Laurie M. Tisch: Promoting Art for Democracy’s Sake
Laurie M. Tisch
Credit: Peter Hoey
The Daring Dozen Q&A
How do you use the Web in your work?
The Internet is playing an increasingly prominent role in my daily life. I use the Web for continued research on topics of interest -- especially new education reforms and reports, as well as program evaluations and other information important to the arts and education organizations in which I am involved. In my role as head of my own foundation, the Internet is a rich source of ideas for future projects, background on programs I already fund, and also activities of other funders in my areas of interest.
Which resources have inspired you and informed your work?
The thing that has inspired me most is direct contact with the programs I support and seeing "up close and personal" the many lives that have been touched and, hopefully, enhanced.
Who are your role models?
First and foremost, my father, Preston Robert Tisch. He instilled the importance of giving back in my brothers and me growing up and set amazing examples throughout his life on how we can effect positive change in our society. He served as an important mentor for me in my philanthropic work and taught me that my time and personal involvement with organizations can be as valuable as financial support. Also, my dear friend and mentor, the late Kitty Carlisle Hart. Kitty's passion, dedication, commitment, and irrepressible energy were both inspirational and infectious.
What fundamental beliefs have guided your work?
Access to a solid, well-rounded education, exposure to the arts, and a clean and safe environment should be treated as inalienable rights of every citizen in this country and should not be determined by "accident of birth" or personal resources.
What is your mantra in the face of adversity?
I always like to gather information from and listen to and consider the opinions of others, especially those with more knowledge and experience on a particular topic. Therefore, I can always reach out for advice from a few wise and trusted advisors and mentors.
More to Explore:
In the 1970s, massive budget cuts devastated arts education in New York City's public schools. "We laid off a lot of teachers," recalls Sharon Dunn, an arts administrator for the city's Department of Education, and "a whole generation of kids" missed out on music, dance, and drawing. That changed in 1996, largely because Laurie M. Tisch launched the nonprofit Center for Arts Education (CAE) with a $12 million challenge grant from the Annenberg Foundation. "She used all of her contacts and knowledge and influence," says Dunn. "She's a hero."
Since then, the center -- for which Tisch serves as chairwoman -- has spent nearly $40 million to expose an estimated 450,000 students to classroom arts instruction, live performances, art exhibits, and more. It supports internships in music, dance, theater, art, fashion, and architecture, with placements from Seventh Avenue to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, from Bloomingdale's to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.
The daughter of late New York philanthropist Preston Robert Tisch -- cofounder and chairman of the board of the Loews Corporation and co-CEO of the New York Giants football team -- and his widow, Joan, Tisch inherited their propensity to donate both money and time.
A University of Michigan graduate, she taught Spanish for five years at a public elementary school in Park City, Utah, then moved to the Big Apple. Shortly after the first of her two daughters was born, Tisch began volunteering at the Manhattan Laboratory Museum. She spearheaded its re-creation as the much-praised Children's Museum, meanwhile, she says, coming to "understand the power of all the arts in children's and families' lives."
Impressed, the Annenberg Foundation tapped Tisch to lead the independent public schools arts initiative, partnering with the city's department of education, its cultural office, the teachers' union, and others. The move proved infectious, says the New York City DOE's Dunn, who recalls that widespread enthusiasm for the kind of projects supported by the center spurred the city to increase its own direct spending on arts education.
"The thing I care about most -- the theme of pretty much everything I've done in the last twenty-five years -- has been about access," says Tisch, whose own foundation supports arts in education and education reform. She also serves on the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council and the board of the Lincoln Center. "By not having arts in schools, by not having the same access that people of means have, it's the opposite of democracy," she says. By creating opportunity for all students to participate in the arts, Tisch adds, "I've seen lives transformed."
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