The Blue Ribbon
Deep within the trenches of cultural warfare, a great battle over Art in American society is, and has been, brutally raging. It’s inside this heated conflict that part two of our series, which explores the Music Center’s commitment to truth and beauty, finds a humble conclusion.
Founded in 1968 by Dorothy Buffum Chandler, The Blue Ribbon is The Music Center’s premier women’s support organization as well as one of its largest donors. The story goes: shortly after the completion of The Music Center itself, Mrs. Chandler realized that if the performing arts were to remain an active part of Los Angeles, she would need to create a dedicated group of individuals whose job it would be to help maintain The Music Center’s financial obligations.
For this task, she turned to her many friends, women who were the wealthy wives of Los Angeles businessmen, and together they formed The Blue Ribbon. In the 50 years that followed, Blue Ribbon members have contributed over 75 million dollars to Bunker Hill's resident companies… an average of over 1 million per year.
To better understand Blue Ribbon, we spoke with The Music Center's Chief Operating Officer, Howard Sherman. Having worked at The Music Center for over 30 years, Mr. Sherman’s reflections on these heroic patrons were tremendously insightful.
Who is The Blue Ribbon?
At its most basic level, they are an incredibly sophisticated and successful fundraising organization; but I would say it goes much deeper than that. Blue Ribbon has the unique advantage of being involved with all our resident companies. They get a perspective of The Music Center in a way that really no other organization does, and they bring to us this incredibly dedicated smart group of women who are supporters at every level.
How do they support The Music Center?
The Blue Ribbon generally represents this amazing cross section of Angelenos, and they support us not just financially, but they are also telling our story to their friends. They were social media before there was social media. They carry the message of The Music Center, and have done so for 50 years.
What do they mean to you?
For me, personally, they represent this bridge from the past to the future because their founding was with Mrs. Chandler; and, I’ve been working with them for 30 years. Now they are pivoting to be this 21st century support organization. Membership is changing, the way in which they engage the community is changing, and it’s really great perspective for me on how a support organization works. Originally they were the wives of the Los Angeles businessmen… now they are a group of leaders. They’ve always been ahead of the curve.
What should the Downtown community know about The Blue Ribbon?
This is an organization that has supported Downtown long before it was fashionable to do so. They’ve always believed that you should come here and experience all that it has to offer, including The Music Center. They do this work because that’s what their hearts are telling them to do.
As an annual tradition, The Blue Ribbon welcomes a visiting dance company to The Music Center— this year for 3 days in February— and invites every 5th grader in Los Angeles to attend a special interactive performance. The children who attended this year, all 18,000 of them, were bused from their schools to the halls of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where they saw a performance and then danced themselves!
Argentinian dance company, Che Malambo, beamed as their presentation earned a thunderous applause of tiny hands.
“The idea that we’re providing them with arts education, that they are not getting in their schools is gigantic,” says Blue Ribbon President Jill Baldauf. “They’ve done studies that say, when you have arts, it's so complimentary with Science and Math. You have to have arts, that’s what makes the whole engine run.”
The sense of wonderment in the children's faces is, and was, absolutely incredible to witness. For many of the kids this was their first encounter with art; for others, it marks a maiden visit to The Music Center. As our nation continues to reflect on violence in schools, it’s refreshing to witness how The Blue Ribbon has not forgotten art's role in stimulating youth— as well as encouraging pupils that might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director for Center Theatre Group, wrote an open letter last year addressing the Federal Government's decision to drastically cut funding to the Nation Endowment. The piece is titled, A Call to Protect Funding for the Arts. In it he wrote:
“Los Angeles is home to more live theatre than any other city in the world, and that wouldn’t be possible without generous support on all fronts. As the current political climate puts the future of organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts… into question, we must not let our leaders forget the importance of art.”
This is a major mission of The Blue Ribbon: to passionately support the arts, and hold the line, or ribbon if you will, against its enemies, who seek to stop the growth of art in America by violently slashing monetary supply lines.
We were told that this merry band of artistic defenders are always looking for new members, women of all ages and means, who have the same enthusiasm for cultural advancement in Los Angeles. “You have to bring in younger women for the organization to keep moving forward," says Jill Baldauf. "That’s part of any institutional membership."
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