21st Century Campaign

Our 21st Century Campaign will transform key sections of the Athenaeum’s interior, making it more useful, more welcoming and more comfortable, while preserving our building’s historic character and charm.

  • Are you hungry for cultural engagement, fellowship and good conversation?
  • Are you part of our growing audience, which has doubled since the onset of the pandemic?
  • Would you like to make the Athenaeum a better place for reading, learning, dreaming and engaging with friends?
Then we hope you’ll join us in supporting the Athenaeum’s 21st Century Campaign.
With your help, we will:

  • Create a handsome first-floor members’ lounge for browsing, casual conversation and sipping coffee or tea.
  • Enhance our exhibition gallery with improved lighting plus open views onto Washington Square and our building’s grand stairway.
  • Refresh our magnificent library reading room with comfortable seating, worktables and inviting book displays, plus improved lighting and computer plug-in facility.
  • Update staff workspaces on our topmost floor.
For a sneak peek at these exciting renovations . . . click here.



Our 21st Century Campaign will enable the Athenaeum to meet growing demand by expanding, updating and enhancing the interior of our awe-inspiring building.

In 1814, a band of merchants, lawyers and other professionals bent on shaping the cultural life of this bustling city started a small library over a bookshop. Their intent was to “pursue excellence and honor and usefulness” by creating a “convenient place of common resort.” The result was, and is, the Athenaeum.

They inhabited several locations before constructing the beautiful Italianate Revival building we now enjoy. This larger space provided room for reading, conversation and lectures on a variety of topics related to the many literary, historical and scientific developments of their day.

Now, as then, Philadelphia is a city teeming with cultural and intellectual curiosity. Emerging from years of pandemic isolation, we yearn more than ever for community. Our members have clearly articulated what is needed.

Since 2019, you asked for:
• More frequent and diverse programs – we offered 122 programs last year!
• Expanded evening and weekend hours – much appreciated by busy members
• Increased reading options – we added access to 65,000+ eBooks and audiobooks, books in translation and juvenile/YA books
• A safe refuge outside your home – we re-opened our doors in February 2021 with the highest health precautions and have not closed them since.

You asked, we listened, and you showed your support with record use of our services!

You have also asked for:
• Improved, comfortable seating options
• Places to relax with neighbors, coffee and the paper
• Increased workspaces with lighting and plug-in capacity
• Better work facilities for our committed and growing staff.

This campaign is the result of listening to you. We plan to nearly double public space on the ground floor, make the Dorothy W. & F. Otto Haas Gallery more inviting, the reading room/library more user-friendly and 3rd-floor staff offices more functional.

Together, we will make the Athenaeum an even better place to work, read, or dream by melding glorious 19th-century aesthetics with 21st-century technology and comfort. Together, we will create the best place in town to meet a friend for conversation over coffee, learn something new or browse a journal or exhibit. Together, we will grow our community through ideas, cultural engagement and fellowship in our elegant space.

Click here to learn more about our exciting plans or here to support this campaign.

Beth Hessel, PhD
Executive Director

Welcoming Places to Gather
1st Floor

  • We will transform our entryway, providing a more accommodating meeting place for our members and the public.
  • We will convert the current first floor offices and Bonaparte Room into a new membership lounge. This space will feature improved seating, current periodicals, access to staff and a beverage station, providing members with an intimate, welcoming space to relax, converse and gather.
  • We will create a seamless viewing experience in the Dorothy W. & F. Otto Haas Gallery with improved lighting and flexible hanging systems.
  • We will connect and engage with the Athenaeum’s Washington Square neighborhood and beyond by opening currently blocked gallery windows.
  • These improvements, taken together, will nearly double common area space on the 1st floor.

Video Walkthrough
Expanded Member Lounge
Refreshed Entryway
Updated Dorothy W. & F. Otto Haas Gallery
Enhanced Library Reading Room
2nd Floor

  • We will combine glorious 19th Century aesthetics with 21st Century technology and comfort by updating our showstopping Reading Room with the following: enhanced lighting, adequate electrical outlets and expanded seating options.
  • We will establish a welcoming presence for everyone who enters by moving the librarian’s desk closer to the front of the Reading Room.
  • We will install custom-designed book displays to facilitate exploration of our ever-changing collections.

