21st Century Campaign

The 21st Century Athenaeum Capital Campaign Improvements will marry the breathtaking beauty of our Italianate interior with 21st Century technology and comfort. We hope you will join us in upgrading and expanding our Lounge, Gallery, Reading Room Library, and Staff Workspace.

  • If you’re part of our growing audience, which has doubled since the onset of the pandemic,
  • If you’re hungry for ideas, cultural engagement, and fellowship,
  • If you want a sneak peek at these exciting renovations . . . click here.
Then we hope you will join us in supporting a better place to work, read, dream, meet friends, and learn.


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

In 1814, a band of young men, bent on shaping the cultural life of this bustling city, started a small library over a bookshop. Their intent was to pursue excellence, 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 companionship.

Since 2019, you asked:
• For more, and more diverse, programs – we offered 122 programs last year!
• For expanded after work and weekend hours – which were eagerly filled as soon as added
• For more books – we added access to 800,000+ e-books and audiobooks and expanded our juvenile/YA books
• For a safe refuge other than 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 came… and came!

This campaign is the result of listening to you. We plan to nearly double public space on the ground floor, make the Haas Gallery more inviting, the reading room/library more user-friendly and increase 3rd floor functionality.

Together, we will make the Athenaeum an even better place to work, read, or dream in a space that combines glorious 19th century aesthetics with 21st century technology and comfort, a non-commercial place to meet a friend for coffee, learn, and browse a journal or exhibit.

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

Beth Hessel, PhD
Executive Director

Welcoming Places to Gather

  • We will transform our entryway, making it a better and more convenient meeting place for groups and more welcoming to everyone who enters.
  • We will convert the current first floor offices and Bonaparte Room into a new membership lounge featuring improved seating, current periodicals, access to staff, and a tea and coffee station, providing members with an intimate, welcoming space to relax, converse, and gather.
  • We will create a more seamless viewing experience in the Haas gallery with improved lighting and flexible hanging systems.
  • We will connect and engage with the Athenaeum’s Washington Square neighborhood and the whole city by opening now blocked windows of the member lounge and gallery spaces.
  • These improvements, taken together, will nearly double public space on the first floor.

Enhanced Reading Room Library

  • We will combine glorious 19th Century aesthetics with 21st Century technology and comfort by updating our showstopping Reading Room with the following: new 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.

Efficient and Pleasant Staff Workspaces

  • The third-floor staff offices have remained unfinished since 1847 and lack heat, air conditioning, and running water.
  • 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. Clearly, 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 Italian Renaissance Revival building has served 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 they wanted from their Athenaeum and set our course for the future. The renowned architectural firm of Kieren Timberlake designed the actual plans which can be viewed 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, make architectural copies in unheated space or chat with a friend in our cramped lounge, I 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? Fall 2022. Construction will take place in the summer of 2022. We’re pushing hard to complete renovations by September. This will minimize disruption for members and guests and allow us to welcome you back in style for the 175th anniversary of our building 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. You can see the plans here.
  • I thought the Athenaeum had lots of money, why do you need to raise more? It’s not the right kind of money. Most of our endowed funds are restricted to specific programmatic purposes that do not include building renovations. Remaining endowment revenue and member fees cover operating costs, such as staff salaries and utilities. There’s no money dedicated to building improvements/renovations, which is why we must raise it. If you value the Athenaeum as we do, we hope you’ll help.