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Interview with: Fayez Sarofim
Interviewed by: Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton and Deidre Denman Glober
Date: March 9, 1981
Archive Number: OH JL08A-B
[00:02] This tape was produced on March 9, 1981 by volunteers of the Junior League of Houston at the Houston Public Library. It is one of a series of interviews on the history of voluntarism in Houston. This series forms a segment of the oral history collection of the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The subject of this interview is Mrs. Fayez Sarofim. The interviewers are Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton and Deidre Denman Glober.
I: Mrs. Sarofim, you were born and raised in Houston with the exception of a few years when you lived in Austin, Texas. What was your early exposure to perform individual arts?
S: As a child, I actually had very little. I did take class in Houston from Emma Mae Horn for a year or two. And then when we moved to Austin, I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. (s/l Wolfe Jessen 01:06), and we’d see performances at the university in the old Hogg Auditorium, early performances of ballet, and then we also went to Dallas very often to hear the Metropolitan Opera. Those were my first experiences, and then there were some years of simply not doing much about the arts at all in the teenage time. I took music, took dance, did all the classes that many children do, so there was nothing unusual about my upbringing, I think, that led me directly into the arts.
I: What do you recall about the availability of performing arts such as the Ballet Russe and so forth, the traveling companies? Were there very many?
S: [01:56] It seemed for me at the time there were a lot or enough, I’ll say, for a child. Maybe in Houston, in the ballet world, almost as much as there is now, particularly in the Ballet Russe, and it would come at Christmastime and spend 2 weeks, 10 days. In Austin, very little. The Ballet Russe was there, all in this old auditorium. There was very little theater, if any, here. There were concerts in Houston—no opera—so the ballet really filled in the gap. And then there was a time when we had very little event. And after Edna Saunders died, Mr. Masterson tried to be the impresario and did so very well for a year or two, I think.
I: Is this Harris Masterson?
S: Uh-hunh (affirmative). He brought in Merce Cunningham, very new to Houston at the time. This must have been the early ‘60s. He also brought in the New York City, and I don’t think New York City Ballet had been here until the time that Mr. Masterson brought it as it doesn’t tour in general anyway.
I: Did you acquire your interest in and knowledge of art and ballet through travel, formal training, or some other means?
S: I think it’s a combination of all three. I think certainly exposure. My mother was very determined that we have a proper and brought up bringing. We were literally dragged to Dallas for the opera, and the ballet I did with great pleasure. I mean that was no problem at all. I think I took the lessons from (s/l Mrs. Jessen). She was called on the stage, (s/l Janet Collins, and she certainly was an inspiration. She was probably not a very great teacher, but she was an enthusiastic teacher and adequate, and she was full of life and the joy of dance, so we got a lot of that. She also taught in the summer at (s/l Usumacinta 04:08), and therefore a lot of Houstonians know her, although her home was Austin at that time and still is. I don’t know what’s in one that makes you love these things. I don’t think you can impose this taste on people. I used to think you could. You could sort of prune a child and develop it. To a degree, I think that’s true, but not entirely. I think there has to be something within that responds.
I: What inspired your interest in collecting modern art?
S: Actually, it was a course very clearly with Dr. Peter Guenther, a course which I took at the Women’s Institute. Many of his I took over the first years of our marriage. I looked in a Vogue Magazine, and there was the most beautiful reproduction of a painting I had ever seen or the painting looked to be the most beautiful, and I asked him if this were an important artist and where could I go and look at the real thing, and he told me, and he was rather amazed I had never heard of Hans Hoffman, and with that we started a collection. Louise Ferrari was very, very helpful—Louise Ferrari from Houston—and she would bring in collections, and many people would go a view and select out of her collections from New York and elsewhere, and she sort of did the leg work for all of us when you couldn’t go to New York every week and really study the galleries which is what it takes. So she formed the basis of whatever you call it, a collection, kind of a hodgepodge and very impulsive and not a very studied collection. But that’s how it really began and through Peter Guenther. I mean loving art in the first place and also as a child—later though, in college days and after college, I would just go and spend time at the museums. I mean that filled in a lot of time for me, and it was very important.
I: [06:08] Now, these are the museums on— (speaking at same time)
S: In New York, uh-hunh (affirmative). And just standing there not knowing a lot, just looking—you know—just tuning in your eye, training your eye.
I: Are you interested in modern music?
S: Yes, I am. I must say I know even less about that, but with some help and luck, we hope to have here a contemporary music library. And Rice is helping in the Shepherd Society, the Shepherd School of Music. Mr. Burkett is the head of this—the director of this organization—and with an experiment of 3 years, we hope it gets on its feet and survives. We shall see. It’s not a popular—and it’s not a sort of glamorous project. It’s much like the public library in Houston. There is no income so to speak, and there’s not a process for running. It’s a library collection of tapes (s/l juried ?? 07:12) throughout the world, and each country has its set of jurors, and they send in their selections, their opinions, and then it is all assembled presently in New York, but there is a duplicate library now in Houston in the home base of this. The headquarters will be—or right now is Houston, Texas.
I: So that’s part of an international organization?
S: It’s International Contemporary Music Exchange.
I: How did you get involved in that?
S: Oh, just listening at a cocktail party, and it was an interesting concept. You want Houston to be at the forefront of all facets of life, and at points you strive very hard to develop contemporary music—I mean the performing part of it—and they had done it well, but it’s never been a very lasting experience. And who knows, but I think it’s well worth—it’s a very important ingredient in the musical life of this city, and I think it brings us some renown, a little (__?? 08:21) of being in the Avant-garde and not just successful only in medicine and business and to a degree the arts, but it makes us—it’s a broader experience in music, and then it applies. Many people come for tapes for the ballet, for the opera. All the schools can use this library, whatever level of school. And all over the world, it brings very exciting composers, conductors to Houston. Penderetsky was just here and spoke to this group, and Koechlin may be coming this spring later or early summer to speak to this group. It’s just to stimulate interest, awareness, knowledge, and hopefully appreciation of contemporary music.
I: [09:07] And your particular role in this?
S: Just a supporter, just the cheerleader—you know—no particular role. There’s no really formal structure yet. There is a charter, and the bylaws are being written. I’m just one who thinks it’s a great idea and tries to support it and find some other people who will join in.
I: Have you become personally acquainted with any of the outstanding personalities in the international ballet and art worlds?
S: I’ve met them. It’s a matter of, they see thousands a day, and some of us—we’re one among the very many. Yes, it’s been exciting because Balanchine, I’ve met. Balanchine came to Houston years and years ago when Ford Foundation was giving one of its first grants to the Arts. He and Melissa (s/l Howden 10:02) came, and he couldn’t have been a more charming and elegant soul, quite simple and direct, and who else? Oh, (__ ?? 10:20)—you know—Danilova, lots and lots.
I: How have you met these people?
S: Well, in the beginning, as I said, Balanchine came to Houston to interview and to observe for that Ford Foundation grant when the Houston Ballet was under the leadership of Tatiana Semenova. Then it became apparent to me that it was important to see how the rest of the world approached the world of dance, in training and in performance. And so through Madame Semenova and through Nina Popova, I was allowed to go into the School of American Ballet as well as the Ballet Theater School, and that’s where I met so many of these people, just observing, just trying to see if we were anywhere near the levels, what we should do, how we could improve. And then when they come to Houston, you meet them, but it’s a very casual—it’s a superficial basis. I don’t know any one of them intimately. I probably have had a longer visit with Lincoln Kirstein, and that’s been one of the more exciting people I’ve ever met in my life in any field and a man of total dedication, supreme knowledge of dance and the entire world of the arts. And we’ve been to visit him very often in New York, and he himself was a man who sort of was the—I guess—the next generation’s Diaghilev for the dance in America, and he assembled great composers, designers, and choreographers, primarily Balanchine, and supported the collaboration of all the arts and still has, I think, probably the greatest vision in dance in this country.
