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The Lyric removes the Modell name from its historic Baltimore theater, severing relationship with benefactors

The Modell name has been removed from the 127-year-old Baltimore theater that the philanthropic family once helped bail out.

When the letters spelling out Patricia and Arthur Modell’s names came down March 30, it left a dark shadow on the tan brick exterior, not unlike the effect that the falling-out has had on the relationship between one of Baltimore’s most prized institutions and a prominent family of benefactors.

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But both Lyric administrators and a family spokeswoman say this ends the dispute and that they will move on.

Michel Modell no longer anticipates asking a judge to rule that her in-laws’ names should be on the front of the building in perpetuity in exchange for the family’s $3.5 million donation in 2010.

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“I am trying to come to terms with how my in-laws would have approached this,” Michel Modell said. “They would hate to think that we wasted a quarter of a million dollars going to court.”

The Modell name has been removed from The Lyric, formerly known as the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric. The theater had been renamed for the Modells in 2010 following a pledge of $3.5 million.
The Modell name has been removed from The Lyric, formerly known as the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric. The theater had been renamed for the Modells in 2010 following a pledge of $3.5 million. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

And Jonathan Schwartz, The Lyric’s executive director, said the theater has not filed a lawsuit seeking to recover the final $300,000 installment that trustees say is owed to the institution as part of the original gift. Instead, the board will devote its energies to seeking new sponsors.

“Art and Pat will always be fondly remembered and honored by The Lyric Foundation and staff,” Schwartz said.

“We are grateful for their many years of support. We’re going to be moving on and looking to the philanthropic community of Baltimore to support our critical mission.”

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The ruckus arose over the nature of the agreement between The Lyric and Arthur Modell, who brought the Baltimore Ravens to Charm City for the 1996 season, and his wife, Pat, a former TV and film actress.

At the time, the $3.5 million gift to be paid in installments over 10 years was among the largest gifts ever made to a Baltimore cultural organization. It was part of a $12.5 million capital campaign to renovate and expand the theater and make it more competitive with such similarly sized venues as the nearby France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.

In exchange, the venerable landmark in the Midtown neighborhood was renamed the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

The Modell name no longer adorns The Lyric after a dispute over donations.
The Modell name no longer adorns The Lyric after a dispute over donations. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

As the 10-year anniversary approached and the flow of donations was scheduled to stop, Lyric administrators asked the Modell family to continue making annual gifts of $300,000. In return, the family was told, Art and Pat’s name would remain on the building.

But the family said they had understood that their name would be emblazoned on the building forever and that the honor wasn’t contingent on their future support. After negotiations broke down, Michel Modell withheld the final payment in protest.

Earlier this year, the quarrel went public. Last month, the Modell family gave Lyric administrators 30 days to remove the family’s name from the facade or face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

“They literally drove their biggest philanthropic family to remove the name themselves,” Michel Modell said.

At the time, Schwartz said removing the name that quickly from the building, web domain and branding materials would be impossible. Like other venues throughout Maryland, The Lyric has been shuttered for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ticket sales and other forms of earned revenue dried up overnight.

But on March 30, The Lyric found a way.

“It was money that we had to spend that we didn’t have,” said Schwartz, estimating that the sign removal cost in the low four figures. “But the company that we hired to take it down was very kind in their pricing.”

Like other venues throughout Maryland, The Lyric has been shuttered for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other venues throughout Maryland, The Lyric has been shuttered for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Though the board has complied with the family’s demands, it will take time for the rest of the world to catch up. Though the Modell name no longer is used on The Lyric’s website, it still can be found on such external sources as the tourism organization Visit Baltimore and the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

“We’ve taken the name off everything we control,” Schwartz said.

Michel Modell said she will keep her promise to donate the $300,000 that would have gone to The Lyric to other Baltimore charitable and cultural organizations. She’s exploring partnerships with the Maryland Food Bank, the Maryland branch of the American Cancer Society and three arts organizations she declined to name.

She said the fight left her feeling disillusioned.

“We’re trying to regain our trust,” she said. “My brother-in-law and I are committed to trying to help in Baltimore. But this was a huge burn.”

Schwartz said The Lyric has made overtures to the philanthropic and corporate community, and is cautiously optimistic at the preliminary response he has received.

“The Lyric has been around for 127 years, and our goal is to make sure that it’s around for long after we are gone,” he said.

“The board and I are just temporary keepers of an institution that is a jewel to our city. We aim to pass it along in better condition than we found it. This is Baltimore’s house. It is Maryland’s house. It is not mine nor anyone else’s.”

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