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Photos courtesy Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art MuseumVisitors enjoy the four-level Ellen and Howard C. Katz Wing for Modern Art. The large black sculpture is "Upside Down, Inside Out," by Anish Kapoor.

1Museum supporters Bennett and Jacquie Dorrance funded the Dorrance Sculpture Garden. The couple are chairs for the pARTy 2009.

2Howard and Ellen Katz stand in the 25,000-square-foot wing that bears their name. "It's a very exciting time to be involved in the Phoenix Art Museum," says Ellen.

3The new entry is named for Heather and Michael Greenbaum. Behind them is "The Last Scattering Surface," a sculpture by Josiah McElheny.

4Jim Ballinger, the museum's Sybil Harrington director, has been associated with Phoenix Art Museum since 1974. With him is his wife, Linda.

5Doris Ong dances with her husband, Dr. Hong Ong, at pARTy 2008.

A solid base of support

Phoenix Art Museum has flourished on the contributions of several key support groups that back its ambitious mission.

"Not everybody has a half-million dollars to donate to the museum," says Caroline Farkas, co-president of Phoenix Art Museum League, which in 1951 joined Phoenix Women's Club in creating a support network for the arts. "This is a way for them to participate, learn and feel a part of the museum."

Not to be outdone, the Men's Arts Council was founded in 1967 and sponsors a trio of annual fundraising events: a cowboy artists sale and exhibition, the Copperstate 1000 Vintage Car Road Rally and the VinArte winetasting and live auction gala.

More recently, the Young Collectors volunteer organization, aimed at 20 somethings just beginning their art collections, has been recruiting members and publicizing its monthly "Sip 'n' See" cocktail exhibits through Twitter and Facebook.

Attracting the Valley's next generation of art supporters is a key goal of the museum, which devotes a gallery to edgier artists and features changing exhibits aimed at younger connoisseurs. As museum director Jim Ballinger says, "No matter how technology advances, you can't reproduce a Monet online and make it look anything like what you see on our walls."

Additional support groups are the Arizona Costume Institute, Asian Arts Council, Board of Trustees, Collectors Study Club, Contemporary Forum, Friends of European Art, Latin American Alliance, Phoenix Art Museum Docents, Western Art Associates and Women's Metropolitan Art Council. The 13 support groups have contributed more than $10 million, plus gifts of art and gifts to the endowment.

"They are the heart and soul of Phoenix Art Museum," says Sandy Chamberlain, museum deputy director of external affairs.

Splash

Published by: AZ Society, October 2009

Jacquie Dorrance sits on a sits on a sunny window sill just outside the Cummings Great Hall in the Phoenix Art Museum, looking out on the 1 acre Dorrance Sculpture Garden that today forms an inviting urban oasis between the original museum and its added wings.

"The sculpture garden was not in the budget," Dorrance says, referring to the museum's $50 million expansion, completed in November 2006, that added the 25,000 square foot Ellen and Howard C. Katz Wing for Modern Art, as well as a dramatically redesigned lobby and Museum Store.

"But I just felt so strongly that it had to be done. Here we were, doing all of these fantastic improvements, and yet this whole area was such an eyesore."

Dorrance recalls the bland 90 foot long lawn that had originally separated the museum from what was then the main branch of the Phoenix Central Library,

"It was different levels, and there was neither rhyme nor reason to the design," she says. "It was the one thing that tied all of the buildings together, from the inside. And yet it was going completely ignored."

In allocating the funds from the 2003-06 capital and endowment campaign, the museum's board of trustees was facing the same predicament many people confront when faced with a remodeling project: Everybody wanted to add on a room or decorate the walls. But nobody wanted to do much with the backyard.

"I wanted to do that for the museum," Dorrance says, recalling how she and her husband, Bennett, stepped up to fund the transformation of the artless strip of sun baked grass into what now is a work of art in itself, dotted with playful and visually arresting sculptures by Gaston Lachaise and Robert Arneson and lined with aromatic gardenia, delphinium and jasmine. "I wanted to raise the aesthetics of that whole area."

She's not entirely finished.

"We'll always be looking at ways to improve the visit for museum guests," she says, looking out on the garden. "I'd like to be able to enhance the overall feel and aesthetic of our outdoor dining area."

For the moment, Dorrance is busy organizing the Nov. 7 gala, pARTy, commemorating the museum's 50th anniversary.

