

—Staff writer Alexandra N. Atiya can be reached at atiya@fas.harvard.edu.