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Patrons and Players

By Jonathan Soroff  | November 21, 2019 |

Meet Boston’s Creative Geniuses and the Muses Behind Their Art

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Patron: Susan Paine

Player: Mark Volpe

The headliners at Pops and Tanglewood might get all the applause, but the man who makes the magic possible is Boston Symphony Orchestra’s managing director, Mark Volpe, who helms the world’s largest orchestral organization. “Ultimately, I answer to the chair of the trustees,” he says. “Susan is incredibly committed and engaged. The reality is that in America, certain activities, like orchestral music, have always had to rely on private philanthropy.” Hats are off to him for so ably husbanding one of Boston’s—and the world’s—greatest cultural treasures.

From its inception, Boston Symphony Orchestra founder Henry Lee Higginson personally made up for the difference between expenses and box-office receipts. Today, that mantle has been passed to board chair Susan Paine, who might not be solely responsible for reconciling the balance sheet but leads its governing board with similar dedication. “I believe the arts are an essential part of humanity,” she says. “Creativity elevates the human experience.” Paine—a former board chair of the MFA and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences—notes that her passion for music is matched only by her devotion to Boston. She’s the BSO’s first female board chair, but Volpe is quick to add that she never puts it on the table. “She’s the chair. She’s a woman. That’s it.”

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Patron: Linda Hammett Ory

Player: John Ravenal

A resident of Lincoln, Linda Hammett Ory is a Harvard graduate who began her career as a choreographer and then became a producer of children’s educational media. “Contemporary visual art is a critical part of the dialogue in our society,” she says, “but my passion for deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is not just about the art, or just about the landscape. It’s about the alchemy that happens when those two are combined. There’s something magical about wandering the property, marveling at some gorgeous tree specimen, and then rounding the bend to see an incredible sculpture framed by nature.” She emphasizes the difference between experiencing art in the landscape as opposed to within a white-walled gallery. “There’s a conversation between these two wonders—of nature and human creation—that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” she says. Part of her love for deCordova stems from the fact that her children loved to visit it when they were young—it was the only museum where they could run around outside while enjoying the art on display. As for her advice on giving, she says, “Everyone can start their philanthropy with what matters to them most. For me, it’s been the arts and education, but I find that these two areas often intertwine, or stretch into others, like nature and medicine.”

Since 2015, John Ravenal has served as executive director of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, New England’s largest sculpture park. Formerly a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum, he came to deCordova after serving as the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In addition to his myriad responsibilities, Ravenal has overseen the major transition of deCordova becoming a part of The Trustees of Reservations. “Philanthropy is crucial for all nonprofits,” he says. “Gifts from individuals and foundations generally provide a significant portion of the support that makes it possible for organizations like ours to deliver on our mission and serve our public.” He emphasizes that Linda Hammett Ory and her husband, Andy, have been generous not only financially but also with their time and expertise. “We’re deeply grateful for all their support,” he says. “Linda has a great passion for nature and has helped enhance the care of our beautiful landscape. I’ve been fortunate to work so closely with such a devoted advocate, who also happens to be a close neighbor to the park and museum.”

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Patrons: David and Betsy Epstein

Player: Peter Dubois

With the Disneyfication of Broadway, nonprofit theatrical organizations like the Huntington Theatre Company, which presents new, experimental and boundary-pushing works (like the recent premiere of Tony Award winner Billy Porter’s play, The Purists), has never been more important. But central to its vitality is the largesse of benefactors like real estate mogul David Epstein of The Abbey Group, and his powerhouse wife, Betsy. So what motivates them to give so generously? “We both love the immediacy of live theater and the capacity of a staged production to broaden the minds of our audiences,” Betsy says, citing the magic that happens between the actors and the audience that changes at each performance. “The renovation and expansion of the theater on Huntington Avenue will [offer] a welcoming venue for new audiences to share that magic.” The couple also tips their hats to the company’s outreach into the Greater Boston community. “Through our many programs, kids learn to be creative thinkers, communicate effectively and gain the confidence to stand up in front of a group and navigate difficult language,” David says. “These are lifelong skills that will serve them well in whatever careers they choose.”

Now in his 12th year as artistic director of the Huntington Theatre Company, impresario Peter DuBois has provided a boost of renewed creativity and an infusion of fresh blood into the 37-year-old institution. “As a cultural nonprofit,” he says, “we combine earned capital with gifts from generous individuals, as well as government, corporate and foundation sources, to pay for something the market alone would never support.” He adds that it is a result of those generous individuals, like David and Betsy Epstein, who have the passion to drive Boston forward as a hub for creative and cultural thought. Before joining the Huntington, DuBois was associate producer and resident director at The Public Theater in New York and previously served as the artistic director of Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. He even lived and worked in the Czech Republic, where he co-founded Asylum, a multinational squat theater located in Prague. During his tenure at the Huntington, he has seen the company successfully acquire its landmark home (where renovations are currently underway), as well as push limits with exciting programming at the Huntington’s South End satellite, the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion. The sky, it seems, is the limit.

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Patron: Stephanie Brown

Player: Mikko Nissinen

“I’ve known Mikko since he came to Boston, which has been almost 20 years,” says Boston Ballet board trustee Stephanie Brown. “No one else shines as brightly as Mikko.” An attorney by trade, Brown is originally from New York and is a lifelong lover of the arts—her other philanthropic involvement includes the Boston Philharmonic and the Celebrity Series. “I think Mikko stands out for a variety of reasons, but in particular, for his amazing vision and passion for the art form,” she says, citing the company’s varied and often daring repertoire that pushes far beyond classical story ballets to contemporary and genre-bending works by such world-class choreographers as John Neumeier, Wayne McGregor, Ji?í Kylián, Jorma Elo and William Forsythe. “I’ve had the privilege of helping bring their art to the stage, which is just a tremendous honor. To me, Boston Ballet means grace, beauty, athleticism, excitement, exhilaration, provocativeness, daring and boldness,” Brown says. As for her own artistic prowess? “No, I don’t dance,” she says with a laugh. “I can’t even touch my toes.”

As the artistic director of Boston Ballet since 2001, Mikko Nissinen has transformed a very good ballet company into indisputably one of the world’s best. The Helsinki native began studying ballet at the age of 10 and went pro at 15 with the Finnish National Ballet. In his 19 years of professional dancing, he made stops in the Netherlands and Switzerland, and performed as a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. “In North America, the arts are totally dependent upon individual philanthropy and could not function without it,” he says. “The government support we receive is less than 1% of our annual budget, and I think private philanthropy is one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed in America.” About Stephanie Brown, he says: “She grew up watching ballet in New York, and she understands how the art form enhances our lives, allows us to escape or discover reality, and expands our horizons. Stephanie’s very dedicated to it. I’m very humbled by her support.” As the song from A Chorus Line goes, “Everything is beautiful at the ballet,” and in Boston, we have this forward-looking Finn to thank for that.



Photography by: Photography By Ian Travis Barnard