VALLEY FAMILIES STEP UP

Throughout its colorful half-century history, Phoenix Art Museum has grown and thrived thanks to precisely that kind of generosity and personal commitment from supporters.

"The Heard family gave this block along Coronado' Road," says Jim Ballinger, the museum's Sybil Harrington director. Ballinger joined the staff as the museum's sole curator in 1974 (today there are six) and continues to preside over its renowned collection of American art. Maie and Dwight Bartlett Heard's purchase of the houses along Coronado filled out the block of land at Central Avenue and McDowell Road that Maie's family had given the city for civic purposes in 1940, Ballinger says.

"That cleared the runway, in essence, for what became the public library, art museum and Phoenix Little Theatre, at the time," Ballinger says.

Ballinger, a lifelong art lover and collector who still enjoys spending a rare Sunday off just wandering the galleries, can find history in every room and mark each expansion by its connecting walls. A room built in what was the original building's courtyard still houses the collection of Philip Curtis, the car dealer turned art director brought in under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's WPA program to run what was then called the Phoenix Art Center. It became Phoenix Art Museum when it moved into the building on the Bartlett/Heard land in 1959.

Frank Lloyd Wright, whose exhibits drew the art center's first big crowds, gets a nod in the Japanese screens from his collection displayed in the museum's extensive Asian gallery.

But it's another exhibit in the room that draws out Ballinger's best story: In the 1940s, during the Chinese civil war, a U.S.-schooled Chinese doctor hurriedly shipped his collection of rare 17th century porcelain from his office in Canton to family members in Yuma for safekeeping. Somehow, the porcelains never arrived.

'Years later, a freight company in LA called him and asked, 'Are you ever going to pick this package up?'' Ballinger says with a laugh. "It turned out every piece was there, with no damage."

During the '60s, Dr. Matthew L. Wong began donating his prized pieces each year until the museum malls housed all 175. It's recognized today as one of the world's finest collections of its kind.

Many museum acquisitions have come not through gifts but through Ballinger's own savvy business dealings. In the Western American Gallery, the director pauses in front of "The Captive," an 1891 oil painting by respected Native American chronicler Eanger Irving Couse. The painting dramatically portrays a Cayuse perched over a bloodied young White woman (a historical depiction of an actual Oregon missionary occupation gone wrong). Ballinger recalls how the painting's political incorrectness made it a steal for the museum in 1994.

"It had been held as an asset by a corporation which suddenly had to liquidate it," Ballinger says. “Meanwhile, it was fresh from an exhibition at the Smithsonian, where it had been condemned as a hypocritical painting full of controversial symbols.

"We made a horrendously low offer and they were happy to unload it. Sometimes, we just get lucky."

A YOUTHFUL 50

"You've got to remember 50 is still pretty young," says Ellen Katz, chairwoman of the museum's board of trustees and, with her husband, Howard, a major donor over the years. In 2006, the Katzes' multimillion dollar gift enabled the creation of the four level modern art wing that bears their name.

"We're still growing," she says. "Compared to other cultural and arts institutions around the country, we're one of the youngest. So it's a very exciting time to be involved in the Phoenix Art Museum. People who are involved today are still a part of the growth pattern. And we can develop new ideas, new programs."

The Katzes, who split their time between summers in the Hamptons and winters in Carefree, are part of a sizeable contingent of snowbird supporters who've chosen to throw their support behind this museum over older, more established institutions. Their reasoning is simple: Although their New York summer home grants them close access to the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, it's unlikely that even the most generous gift to those more entrenched institutions could result in anything as significant as the Katz wing, which increased the Phoenix museum's gallery space enough to add more than 2,000 works of art to its year-round mix.

"That's not to say other museums, even though they've been established for decades longer than us, can't always be developing new ideas," Katz says. "But the Phoenix Art Museum is still young enough that we can be involved with every aspect of it. And it's exciting to be a part of that growth."

Michael Greenbaum, who chaired the 2003-06 capital and endowment campaign that raised $50 million for the museum's expansion and whose name adorns the 3-year-old Heather and Michael O. Greenbaum Lobby, says the museum provides a draw for corporate "knowledge workers" who look for new ideas and diversity in choosing which city to settle in.

"People need to have arts and culture to make sure that they're in a vibrant community," he says. "We make the case that art and education help add value to the overall community. It helps people think, encourages ideas and diversity, which forms a major prerequisite for major corporations coming into a new community."