Video Walkthrough
Enhanced Reading Room
Updated Staff Workspaces
3rd Floor

  • The 3rd-floor staff offices have remained unfinished since 1847 and lack heat, air conditioning and running water.
  • Staff do not have adequate space to meet, collaborate or store supplies.
  • We will finish and refurnish this space to enable staff to better serve the Athenaeum’s growing community and steward our collections.

You asked. We conducted focus groups, surveys and one-on-one conversations with our growing membership over the last three years. You told us what would make the Athenaeum a more vibrant, welcoming and user-friendly space.

We listened. We are raising funds for strategic building improvements that honor the desires of our founders while integrating the wishes of our current and future members. This project will help us welcome the many Philadelphians who seek a place of beauty, learning and community away from home after years of pandemic isolation.

The demand exists. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic caused membership in other cultural institutions to decline, Athenaeum membership held steady. So far this year, we’re welcoming new members at three times the usual rate. Our planned improvements are necessary if we are to accommodate and sustain this growth.

Deep cultural roots. In 1814, the Athenaeum’s founders created an institution that provided access to knowledge through books and periodicals, places to read and work with accessible hours, and dedicated space for lively conversation at the heart of our new nation.

A singular institution. Now, as then, the Athenaeum has been that space for Philadelphia. While the city has social clubs, research institutions and historical sites that offer some of these services, only the Athenaeum wraps them all up in one beautiful building.

A sound investment. Our Italianate Revival building serves as the “convenient place of common resort” our founders envisioned so long ago. Your support of the 21st Century Athenaeum Campaign will help us harness our National Historic Landmark building’s full potential. With your help, we will continue to nurture curiosity and strengthen our community through learning and discourse for the next 175 years.

We’ll be closed starting May 28 to make these plans a reality.
Stay updated on our progress!



Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who planned the renovations? We all did! Our 2018 strategic planning process, guided by a skilled facilitator, tapped members, friends, board and staff to learn what you wanted from your Athenaeum and set our course for the future. Kieran Timberlake, a renowned Philadelphia-based architectural firm, designed the renovation plans which you can view here.
  • Do we really need these upgrades? Yes! This represents the first comprehensive renovation of the Athenaeum’s interior since 1991. That was before we all had cell phones and used Wi-Fi! If you’ve ever tried to charge your laptop in the reading room, peek in from the street to see what’s on exhibit, work in an unheated space or chat with a friend in our cramped lounge, we hope you’ll support the campaign.
  • Can you raise $1.5 million? Yes. Last year, we successfully replaced our aging roof and secured a major grant to restore the exterior of our building. Interior renovations represent more attractive opportunities for donors and funders, will make an immediate impact and are decades overdue! Of course, we’d love your help.
  • What’s the timeline? Construction will take place in the summer of 2022. We’re pushing hard to complete renovations and minimize disruption for members and guests, so we can welcome you back in time for our 175th building anniversary celebration in October.
  • Will this change the building’s historic nature? Not at all. The Pennsylvania History & Museum Commission has approved our plans, which will maintain the historic feel of our beloved Landmark building and makes the most of our existing furniture collections in new ways. You can see the plans here.
  • I thought the Athenaeum had lots of money. Why do you need to raise more? Responsible fiscal management dictates we should not invade the principal that sustains us. The Board is quite clear on this. As it is, unrestricted revenue from our endowment covers less than half of our annual expenses. Each year, we must raise the majority of our operating costs such as staff salaries, utilities and programs. This comes from annual member dues and contributions. Most of our endowment funds are restricted to specific purposes, such as stewardship of our architectural collections. There’s no money dedicated to building improvements and renovations, which is why we must raise it.

    If you value the Athenaeum as we do, we hope you’ll help.