I: [12:16] What about some of the Avant-garde artists whose work you have purchased?
S: Oh, we’ve met a few—not really so very many. I don’t really know any of these—none of these artists. They’re not (__?? 12:34), most of them. I really haven’t been in touch with that world. I’ve met more Avant-garde than this through the CAM and some the fine arts, but really their painting (__?? 12:49) and many of the local artists, that I wouldn’t (__?? 12:53) Avant-garde, but they are living in contemporary.
I: How did you develop such a strong commitment to community service?
S: Oh, I don’t know that one analyzes any of these commitments and involvements. Really I guess with the ballet, I started working, and once you’re in, then they know you know how to work and enjoy doing it, people ask you and give you the opportunity to do more, and I’ve just—was surrounded by people who felt strongly about being citizens. That’s the word my uncle uses. And we’ve had a family of strong individuals and individuals who have contributed, at least we hope and think, and therefore you just do your part. It’s one of the more exciting things to do with your time.
I: Mrs. Sarofim, the Houston Ballet Foundation was organized in 1955. Those founding members who still live remain permanent members of the Board of Trustees. You probably have known and worked with almost all of them. Generally speaking, can you tell us what type of people they were and are?
S: Well, they were the outstanding citizens, the ones who saw in Houston the possibility of bringing the arts and felt the potential was here. Many of them had come from cities, or some have—certainly were—the arts were perhaps more lively, more active. They themselves either had training or were very knowledgeable or both in many of the performing arts, and they believed Houston had to be a broad city, and to be complete, it needed ballet as well as a symphony and a museum—I think at that time—and whether the opera had—it was almost at the same time.
I: [15:21] Of those of the founding members who were native Houstonians must have acquired their familiarity with the art of ballet somewhere. Do you have any idea where?
S: I suppose through all those wonderful performances of the Ballet Russe and then Serge Denham came with his company, and there was quite a—through a (__ ?? 15:40) of admirers and true friends of Denham’s. Mrs. (s/l Floyd Hillen Smith ?? 15:45) was one of the greatest, still is. And through that, really lots of fun as well as I’m sure a very fine company. They became more and more interested and more aware of what could be done and had the great vision and common sense to start out with a school—an academy—and they went on, and they chartered to specify the formation of a company. But I think they simply had so much fun with the dance that they thought it would be great to have it in Houston.
I: Which of the founding members of the Ballet Foundation have been most influential in the development of this organization?
S: First of all, Mrs. Stafford, Mr. and Mrs. Wallace without a doubt. I think everyone played their part. In a very, very large way, each one made a significant contribution. In my own role in the ballet, those three—in the beginning were the most helpful. Also Mr. and Mrs. (s/l Maroney ?? 17:04) and Mr. and Mrs. (s/l Gitcoff 17:07) were extremely helpful. Mr. and Mrs. (s/l Gitcoff) were the ones I think who knew about Madame Semenova in Baton Rouge and suggest that she be invited to be the director of the Houston Ballet—be the founding director. All of these people were terribly concerned and wanted a company eventually of real quality and not a civic ballet company, which also has its place. But they were really very interested in forming a professional company, and I think they were the ones that now and then—(s/l Harriet Bath 17:52) has played a very important role in the ballet in guiding the board, the trustees, as (s/l Mac Wallace) has continued. His fund of knowledge is perhaps the best right now.
I: What type of knowledge?
S: The history, the sequence of events, the visions and roles you can put down on paper, but he really knows the interpretation, the real meaning of it. And he also was there for the first, what, 6 years before I even knew about the Houston Ballet. So he understands what the atmosphere was, what the purpose was, the original thinking on the subject.
I: So you mean he brings a different perspective to the group?
S: I think he does. I certainly have been there a long, long time. I mean it’s at the point of being a relic. But I think he brings—he has always brought to any issue, any situation, a great manner of calm and reason, and he’s always been able to be attached enough to see objectively where we are and where we’re going and if we’re going in the right way at all, and he’s very clear on that and very honest and very patient about it all. But he’s honest. If it’s not right, he can help us, and he never hesitates. I mean it’s a very—very important advice, and it’s a manner—it’s from his experience in all these arts in town. I mean because these people in Houston were very involved in every activity that went on in the arts. I think many of them even were actors in the old Alley Theater, and so they understood the city, the makeup of it, who could do what, both in financial health and just energy and time, and they also understood—Mac was from Chicago. He’d seen a city of great consequence. He’d been there, and he knew where we had to go—what the goals were. And when he had been in New Orleans which in a way was more sophisticated than Houston at the time—Harriet had lived in Houston and knew what it needed—knew what it had had. Houston had had a rather remarkable theater at times according to Marguerite Barnes. Do you—or I shouldn’t be doing this in the middle of all of this, but she is a source of real history about this city.
I: [20:51] Is this Marguerite Johnston?
S: Uh-hunh (affirmative). She can give you the historical part of this—I mean the 1800s.
I: Besides yourself, which individuals who have subsequently joined the Board of the Ballet have been most actively involved in its development?
S: Well, fortunately for the sake of the ballet, I hope we’ve avoided any sort of one-person show and any sort of dictatorship. I think the most active, other than the founding members who are still helpful—and hopefully we’ll always include them in any of the decisions—John Kirkland—I’m always so afraid of leaving out John Kirkland—Jack Curtin, (s/l Bonnie Lou Baylis 21:49), definitely on the academy side. She’s been a strong supporter of the academy, one who’s worked very hard there. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, Preston Frazier, Tom Osborne—they’ve all lent a great deal of their time, their thinking. The Arnolds have become very interested. Tony Arnold is very, very helpful on the artistic committee as is Emily Henson. The artistic committee is the great liaison with Ben and the board. But on the marketing committee, there’s Judy Allen, David Lane, Tom Kelsey, and many others.
I: What does the marketing committee do?
S: [22:48] It’s primary aim is to sell tickets, fill the seats at Jones Hall so that we come in correctly on budget—on projected budget. It is the vehicle of the board which supports that professional area that really is out to promote Houston Ballet and sell tickets to it. I think that’s the main job of that committee.
I: Mrs. Sarofim, you were elected to the board of the Houston Ballet Foundation in 1962, I believe. During your first year as a trustee, you served as secretary of the board. The following year, you were elected president. In September of 1962, your husband’s firm drew up an estimated budget to indicate what it would cost to build a ballet company. This budget was based on Mr. Preston Bolton’s timetable to build a performing company in 3 years. However, it was not until the spring of 1969 that the board of trustees authorized a creation of a performing company with 16 dancers under a 21-week contract at the cost of $150,000. What were the considerations which caused the board to wait until 1969 to establish the company?
S: I think the main consideration was one, did we have dancers who could actually be called professional where they had a level of performance that could then be the backbone—the substance of a performing company? Two, did we have a director who could carry out the duties of leading a company, directing a company? I think those were the primary considerations. One’s always a little reluctant—is there ever a right time? And I think with the courage of (s/l Diana Divant 24:55), we proceeded and forged ahead.
I: Was she president of the company?
S: [25:02] She was president. It was under her leadership that that happened, if I’m correct. And we had employed Nina Popova, and I think Nina was very anxious to come here and have more in mind in her future than simply a fine school—nothing wrong with that—but there has to be an outlet for dancers, for these artists, and rather than sending them to New York, we thought it was high time they stayed here, and we felt we had a person with the ability to direct a company. And with help and guidance from New York—Nina was associated in some ways with Mr. Balanchine. He gave advice, and we also got Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn for the first performance—first production, which was Giselle, we launched. We set sail, and I don’t think anyone ever looked back. I don’t think there were ever any grave doubts. You always hope that you wouldn’t duplicate what already existed in the country or which came through in the performing arts in the SPA. You wanted to—and we still hope to have some distinction. It doesn’t come overnight, and it doesn’t come automatically, but there should be a special look and special profile to Houston Ballet.
I: [26:37] Can you describe the main activities of the trustees on behalf of the Houston Ballet Foundation during the mid ‘60s?
S: It think—
I: I can—
S: No, no, no. I’m just trying to think. It seems like it was yesterday, and it’s ages back. Primarily—well, we did everything. I guess we really did. We were a board of great dedication, and I must say I think that’s been our great plus. Mrs. Stafford did everything from making costumes to probably playing the piano at some time, and everybody really worked, did up, and scrubbed. We dusted. We tacked up scenery. We raised money. We kept it alive that way. It’s the way you get involved with any young organization—any group that’s in its infancy. You just pitch in and do whatever is required and make the best of it and just hope to stay alive.
I: So the trustees were directly involved with the day to day running of the academy?
S: Well, yes. I mean I would say we tried not to be involved with the running of it, but we certainly were always available for any advice requested of us by the director. We have always set policy. We’ve always—but we’ve tried to steer clear forever of artistic direction. Anything with the artistic, we tried to not meddle in, and I think that’s still a very firm part of our philosophy. It’s a serious debate sometimes and often a dilemma, but we’ve kept out of it.
I: What were the considerations which led to the decision to relieve Madame Tatiana Semenova of her job as director of the Houston Ballet Academy?
S: Well, it was a difficult decision because she had so many wonderful points, and she was one of great charm and intelligence—extremely intelligent. But in the long run, it became apparent that she would not be able to direct a company. She was a superb teacher. She was probably a great deal of the inspiration for many of us to this day as far as the excitement about dance and the history of dance. Particularly, she filled her classes with a lot of anecdotes, wonderful tales of the good Old Russian days. But after that, she really didn’t have the capacity to hold dancers, to keep them here, and to form the nucleus of a company. It was never really a cohesive group under her, and therefore, in our obligations to the Ford Foundation grant, one of the conditions was that we, at some point during the terms of the grant, form a company, and it wasn’t being done. So reluctantly, this happened. I mean it had to happen. It was not easy. It was a great deal of sacrifice on our part in the fact that we had to return some amount of the grant, and I don’t remember. But a good portion of it went back to Ford. So there was—it was not an easy decision, but basically the difficulty came in Tatiana’s qualities. There were so many good ones. Where do we go from there?
I: [30:57] Madame Semenova was replaced as artistic director by Miss Nina Popova, whom you mentioned earlier. During the search for a new artistic director, what were the criteria that the board established for the new director?
S: I would think one, that they had had some exposure to company life—company activity too—that they were willing to also work in the school. And third consideration, that they would make Houston their permanent base, not be split between two cities or two or more, think that they could keep students here, that they would have access to choreographers, people of stature in the ballet world who could be brought to Houston. We hoped that this person would indeed launch a professional company and be able to create a company of national/international reputation eventually, certainly not immediately. Nina seemed willing, but as I was saying before, we did have applications. People had somehow gotten the idea—there’s a legend that there’s an enormous amount of wealth, and it all goes into Houston Ballet. And that was one of the reasons why there was some interest. But among people of real artistic strength and merit, we didn’t get applications from that type then. They knew we were still sort of groping and fumbling around. So Nina filled the bill for the moment. She was an extraordinary teacher, again. We’ve always been lucky in having directors who have been outstanding in that field. She also had contacts in New York. We knew we could get ballets from Mr. Balanchine. So she certainly did a creditable job. She did exactly what was needed for that period—that moment of our history.
I: What was the relationship between the board and, in particular, the artistic committee of the board and the administration during Ms. Popova’s period as artistic director?
S: Well, really the board was not even a matter of committees then. It was run by—not run by a few individuals—but the workers on the board did whatever. There was not a great deal of philosophy. We had a fairly happy relationship. There was not any strong dominant point of view about where we were going at that moment. We were just being grateful for any ballet we could get and to have dancers be able to perform in some degree of competence. There was no real artistic—except philosophy—except we eventually wanted to look like New York City or ABT, if the truth be known. We had a picture in mind, a vision. Of how to get there, I’m not sure we were all so certain.
I: [34:58] In the last few years throughout the United States, the ballet has become one of the most popular of the performing arts. This has not always been so. As recently as the early 1970s, it was considered by many to have a limited public feel. Consequently until recently it was not as easy to raise money for a ballet as it was for a symphony, an opera, or an art museum. During its first few years, there were many skeptics who did not expect the Houston Ballet Company to survive. Under those circumstances, how did you and the other board members convince individuals and foundations to give large sums of money for this fledgling enterprise?
S: Oh, I don’t know. I do think there were several skeptics, and they had good reason. It was pretty shaky, but we worked. They knew we believed in something, and we didn’t ever believe we reached a degree of excellence that we really aspired to, and we kept trying, and we did do better year in and year out. We improved gradually, slowly but surely, and people saw the kind of commitment the founding members had made. I mean they spent an awful lot of time at this. And then each year, those who were dedicated increased in number, and people finally began to believe at least it really was here to stay, and then they began to see it really acquire a flair, a style, some spark of real life, and I think—I don’t know—you never know why people believe in something—I mean why they believe in the board, but they—it was a board of substance, a solid board that they were wise in the beginning—the very founding people got people who were responsible, who were intelligent and broadly aware of the city’s place in the state and the country and where we had to go to be great—a real city.
I: Corporate support of the arts was virtually insignificant in the late 1960s, and ballet companies were low on the list of corporations when they did begin giving to the arts. How did you go about soliciting funds from the business sector during the ballet’s early years?
S: In its early years, Houston Ballet probably had very few contributions from the corporate sector. I don’t think it was until really the last 5 or at the most 7 that we had any significant gifts, and they were rather—the whole project was a rather forced one during one spring when we were required to find, I think, something like 40-odd thousand—I don’t know—we found 80, and it all came from the corporate sector. In the meantime, the CACC had been formed, and that became the United Fund of the Arts, and it was distributed on a fair, equal basis or whatever, and that was a big help. But as far as corporations giving on a special solicitation, that started with having to find money for a main performance in a serious way—in a really strong way.
I: What methods did you find most effective in approaching businesses for donations?
S: [38:52] I find it’s very important. One, I never go alone. I take a man who’s informed, and at the time, Mr. Loveland—Gene Loveland—was president, and he was extremely active and knew his facts and his figures and a wonderful salesman, and he would go along or any other one of the men on the executive or the general board. And if you go prepared and armed with information and they understand that there’s no other reason except you’re convinced this is a viable organization and you’ve shown a degree and stability and responsibility, if they can fit you in, they’re generally quite generous. It was an art to me to learn about the thinking of a businessman and the very greatness of them, that they’re generous, they’re open, and they think big. And the bigger you think, they appreciate it and respect it all the more.
I: Did the methods of solicitation differ for approaching foundations?
S: Oh, it does. It’s all a matter of a certain style, the individual who’s doing the soliciting, the aims of the foundations, how they’re geared and who are the trustees on these foundations, and it’s all a very personal matter. I think it’s a—to begin though, you have to be very clearly informed, you have to be able to—I think the application—the written message to the foundation is more important because they—at least some of them I know—receive them, and then before you even have a chance to speak on the basis of your written request, they determine whether you’re even put on an agenda or not. So your request has to be very clear, succinct. The numbers have to be used well, and often the request should be original. They’re not generally interested in maintenance. They want it to be in a way a special project, and therefore there is a different slant to the application—a different manner of presentation. Business is quickly becoming aware of their role in the arts, and I think they’ve done a splendid job at assuming this responsibility and realizing they’re very much, not taking the place of foundations and individuals, but certainly augmenting that potential because it’s diminishing to a degree, and the corporations will be the ones who will be the (s/l metages ?? 41:55) of today and tomorrow. And they certainly can do it. I mean many of them can.