BEHIND-THE-SCENES GIVING

Sometimes contributions have been grand and highly visible. Other times, gifts can go virtually unnoticed.

Recently, when a showy sculpture on loan to the Katz wing came due to be returned, a group of trustees, significant donors and a museum support organization chipped in to purchase the piece. To visitors, the acquisition meant only that the giant black resin sculpture by Anish Kapoor, "Upside Down, Inside Out," hasn't moved from its spot on the wing's main floor. To supporters, it's one more iconic piece the museum was able to claim as its own.

Jacquie Dorrance is hoping the same thing happens with the 13 works in the Dorrance Sculpture Garden on loan to the museum from private collections.

"Most of those sculptures are on loan, from very generous benefactors," she says. "It would be great if they stayed, because they're all wonderful, and we've been very fortunate to have them.

"Phoenix deserves to have these things." – end —

 

4 Highlights of Phoenix Art Museum's 50th Anniversary Celebration

Phoenix Art Museum will celebrate its 50th birthday in style with several special events, beginning in November. Here's a look at four.

pARTy

"This is our fourth annual pARTy, and this year it's even more relevant as our major fundraising since it marks the beginning of our 50th anniversary," Jacquie Dorrance says of the pARTy, to be held on the main floor of the Ellen and Howard C. Katz Wing for Modern Art on Nov. 7, 50 years to the day after the museum opened.

This years pARTy has been a year in the making and represents the efforts of 83 committee members. Dorrance, who, with her husband, Bennett, chairs the event, also served as co chair of the 40th anniversary "Monet at Giverny" party and with the late Carol Waldrop on the 45th anniversary "El Creco to Picasso" party.

Organizers have maximized their efforts to create a lavish 50th anniversary bash: an elegant white and gold theme, accented by floral arrangements designed by Angela and Mark Karp of Angelic Grove; a classic menu catered by Michael's with desserts by Julia Baker Confections; and music by New York's Peter Duchin Orchestra.

"Even though we are all aware of these difficult times," Dorrance says, "I felt compelled to stay the course and remain positive and upbeat! The response has been gratifying."

"FABULOUS AT 50: PHOENIX ART MUSEUM"

In addition to wearable art created and donated by Hyde Park Jewelers that will be presented to the ladies, pARTy guests will be the first to receive the 348 page hardbound collectible book "Fabulous at 50: Phoenix Art Museum," supported by McMurry Inc. and Barbara Anderson Stoiber for the celebration.

Doris Ong, chairwoman of the book committee, says illustrating the museum's rich history was a monumental project.

"The museum has so many galleries, and every gallery has its own stories," Ong says.

A foreward by Hugh Downs and narrative by writer Landon Napoleon, telling the museum's story in defining moments, provider a chronological framework. Even so, choosing from among the abundant images from the museum's permanent collection, photographs of the museum by Ken Howie, Craig Smith and Bill Timmerman, and newly unearthed historical clippings required what Ong calls a 'fearless passion."

"We found that down in the basement, we had a treasure trove of all the archival material stored away in manila folders in banks of filing abinets, she says. "It was totally amazing."

Rounding out the book will be a series of portraits of key museum supporters by local photographer and makeup artist team Karen and John Hall.

The book will be available for purchase at the Museum Store the day after the gala.

"50/50"

Many of those photographed for "Fabulous at 50" also have participated in this third project, in which co chairs Gail and Steve Rineberg and Carole and Joel Bernstein persuaded 50 families to donate one piece of art each for the 50th birthday. "And not just any piece," Sybil Harrington director Jim Ballinger says, "but something significant enough that it really will make a difference in the galleries." The exhibit will be on display in the Steele Gallery for a month before the pieces find their permanent homes throughout the museum,

"GEOFFREY BEENE: TRAPEZE"

The Nov. 7 pARTy will coincide with the opening of "Geoffrey Beene: Trapeze," a whimsical circus themed exhibition of garments by the acclaimed American fashion designer. The more than 30 garments are from the vintage Beene collection of Patsy Tarr, a prominent New York City dance philanthropist, editor in chief of the award winning magazine 2wice and president of the 2wice Arts Foundation. Tarr also happens to be a friend of museum board chairwoman Ellen Katz.

"A museum is only as good as the people who support it," Katz says. "This celebration is as much about them as the museum itself."