The Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum

POSTED ON: January 12, 2023

Great Hall Forum

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation has expanded its support of The Cooper Union with a three-year grant totaling $1,176,000 that is funding a new free, public programs series called the Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum. The series, which began in the fall, explores contemporary issues of society, civic engagement, and the stewardship of democracy as informed by today’s leading voices and the history makers who shaped their own eras from The Cooper Union's Great Hall, dating back more than 160 years. The concept is for the series to link today’s programming with the content now available in Voices from the Great Hall, an extraordinary digital archive – open to the public – of audio files, photographs, and ephemera, all related to the history of Great Hall speakers and events. The archive was made possible with leadership support from the Gardiner Foundation, which awarded a $760,000 grant for the work in 2018.

Kathryn M. Curran, Executive Director of the Gardiner Foundation, noted the importance of the Great Hall archives project, “The Cooper Union has been the site of so many important conversations, and we know that the Voices from the Great Hall archive will become an instrumental tool for so many undertaking historical research and those interested in how that history informs our present,” she said. "The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation is pleased to have helped support such a vibrant educational resource that reflects the American experience." The funding of the Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum continues in the same spirit.

The Gardiner Foundation is best known for funding projects aimed at preserving architecture of historic importance in New York state. But Gardiner’s mission is broad enough to include a diverse array of projects, including one directed at teaching students at LaGuardia Community College to conduct historic research using the school’s mayoral archives and another at Columbia to support the creation of an online, interactive map of historical New York City. For the Foundation, these projects are aligned with Gardiner’s interest in historic preservation, which is rooted in a goal larger than the footprint of a building or estate: the overarching aim is to use material culture to tell a story about the region’s past and have a direct impact on its future.

For the Spring 2023 semester, the Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum kicks off Jan. 25 with Addictive Connections, presented in collaboration with the NY Phil’s educational series The Unanswered Questions. Addictive Connections will explore the nuanced impact that the criminalization of addiction and drug use, in relationship to race and economics, has had on music and other creative arts. Register here for the panel discussion.

Prior Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum programs have included We Gathered: 130 Years of Asian American Activism in New York City. The program brought writers, artists, organizers, and local politicians together on Sept. 22, 2022, the exact date when, in 1892, the Chinese Equal Rights League was formed in the Great Hall.  Guests discussed past and current activism across the Asian diaspora in New York City. The event, which included a performance of classical Indian dance and a vigorous panel discussion on subjects from unionizing to guerrilla art collectives, also gave audience members information about directly participating in local political organizations.

On Oct. 3, the Gardiner Foundation Great Hall Forum welcomed NYS Assemblymember Deborah Glick, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, and Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show and founder of Abortion Access Front for a Protecting Democracy discussion examining the realities confronting voting rights and reproductive freedom in the lead-up to the 2022 mid-term elections. These three speakers join the long list of women who have advocated for women’s right in Cooper Union’s Great Hall.

Explore these and other programs in the Voices from the Great Hall archive.





  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.