I: What do you think has led to their changing perspective on it?
S: I think a few—I’m sure the Business Arts Council in Washington—whatever the proper name of it is—has been very instrumental in this. I think Bob Anderson, at one point, was head of Arco—and a man of really great involvement in the arts. I mean he was not just a figure head and a capable businessman, he also adores the arts, and therefore he was a convincing person. I think more could be done about it. I think there are all kinds of lobbying groups, in a way—there are papers, the vehicles, the ways of expressing, and there’s a lot of propaganda now, and it’s certainly been, I think, through the TV—the television—and their own exposure on television. It’s made it a very palatable arrangement. They have excellent PR through the programs they’ve sponsored, and it’s helped the arts. It’s beneficial to both, and I think both of the corporate, the executives, as well as their boards understand this importance and the benefits to all out of this mutual sort of arrangement.
I: [43:31] In 1974, the Houston Ballet Foundation received a challenge grant from the Ford Foundation which was designed to eliminate the carryover deficit of approximately $80,000, which the foundation had incurred to that point, and to establish a cash reserve fund of $160,000 by the end of 1978. In the process, the Ford Foundation hoped to instill a fiscal discipline in the management of the Houston Ballet Foundation which would enable the foundation to operate in the black from 1978 on. This was an experimental grant which the Ford Foundation hoped to be able to use to cure the fiscal ills of many performing arts organizations. What effect has the successful experience with this grant had on the subsequent fiscal policies and practices of the Houston Ballet Foundation?
S: Well, as you’ve said, it is imposed fiscal discipline which we’ll be eternally grateful. We have remained in the black thereafter. It’s almost an obsession with the executive committee and the management committee of this board. It’s been an extraordinary exercise and effort often that we have more of these May project yearend runs for money, but we just simply refuse to go into the (sic) black. I, as a member of the artistic committee, sometimes question this philosophically, and I think it’s something we always have to be aware of. I don’t know if a company—a ballet company—can run in the black and still be a company of great quality. It’s something that’s just—if you want to be amused, you can debate all of this. But we have succeeded. I hope we can. Our budget gets bigger and bigger, and I don’t know if it’s feasible. The problems of Jones Hall are a (s/l minthe ?? 45:45). We can’t really get any more performance, and therefore, the income is almost stabilized and stagnated at the present figure, and we either have to raise the price of seats or find some solution to all this, which perhaps will be the Leary Theater. But in the meantime, with a lot of work, we are able to stay in the black. And I must say it’s been primarily the work of individuals. We have not gotten enormous government support.
I: Why do you think the Houston Ballet Foundation was singled out by the Ford Foundation to be one of the earliest organizations to receive this particular type of grant?
S: I think it was primarily through the efforts—almost entirely through the efforts of Mr. Gene Loveland who was then president of the board of trustees and because we had as the artistic director Ben Stevenson who had shown his talent, his great abilities, and his worth, and I think they believed that the combination of a strong board and an extraordinary artistic director was worth the risk. We had been honest in the first place with that first Ford grant. We were exceptional, I think discrete and scrupulous in our use of their money. In the first place when we had to turn it back in, which we did voluntarily, and I think they saw, through Gene Loveland, a new organization, a new structure, a new determination to really remain strong and stable. And I think he did a lot of leg work, though. He really did a lot of the conversations with Ford and Marcia Thompson.
I: [47:53] What was his position with the ballet?
S: He was president. He was president for I think 4 years during which time he was an excellent fund raiser. He was also an executive—you know—with Shell, so he knew all about corporate structure and not that they’re totally similar, the Houston Ballet and Shell, but he brought to an organization which was full of devotion and dedication some structure. I mean we really had not had—I don’t think we’ve ever had a committee to amount to anything except to search for another director. He started a system that began to be very active and without being so structured that you had flexibility. You still had life within, but there was some focus and some direction.
I: Do you know if the Ford Foundation continues to make this type of grant to other organizations?
S: I don’t know outside of Houston. There is some sort of Ford Foundation grant for the opera now and also, I guess, the one for the symphony for their endowment.
I: Is it this same type of—?
S: No, I don’t believe it is. I don’t know about the opera. I’m almost certain the symphony isn’t, or the last symphony grant I heard about was for endowment. But perhaps they both have this kind now. I know the opera has some kind of Ford, I guess it’s Ford. It may be NEA.
I: [49:38] You were a member of the search committee which chose Mr. Ben Stevenson to succeed Miss Nina Papova as artistic director of the Houston Ballet Foundation. What criteria did your committee establish for the new director?
S: Well, again, these criteria have been the same throughout because you’re always searching for—well, with the same purpose in mind. We wanted someone who could bring the company further along into a level of performance that was greater than we had been able to produce for Jones Hall up to this point. We also were quite pleased to find in Ben Stevenson another superb teacher. We wanted someone who perhaps had more choreographic ability, would be willing to do some of his own works or her own works, who could assemble and pull together a cohesive group—a real company. There’s a difference in many of these ballet companies between the group of stars and then a backup (s/l porta 51:00) ballet or a company that’s really, really together. And in this company, I think Ben succeeded in pulling together a company that’s—in a way it’s very much like the New York City. There are no stars. There’s a certain degree of anonymity, and people are willing to take several roles in the course of an evening, and that is excellent because they have tremendous experience this way, but it’s very unusual. There aren’t many companies where you’ll have a Suzanne Longley who can be Giselle—well, this is a full length—but who’s the star in one ballet and then will go to (s/l core 51:31) in the second or third work of the evening. And I think Ben’s succeeded mightily and in a spree of morale within this company that is a unique achievement.
I: [51:55] Why did your committee decide to invite Mr. Stevenson to take this position instead of Mr. James Clouser who was the acting artistic director at that time?
S: We felt Mr. Stevenson had greater ability to organize a company. He’d had three of his own companies in the U.S.A. He had also worked in Europe and England in particular with Festival and Royal. His experience was far greater. There was in a way no comparison. He brought with him an attitude and a point of view that was international, perhaps more classical in background, and that was appealing as our mission is to bring the best of all styles to Houston and not one kind of dance alone. So he seemed to fit the bill. The recommendations and all we could find out had nothing except praise for this man—a very creative man, a very receptive man in dealing with dancers, a man of—I mean you learn more and more about him all the time—about his strengths.
I: At present, you serve as chairman of the artistic committee of the board of the Houston Ballet Foundation. What duties does that job entail?
S: Well, more than duties or not even duties, we—the committee is a group of 7 or 8 members who are all as interested as I am and spend as much time—we’re really a sounding board for Mr. Stevenson. We listen. We advise when we’re called on. We do not dictate artistic policy. We simply help form it when we’re needed. We don’t—well, I guess, we’re sort of a—I don’t know what we do except give Ben a reaction, a response, but he doesn’t—he can take it or leave it. We do not tell him the works to perform, the dancers. It’s entirely in his hands.
I: [54:35] Have you had to negotiate with either dancer’s or craftsman’s unions in your capacity as chairman of the artistic committee?
I: Or in any other capacity?
S: No. No, the one on the board does that now. It has been done perhaps before the management of Mary K Bailey struggling—I think probably Nina Popova did it in the (s/l presidents 55:01) at the time—probably (s/l Diana Divant) and John Kirkland had to do some of this, but I haven’t. Thank God for the company.
I: [55:09] Some people feel that wage demands by the craftsman’s unions have been responsible for raising ticket prices to unreasonable levels in all the performing arts. Can you comment on that?
S: Well, it is maddening when the stage hands and the musicians get more than dancers. It seems rather unfair that the people who create this product, the ones that are responsible for the ultimate success, are the poorest paid of the whole enterprise. I think it’s probably true. I don’t know what one does about it. I can’t—in fairness, the best thing to do would be to raise the dancers salaries, and I think with the strike at ABD this year, this has been happening. Dance prices are not terribly low, but they’re lower than opera. I think a concert’s really even less. But one simply tries to work around and make productions that aren’t so expensive, and that’s part of the challenge is to give great beauty in as abstract a way as one can, and I think it’s sometimes more exciting as is this Four Last Seasons—this ballet that’s coming up.
I: As the staff of the ballet has grown in numbers, have the board members become less involved in the day to day business of running the foundation or have they remained very active? Or in what ways are they active?
S: Well, now they’re more active I would say, although not exclusively in fundraising. There are more committees now, and most of the talent is—hopefully we use all the talent on the board in its proper place. There’s marketing, there’s fundraising, budget committees, the artistic committee with a subcommittee and a music committee. I think they’re as active as they’ve ever been and probably as enthusiastic, if not more so, as they see this company growing and gaining international stature and with a director who’s highly acclaimed all over the world. I think their interest is as deep as it ever was and maybe growing because of the company and also because of the school. The school is perhaps one of the—if not second best in this country, and I think that just naturally inspires the board to work for Mr. Stevenson and his group.
I: [58:09] Mrs. Sarofim, besides having served as president of the Houston Ballet, you twice served as chairman of the board and have been made a life member of the board. On June 22, 1955, the following statement of purpose for the Houston Ballet Foundation was drawn up by a committee of the founders with Ms. Nina Cullinan as chairman to bring ballet lovers of Houston into effective organization in a nonprofit corporation to spread an appreciation of ballet in general and to foster a favorable climate for its development by working with all groups or individuals interested in the promotion and perpetuation of ballet through study, training, or presentation, establishing and maintaining a ballet academy, primary purpose of which will be to give the serious student the highest quality technical training and the creative insight necessary for a career as a dancer, teacher, or choreographer, and evolving from the school the nucleus of a ballet company to provide opportunities for performance for dancers to stimulate creative production among choreographers, to give an increasingly ballet-conscious public the chance to see well-produced ballet at frequent intervals. The board not only has accomplished its purpose, but it has surpassed it. It has one of the finest academies, as you just mentioned, and one of the best companies in the United States. Why does the ballet board stand out among Houston boards of trustees for its dynamism and its ability to accomplish its goals?
S: Well, one, nominating committee carefully picks its board. It’s a balanced board. I don’t think any particular group dominates or any individual. I think there are a few key people, and because of their involvement and the amount of work that they’ve put in, other people believe in this and maybe are somewhat inspired. I think again it goes back to the artistic expression. It has become so good. It can always be improved, but we believe in this, and we just work for it. I don’t think there’s any particular ingredient that’s special or that stands out that’s unique to our board except it’s the combination, the chemistry, of all of these factors. I think Ben is a very amusing as well as sensitive soul, and we see how much he gives to this organization, and therefore you support it. It—I don’t know. I mean I’m so involved. To probably spot what that special factor is—I wish I knew and then we could just keep it going.
I: And do it again.
[tape ends 1:01:11]
I: [second tape 00:00] Mrs. Sarofim, you are a graduate of St. John’s School in Houston, Texas. After your graduation from Smith College and a period with the Peace Corps in Haiti, you returned to Houston and taught at St. John’s until 1962. For the past several years, your children have attended St. John’s, and in 1975, you were elected to the board of trustees of the school. Recently, you were elected vice chairman of the board of trustees of St. John’s. What was it in your earlier involvements with St. John’s that made you want to serve the school now as a volunteer?
S: Well, one little fact, I was not in the Peace Corps, I was pre-Peace Corps just so the chronology is straight. But I think St. John’s was a very important segment of my education. They gave a tremendous amount in the way of, not just classroom help, but a lot of sort of individual advice, and they were terribly—the teachers in the early days— It was a small school. They were very personal. They took each child and sort of nourished and encouraged, and I think they were very valuable in influences in our lives—my brother and myself and all of our classes when the school was smaller. It was an inspiration. It set many values. It gave us our point of view to a certain degree. Smith College was also a very important 4 years of my life. So I wouldn’t say St. John’s is greater, but in some measure to help thank, repay, and just enjoy the continued association with St. John’s. It’s been wonderful to have been asked to be on the board.
I: What are your primary goals as a volunteer for St. John’s?
S: [02:03] I’d like to see it strengthened or broadened academically. I’d like to see it truly become one of the great prep schools or day schools. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge with the fact that the students aren’t there all day and night. I’d like to see a certain increased funding, a broader selection of courses, a greater curriculum, a faculty of the highest experience and quality. I think their athletic department could be enhanced. It’s good, it just needs some other—it needs swimming, I think. It needs some other sports. It needs some other—or greater coaching staff. All this comes with growth and increased funds. I think what is there is good. I think it’s very good—just more of the same without having to increase the enrollment. I think it makes a contribution to the city. I think it should be aware of how important that contribution is as far as future leadership. I think they are. I think they have increased their own board and they have added some real expertise in the area of education. So I think it will get into a position of strength and particularly in view of the situation with the public schools right now, there’s a huge responsibility on all the private schools in town.
I: Was Mrs. William S. Farish Senior still actively involved with the board of St. John’s when you first became a member of that body?
S: [03:57] No, not at all. A wonderful image of marvelous example, but not actually involved.
I: Did you know her?
S: Only slightly. No, she was a lady of real grace. She was a lady and—intelligence, charm. She knew she had a success in Mr. (s/l Chitsey 04:34) in the early days of the school and supported it. She was a woman I’ve heard who believed and didn’t question and didn’t meddle. She simply encouraged and supported in any way she could.
I: Do you have any idea what her primary reasons for being interested in the school were?
S: Well, I think so many of that generation had hoped to have in Houston is the school of the same quality as a boarding school. Therefore, they wouldn’t have to send their children away. And if Houston could one, for their very own children have such a place. And secondly, Houston as a city needed that sort of element in its own future—people of education—of broad education. I think that’s probably why it was started.
I: Do you remember her being present during your days as a student or as a teacher?
S: Not really, no. No, I knew her more through the ballet than through the St. John’s. She was involved.
I: What was her involvement with the ballet?
S: She was another supporter. I’m not sure that she was a founding member, but she used her attic for anything and everything. She just helped. That was her way. She—whatever could be done, she would do it if it were possible, and I think she believed, again. She was a great friend of Mrs. Wallace and Mrs. (s/l Neff 06:20)—Ms. Cullinan. So she supported them. Actually, I think they got a whole slew of costumes—I know I went over there and got a lot out of her attic some years ago, but a lot of the storage was done right in her house.
I: One of your more recent new involvements has been the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation. You’ve been on that board since 1978, I think, and it’s dedicated to raising funds for research and for medical research and medical education and capital gifts to the hospital. How did you become involved in that foundation?
S: [07:06] Well, I suppose one, they knew I had been born there and I had some automatic interest, too. Being a Catholic, they probably thought that was another good reason—and some activity in fundraising in other projects in town. I don’t precisely know why they got me on that board, but I am interested in it, primarily to see a hospital in that location become a very, very great hospital. I think it’s had its ups and downs as all hospitals, schools, everything does, but I do believe there’s a possibility that it can regain its prominence. It was always known for its superb medical care in the area of nursing, and it was—and for one, it was one of the few hospitals here, but it was the one that had the finest, finest care in the city. I think it can regain its position. I think with help from the industrial section of the city and the financial, sort of the downtown, the Wall Street, so to speak, plus the channel industries and support and involvement by their corporate officers, I think the hospital can have better direction and guidance and will again be a very important—and I think by its location, it serves a great need in the city. It can specialize in certain departments and have a special reason for being where you go there for whatever it is alone. I mean you just don’t have it duplicated in the city. And I think there’s real hope. More and more of the men from Shell, from Exxon or Brown and Root, all those businesses are coming on the board. And as it is a larger endeavor than it was in its earlier days, I think they will give it great leadership.
I: Because of the technological knowledge in that kind of sophisticated hospital, they have a special problem in educating their board about the kinds of things that they’re trying to do. Have you, at this point, been exposed very much to the kinds of efforts that they’re trying to put together?
S: Well, not specifically. However, we know that their interest and rather thorough work in cancer under Dr. (s/l Salin’s 10:02) direction, I think they have some of the best anesthetists, that their neurologists are good having had some experience with all of that, I think they could if they can entice and support this technological expertise and attract the doctors of some experience and fame, I think they have a chance of being—and they certainly are able to inspire the board, not with a detailed explanation, but simply with the right person giving the message. They inspired a lot of us to go out and search and try and put together people on the board who—that’s been my main function, actually, is on the nominating committee—and there are some key people—and there always have been on that board who are devoted and are really at the crux of the whole success—the Andersons—Leland and (s/l Esemino 11:09). Jimmy Lawrence is one who has been just tremendous on that board—Stewart Orton. Ronald Brown is now very successful. But there’s some just loyal, devoted board members who are—and then they’ve had an infusion of new, and I think they’re getting really back on their feet, being a very serious facility for medicine.
I: [11:40] Mr. Botelho, in the foundation office, told me a little bit about the campaign that’s being planned to replace the women’s building. And since you mentioned that you were born there, he said that a great many Houstonians had been. Do you think that that will be a special aspect to that fundraising?
S: Oh, I imagine it will be a special aspect in all of the sentiment throughout Houston. I’m sure there’ll be a hue and cry or whatever, but I think with some knowledge of the needs, people will be very willing to support that, and I think it will be a very exciting project, I think probably with very little trouble fundraising. I don’t know. I don’t know really the details of that, but I do think because of John Botelho, one has great confidence in the runnings of the hospital. He’s shown himself to be a really fine manager. He’s capable. He gets along beautifully with the board and with the professional staff, and he also has a lot of good help in those (s/l nuns?? 12:52)—the fewer there. They’re an extraordinary bunch of women, and they work, they enjoy, they’re bright in their financial experience, and they’re very capable ladies. It’s a nice combination of—there’re doctors who sort of—I don’t know—they’re all a team rather than any particular one that’s outstanding or—
I: There’s not a superstar approach to things?
S: Uh-hunh (negative), not that I can tell.
I: Among the other boards of trustees which you have served on or are serving on now, are the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Houston Symphony Society. Has fundraising been your primary function on these boards or have you held other positions as well?
S: No, I’ve really limited my fundraising to the ballet, although I’ve done some for all I suppose. Actually, I’m doing for the Fine Arts right now, but— No, the CAM was probably one of the most exciting boards because at the time, we were involved in the search committee for an architect for the new building, and it’s a board where I find a great ease and flow of honest expression of differences or agreement, whatever, but people are outspoken, thoughtfully so. I think it used to be—well, when I was there, and I think it’s probably better even now, much better. It’s a very healthy board in the fact that people feel they can express themselves. The MFA was simply as a representative of the Garden Club, I believe. But then let’s see, the opera simply being enthusiastic—the opera structure is quite different now and somewhat dependent on the degree of giving and the level of your support, but one can’t help respecting the opera for its success, and it just simply generates enthusiasm by virtue of its excitement itself—I don’t know. But I must admit I’m not as active on some of these boards as others.
I: [15:30] What do you consider to have been the most successful fundraising efforts that you have been involved in to date?
S: Well, I suppose it’s the ballet. For one reason or another, it’s a continuous effort, and it’s right now in the midst of finding money for New York City for our performance—not New York City, but for our performance in Brooklyn. I mean there’s been no one project that I really think of that I’ve been head of or whatever for fundraising. It’s just something that I guess I’ve only learned to do by virtue of so much time dedicated to it. It certainly didn’t come naturally, and it’s nothing I’ve ever studied or gone to seminars or conferences about. I think people realize when you’re truly and genuinely interested, and then basically they’re awfully nice and generous. It’s been a delightful challenge and a great lesson, I mean, for me. I don’t think I’ve been in any particularly starry project about fundraising.
I: Do you think fundraising campaigns contribute to the organizations in ways other than simply raising funds?
S: Oh, yes. I know it’s hard for a lot of people to understand because in particularly, the board of trustees, but when the guild raises a certain amount of money, it’s an exceptional achievement because they’ve involved so many people, and I think by virtue of that have stimulated so much interest. I think it goes far beyond just the money raising. It’s a great promotion, scheme, and I think it’s healthy for all of that and for more knowledge, for more awareness of the organization. It’s a great, great PR device.
I: To what extent do you think it is healthy for arts organizations to accept government funding, especially in the light of the Reagan administration’s announced cuts in Federal aid to the arts?
S: Honestly, one has lived without it in earlier days, and I know we’ll have to learn. The ballet specifically has never been tremendously successful in getting money from the government because one reason is—I think one reason is that we have such a—we’re so successful at raising in Houston. I think they find it difficult to believe that we need government money, and I to a degree understand that, but it’s through an awful lot of effort here. I don’t have any philosophical quarrels with the government dictating policy or philosophy or artistic direction. That has not been the case with the money we’ve received, and I haven’t heard of it happening in any other of the organizations in town. I find that in principle I admire Mr. Reagan’s stand, and therefore I can’t get very worked up about keeping the arts in there. I mean I wish, but we all go through this, and we’re going to have to find other sources, and it won’t be easy or maybe it will be—you know—it’s just another challenge.
I: [19:04] It’s been said that with the current trends in the tax laws and in government funding and income distribution, it’s increasingly difficult for organizations to raise funds for ongoing operating expenses.
S: It is. It always has been though. I don’t think it’s increasingly. The big, big chunks of money never like to be given for ordinary maintenance—just the day in and day out knitty gritty, but I for one think with a bit of the government with people it builds interest in giving. Corporate donations have increased mightily. There’s a huge percentage. And I don’t think it’s any more difficult. I just think people have to be more creative, more intelligent, and really alert. Fundraising is a profession now, and I think one just has to go out and work at it. The competition is fierce. I think it’s from the competition within the organizations in the city that the difficulty lies. I’m not so sure it’s because of tax. I mean I don’t think that helps, but I don’t think that’s the real reason. You just have to stay alert and keep after it. And in Houston, it couldn’t be a better city to raise money. I mean not that they’re so in the habit of giving to the arts, but the money is here and the people are generous, and you just meet the challenge.
I: What happens when a single individual is involved in raising funds for more than one organization? Do you ever get into a bind where somebody says, “Well, but I gave you some for the ballet”?
S: No, you just firmly say, “I won’t take such and such cards.” You work it out. It’s very easy to do, and people understand. I mean there’s no real conflict—or there doesn’t have to be. I mean you can—you learn to eliminate the cards that are—or cards—different cards. I really stay away. I don’t do any other performing arts, and I only do the MFA, and that’s not forever. It’s not—after awhile, you’ve worn out your welcome, and so you do limit your fundraising or I certainly plan to, and I have.
I: Do you think that there’s an increasing emphasis on trying to raise endowment funds or is that something that’s always been everybody’s ideal?
S: No, I think it’s a very important effort. I think it’s extremely critical to the longevity of any of these organizations, and I think the opera has been tremendously successful as has the symphony. I think the museum now has a fairly sizable capital fund and endowment fund. Oh, the Houston Ballet has a very, very meager fund. It started. Someone now has to take the ball and go out and do a serious job of fundraising for the endowment alone. It’s always a question of timing, when do you do it? You know, they’re trying to raise money for the Lyric and I’m sure a few hospitals and schools and one thing and another, but we can’t wait too long. The value of that money is seeping away and creeping away daily by the minute. I think it shows a stability to an outsider—the fact that if you have an endowment, there’s some sense of security about the organization. And it’s also if well-managed, an endowment, it’s a very healthy source of income. The management of that is a huge responsibility of the board—who they choose to handle those funds. And the story of Yale—I think it can be quite a disaster or unnecessarily low in income if you don’t manage it properly, and that’s a burden but a serious one. So I don’t think the challenge is in money raising. I really don’t think they’re any more difficult. I mean one can use a lot of excuses, but if we’ve been helped by increased knowledge, exposure here now, and that’s certainly a big help. With some of these other drawbacks, we’ve had certain advantages with time. So I just think we’re still on a good course.
I: [24:01] In 1979, you were elected to the board of the First International Bank of Houston. Frequently persons from the business community are asked to join the boards of cultural organizations where their business expertise might be useful. You are doing the opposite, taking your expertise as a volunteer to the business sector. How has your wide experience as a volunteer member of numerous charitable and cultural boards of directors prepared you for this new task?
S: Well, I don’t think I’m prepared, and I’m only feeling comfortable now. One knows how to listen, and you’ve learned how to work, and you learn how to be part of a team, and you help where you can, and this has been the biggest learning experience of my life and one that I’ve gradually come to enjoy. It’s been the most difficult, but it’s a body of men and who are generously giving of their time and their experience, and I think what little bit of the world of the arts I can give to them, and I think they are interested in it, very much so. I think that’s one of the reasons I was asked to go on the board. I think they want to do their part for the world of art as well as other areas, but they’ve been a bank, along with several others, who’ve been very generous in donating to the arts, and they’re very conscious of their responsibility there. When Mrs. (s/l Suddoth 25:40) comes to visit, they are having the tapestry show that she is bringing along on her tour, and they’re actively seeking areas where they can really help. And some of the trusts which they manage are devoted, not primarily to the arts, but they are devoted to the arts. So they’re aware, and it’s a matter of image for them, too. It’s great to be with the arts nowadays. It’s a new slogan, I think.
I: [26:12] One of the primary persons whom we would have wanted to interview for this project had she lived was Mrs. McClelland Wallace. She was a founder of the Houston Ballet Foundation, a long-time member of the executive committee of the Houston Symphony Society, a member of the boards of the Harris County hospital district, and of Planned Parenthood. She was also involved with St. John’s school. You worked with her very closely for many years on the board of the ballet, in particular. How would you characterize Mrs. Wallace?
S: Winnie was a woman of determination and complete vision. I mean she never veered from a goal or a task. She was informed on whatever subject she tackled. She was so honest. You asked, and you got an answer. You might not like it, but you got what you asked for. She had a great sense of humor. She probably had the—other than Harriet Bath and Ms. Cullinan—but in the performing arts, I think Harriet and Winnie had the greatest experience and exposure. I would often say, “Now, Winnie, do you really think we need this company? I don’t want to get funds and simply be duplicating being a little carbon copy of ABT or whatever.” And she would guide, and she would always help whenever—I mean from the most menial task up to really running the ballet, and she was just support. She was always available. She was always there for the long history of it, and she would just give of herself.
I: Why did she have so much influence on virtually all of her fellow board members?
S: Because she was so respected and without a doubt a woman of integrity, a woman of the humor, the intelligence—you know—you just can’t cover up all of that. She was totally down to earth and simply of an effective, direct—she just was herself, and she knew what she was doing. She had a tremendous ability to convey and relay this knowledge and experience, and she just was always there. Mac, her husband, has been as helpful in the amount of information he’s brought to this organization. They both have. It’s not been, I think, quite as one-sided as it’s perceived. Winnie, perhaps, is more articulate. She had an incredible ability to both speak and write, and I think that was impressive.
I: What did you learn from her about how to go about—?
S: Well, I don’t know, there’s so much learning. The great thing was Winnie allowed you to make your own mistakes. She didn’t do things for you. She gave you so much information and enough clues. And if you were bright enough or dumb enough, if you couldn’t understand, you floundered from time to time, but then you learn, and she gave you this experience. Mrs. Stafford, her mother, probably gave you more concrete advice, more help in certain ways. She was the one who told us who the board members were, how they could help. Actually, the three of them and then Harriet, they’ve been a very important—and I think the one wonderful thing about the ballet board is it’s had a continuous line. It’s almost like ballet itself. It’s a line of information, of direction, and we’ve been at least wise enough to ask for help from the people who really know and those who knew in the beginning, and I think that’s where we might have a slight edge. And we’ve kept on board these founding members, and not as the hall of fame and relics and statues, they really are used.
I: [31:25] Mrs. Sarofim, when you are responsible for nominating persons to serve on the board of directors, what criteria do you set?
S: Well, this is one thing I learned from Winnie. I used to think that any businessman was better than a volunteer tea party lady. I didn’t think we brought much knowledge and experience in a business sense to a board, but I do think you have to have first of all an interest in whatever organization—a genuine interest. I think then people are chosen for all kinds of reasons, for a certain area of expertise, for a certain connection with a foundation, for a direct willingness to give, for the ability to just sheerly to work. The ballet has never set a policy of membership on the board because of a level of contribution. It’s been this combination. Other boards are composed that way. Nothing is right or wrong. It’s what you need at a certain period in your own development. I think boards have to be reviewed and recomposed, and it’s a very delicate challenge and a very exciting one to bring people to the board who can help in so many ways. And I think there are always debates on what kind of board, and there are many kinds and many successful boards. And for the moment, we have a solution. It may not be the right one for 5 or 10 years from now, but for the moment it works. And other boards—I think there are boards in the infancy of an organization, and then each period takes a different kind of—and you have to reevaluate. You always have to constantly be aware. It’s almost a job in itself to keep studying a board.
I: What do you mean by a solution that you right now?
S: Well, I think our balance is one of talent, work, and money, and overall the underlying ingredient or quality is an interest and a devotion to the organization because of Ben Stevenson. I think most people are on there because they see great talent and potential in our director, but each one has a special contribution to make. I mean we could use practically all hundred people or 99 whatever it is in a way. And I think unfortunately, we don’t do our best at that yet. And as I say, one person almost has to sit back and know what each individual can bring to the board, and everyone can do something, and I think it’s easier to work with a few people. It’s just more efficient, and one is inclined to do it that way. But ideally, you’d want to involve every person in a particular task or a project, whatever, at some point in their 3 years on the board.
I: [34:57] You’re talking about the ballet board, right?
S: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And I know the opera board has changed. They’re now a board, and I don’t want to be incorrect and it’s certainly not critical, but it’s very much of a board based on money, and that’s simply out of necessity. I understand entirely when you have to one—a budget of 5.5 million, I believe, they must bring this. These things just don’t happen out of good will and love. They have to be supported by money.
I: Do you feel that that type of policy that the opera has now (__ ?? 35:37) is unfair to persons who can contribute a great deal to an organization in ways other than soliciting or donating money?
S: I don’t know that it’s unfair. I think—
I: They don’t get to serve on the board.
S: I know, and I do understand the question and the direction of it, and everyone fights this battle within and without, and I think it’s simply one of those hard facts of life that it takes money to run these boards, and one has to compromise, and it often involves some grumbling and some ill will, but I see why they do it. I can’t quarrel with it. I don’t have a better solution to finding that kind of money, and I think the talent ultimately should be on the professional staff and part of the reason for raising the money is to have a staff of such quality, and the opera has done it better than anyone in the city and almost better than anyone in the country. But they’ve had their years, and they’ve used talents, and I think they use them, but that is not the way their board functions, and I simply don’t want to make a judgement because they are succeeding.
I: What do you believe is the proper relationship between a board of directors, the business management, and the artistic staff?
S: I think the artistic staff sets the overall policy, the direction. They articulate the picture that one should be striving toward in 5, 10, whatever number of years. They give you that vision. The management executes this, and the board basically supports it by fundraising. That’s our role. If we believe in it, we are the people who go out and find the money. It’s not unlike businesses—people acquiring money and putting together a deal, and that’s the function of the board primarily. And then when we’re asked, we do what we can, but we really stay out of the running the daily affairs.
I: [37:56] If you were solely responsible for forming a board of trustees for a major arts organization, how would you structure it?
S: What stage is this organization—is it—?
I: Starting out.
S: Starting out? I’d get workers basically. You have to have one passionate Joan of Arc, and I say that quite seriously. You have to have one person committed to this who can give totally of their time and a great deal of their money, I think. Then it becomes apparent that they cannot be the sole supporter because the organization hopefully grows, and then you get others. And because of your efficiency, organization, your whatever spirit you’ve (s/l enviewed 38:46) the organization with, it acquires life. And then the support—that you’ve got to have all sorts of auxiliary organizations and individuals.
I: Would you limit the number of members and how long each term would last on the board?
S: I do firmly believe in a rotating board. And size, I don’t know the ideal size. That again is a matter of age maturity of the organization, but I think they function better on a scale that’s small—I mean 99 people, if you can believe it, are considered small. But I do believe in rotation, very firmly, and I’m honored to be a life member or whatever, but I don’t think that is really a very good idea. It’s an honor. But you’re terribly obligated by being a board member, I feel, and you have to work or give or both. It’s a long-term investment of yourself, which I do love, but I just think the broader a board can be and the more involved every member can be, the healthier an organization is. And that’s not everyone’s opinion.
I: I was wondering if you would make any conditions of membership. We’ve just discussed raising a certain amount of money to be a condition of membership.
S: Well, on certain boards.
I: On certain boards. I gather that you come to a point where the budget is such that you have to go to that.
S: [40:39] Almost. And I don’t know how—I mean the only way to move along—and it’s brought up a task for me—is to find out what the Joffrey, what the New York City, and all of these boards—how they’re composed. I do know a little bit about them. And even beyond that, museum boards and every kind of board—I mean the big boards, the New York serious boards. And I would hazard to guess that mostly they’re composed because these people have one, they have connections, and two, they’re going to give a sizable donation. And I’m just sorry the way then you work—you work through guilds. You work through (s/l dosam 41:20) programs, and you give your time that way.
I: Do you ask someone who has not necessarily given previously to a great extent to be on the board with the hope that they might give later?
S: We do, on a pretty good hunch that they’ll give. I mean one does. It’s been done. It’s not policy or anything. You just—some people are put on with that purpose, with that idea in mind. You can’t deny it. It becomes horribly—maybe one calls it crass, but it’s realistic, and I find it hard to say we will be determined primarily by the capacity to give, but what other substitute is there? And I just—if there’s another solution, I would love to have it because I really feel that that’s not ideal but it’s practical.
I: I was interested in your thoughts on how the Contemporary Arts Museum has developed during essentially the same time as the ballet. It was founded in ’48, and the ballet in ’55. It appears that the ballet has had more success in getting on a very firm financial footing and in being broadly recognized and loved by the city than the museum has. What do you think the difference is between them are?
S: [43:05] Well, I think now the CAM is on a very sound footing, and it’s a marvelous, healthy position. Number one, contemporary art is always difficult to sell. It’s one of the few museums existing and surviving in that field. Fortunately, the ballet had people who one, were passionate and could give and remained with it—remained loyal to the ballet. I think the CAM has had a turnover in boards and leadership, and they’ve had some difficult times. I don’t know enough about the history of the CAM. I think they’ve always struggled. I think they do even now. They’ve gotten a superb board, and probably that’s—the board used its judgement and its experience in getting a fine director. And until now, there have been some mistakes, but also the ballet—who knows if they were mistakes, but they didn’t work out for whatever reasons. And I think now the CAM is in one of the most admired positions in the city, most respected, not the most easily accepted as far as the product, and it never will be. It will have to struggle all its life. The ballet caught on to this general momentum, this great boom and burst, and we were lucky. I mean, we were part of a national—an international sort of explosion, and this has not happened in contemporary art. I will doubt if it ever will. Therefore, it’s even sort of a more exciting challenge. It’s now in the hands of a board that—one of the most intelligent people is at the head of the CAM, Sissy, and you’ve had Nancy (s/l Alling 45:14) working like a dog; you’ve had Bobby Gary, so ably articulate. He’s one of the best spokesmen for an organization in town. I mean next to Mike McClanehan, Bob Gary is just beautifully articulate, and he’s also convinced the organization is good. He was—I suppose he was on that search committee for Ms. (s/l Kefgarr 45:43). They have a superb director, and they’re in a very fine position now. There’s just nothing. It will always be hard, and they know it, and hopefully their budget will remain within bounds and within sensible limitations, not constricting but practical so that they won’t be—you know—it’s risky. It really is. I mean I just know that—I think there are five contemporary arts museums alive in this country, and luckily they’ve been able to remain alive.
I: So just the basic nature of the venture is quite different?
S: Yeah, it’s very different. Now if I were trying to support a modern dance company, it would be equally difficult, if not, more so. And I think it’s just the nature of the Avant-garde, of the here and now. Rarely is it readily understood by the layman, by the amateur. And it’s a very painful and courageous position for whatever artistic endeavor—I mean whether it’s dance or the visual or whatever, you’re out on a limb. You’re taking a risk, and that’s part of the—I don’t know—that’s why I admire it so. I mean I truly admire the CAM. I think they have done a splendid job in spite of so many obstacles. We’ve succeeded in one way, but they also have been extremely brave and adventurous, and it takes enormous courage and enormous belief. And they’re supported by Rob Lee, one of the most knowledgeable lay presidents in this city in the field of art.
I: We have one last question, if you have time. The proposed new Lyric Opera Theater for the opera and the ballet originally was estimated, I think, to cost $40 million, something like that. No?
S: Not really. That figure escaped and got out prematurely as I am told. I was recently put on this board.
I: Whatever the figures are, it’s a tremendous amount of money that’s going to have to be raised.
I: What do you think would be the most effective approach to raise this amount of money in a relatively short period of time?
S: [48:18] Well, I think there are many ways other cities have gone to their city for funding entirely. Others have gone on a 50/50 basis. Just out of expediency, I think that would be one of the solutions. I think if we could find a foundation. As you know, I’m sure, there had been hopes that the Wortham Foundation could come through with the gift that would then be—oh, whatever they call it—the kicker for the rest of the foundations and the individuals. However, that’s not possible. It just is not in a position right now as a foundation to be the major donor. I think with the city, perhaps going half and half, there is great deal of chance. There’s no real difficulty. I think if the entire amount is sought from individuals in the foundation and corporations, it will be a lot more work. And they’re just right now sort of explorations into the various ways to go about this campaign. I think corporations are being extremely generous, and I think that will probably end up being the bulk of the funds. But hopefully, it will be a very broad-based campaign. I mean just as the Alley Theater was a matter of every individual in the city almost in some way from nickels, dimes, on up, I hope the Lyric will be supported in this fashion. I think it’s very important to its future, its success, its fitting into the city life and structure, and its acceptance by the people. I think if they can all be asked in some way to contribute, that’s very important.
I: Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful interview.
S: Well, I’ve been glad to do it. I’ve enjoyed it myself. It’s made me think.
[tape ends 50:34]