Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


<--Please Select Department-->

First Advisor

Betsy Thomas

Second Advisor

Agnes Berecz


Founded to provide a young nation with cultural foundations and dedicated to educating its public, the large historic cultural institutions of the United States find their origin in private initiatives and of private-public-partnerships for the benefit of the communities they serve. This thesis outlines that, at its core, museums and their funding structures in the United States exist in the format we find today because of the active and informed contributions of their patrons. It is these contributions that have shaped the American museum landscape over the course of its history. Two case studies – Bertha Palmer and her bequest to the Art Institute of Chicago, and Anna Wintour and the Met Gala – will demonstrate that while donorship mechanisms have changed since the inception of many cultural institutions in the United States in the 1870s, the relationships between patrons and institutions still function within the same operational framework and reveal the same theoretical structures. Utilizing First Name Bourdieu’s theoretical framework on different forms of capital provides a baseline through which the two case studies can be compared and analyzed.