Ray Charles, Frustrated Philanthropist

Beginning in 2001, the musician Ray Charles gave $3 million to Georgia’s Albany State University. The institution, in return, was supposed to build a performing arts center on campus.

Now the Ray Charles Foundation, which gives support to educational institutions, wants the musician’s money back. According to an Associated Press article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The Ray Charles Foundation is demanding the return of a $3 million gift given to Albany State University a decade ago because the organization says the college has yet to use the money to build a performing arts center in the late artist’s name.

The money was given solely for the construction of the performing arts center, yet it only exists “on the drawing board and in an unapproved downsized plan,” the foundation said in a statement.

“It is incomprehensible that Albany State University failed to use the money in the manner Mr. Charles wanted. Mr. Charles would find ASU’s behavior unacceptable,” [foundation president Valerie Ervin] said.

Ray Charles, who died in 2004, was a native of Albany.

The state university insists that it’s still trying to build the performing arts center. The school, which has suffered declines in state funding, protests that the building is projected to cost $23 million. And it just hasn’t raised that much money yet.

But that’s okay, the school says. It didn’t have to raise the money. According to a letter the university’s lawyer sent to the foundation,

”When Mr. Charles made the two separate gifts to the University, he did so without restrictions,” the letter reads. “The University does believe that a Fine Arts Building named after Mr. Charles, with a theatre named in honor of Mr. Charles’ mother, Mrs. Aretha Robinson, is one of the ways to do ‘the right thing.’ The University has been working tirelessly towards that goal.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer