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Sunday, April 27, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Donors Carefully Choose Causes

Any list of the region's top arts donors is likely to be subjective, but here are some names most arts watchers would agree should belong on any honor roll of important givers. Unlike the donor community in some other regions - particularly the East Coast - the greater Seattle donor community tends to be idiosyncratic, choosing causes carefully; you can't count on them for any single project unless they're tied to it in some way, through history or friendships or arts preferences.

Here, in no particular order, are the Northwest's deep arts pockets:

Paul Allen: Microsoft co-founder and billionaire, Allen is the driving force and funder behind the new Experience Music Project, a museum that started with a Jimi Hendrix focus and now will reach much wider, at the Seattle Center. With wide-ranging interests, from sports to high-tech, his arts philanthropy is similarly far-reaching; a major gift to A Contemporary Theatre led to the naming of the Allen Theatre, one of the company's two new stages. Even more recent is a $5 million gift to the newly reopened Henry Art Gallery.

Samuel and Althea Stroum: One of the region's premier philanthropic families, the Stroums got started with the success of Schuck's Auto Supply, Almac Electronics and investments, then went on to pour millions into a long list of arts groups (including the symphony) and social causes. Most recently, Sam Stroum chaired the Henry Gallery's capital campaign.

Benaroya Family: Jack and Becky Benaroya made Northwest history with a $15.8 million gift to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, jump-starting the concert hall that is now being built downtown (opening in the fall of 1998). The Benaroyas' philanthropy, fueled by successful real-estate and business-park development, has many outlets (most prominently the Juvenile Diabetes Founda tion), and the next generation is coming on: son Alan is a Seattle Symphony activist and donor.

Jeffrey and Susan Brotman: Art collectors and civic activists, the Brotmans are patrons of several organizations, most notably Pacific Northwest Ballet - where Susan has served as chairman of the board. Jeffrey, Price/CostCo chairman and a Starbucks founder, was United Way's campaign chair for 1997.

Marsha Sloan Glazer: Daughter of Samuel and Althea Stroum, Glazer learned philanthropy at home; now she has become the Seattle Repertory Theatre's most generous individual patron, with a $1 million gift that launched the Leo K., the Rep's new second-stage theater. Glazer also is a contributor to the Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center (another $1 million), and has served on the boards of the Seattle Art Museum and the Corporate Council for the Arts.

Sam and Gladys Rubinstein: Connoisseurs of music, the Rubinsteins have devoted the largesse from varied business interests (from fisheries to retail stores to photo finishing) to many arts causes. They've been friends of the Seattle Symphony for a long time (they attended the first symphony gala in 1950), but they contribute to a wide range of the arts scene (they underwrote the air-conditioning system in the Seattle Chamber Music Festival's Lakeside School site).

Jane and David Davis: Longtime supporters of many major and minor arts groups, the Davises are donors of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet and several other organizations (music is a special emphasis), and also are active behind the scenes in several capacities - whether at the Seattle Repertory Theatre or the symphony (David Davis was the official physician of the Seattle Symphony's European tour back in 1980).

Patsy Bullitt Collins and Harriett Bullitt: Heiresses of the King Broadcasting empire, the left-of-center activist sisters donated KING-FM radio to the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Opera and the Corporate Council for the Arts. Music lovers, they made the gift to guarantee that the station would retain its classical music format and to support classical music organizations in Seattle. Patsy Collins is also the main donor of a sculpture garden to be built in the new symphony hall.

Bagley and Virginia Wright: Known especially for their love of visual art, the couple has supported the Seattle Art Museum and the Henry Art Gallery. Bagley spearheaded the founding of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the building of its theater some 30 years ago, and Virginia was the impetus behind many public art projects in Western Washington, including the Western Washington University Outdoor Sculpture Collection. Bagley last year took $20 million of his personal fortune to found the Bagley Wright Foundation, which will each year dispense $1 million to major Seattle area arts groups.

Jon and Mary Shirley: Jon Shirley, former Microsoft president, and his wife, Mary, have become some of the region's most active and generous arts patrons, especially in the visual arts. They have generously supported Pilchuck Glass School and the Seattle Art Museum. A couple of years ago they gave $1.5 million to the Seattle Art Museum to endow the job of curator of modern art.

Behnke Family: Carl and Renee Behnke, and Carl's parents Robert and Sally Skinner Behnke, are multiple-generation family philanthropists who also work hard for the arts (Sally Behnke recently chaired the Corporate Council for the Arts' campaign). Though Carl is in the news most as co-chairman of the Governor's task force on the Seahawks Stadium, he also is a longtime Eastside performing-arts backer who chaired the capital campaign for the Kirkland Performance Center. The family's business, R.E.B. Enterprises, is active with venture capital financing.

Herman and Faye Sarkowsky: Longtime art aficionados, the Sarkowskys have a notable collection, and Faye Sarkowsky was one of the main forces (and donors) behind the building of the new Seattle Art Museum downtown. Other interests for these leading Northwest developers include the 5th Avenue Theatre (Faye has been a trustee).

John and Laurel Nesholm: Through the Nesholm Family Foundation (the family founded UPS), John (of the architectural Loschky, Marquardt & Nesholm firm) and his wife Laurel have provided funding not only to several leading arts groups around the sound, but also to education and social services. Music is a special focus, not only the Seattle Symphony, but also the Seattle Opera, where John Nesholm is president of the board of directors.

Alvord Family: The awards earned by Dr. Ellsworth (Buster) Alvord and his wife Nancy - such as outstanding philanthropic family" at `"ational Philanthropy Day and Seattle-King County First Citizens - suggests the family's pan-artistic philosophy. Nancy was the first woman president of the Seattle Rep board, where the Alvords not only had bailed out the company in the early 1960s, but also funded Pacific Northwest Ballet, A Contemporary Theatre, and the Seattle Symphony (they were the orchestra's first million-dollar donors). Now, the next generation of Alvords - Chap and Eve - are stepping forward, with Pilchuck Glass and Poncho among their interests.

Bill and Melinda Gates: The Gates' personal fortune is so large that community expectations tend to be commensurately high, which is why the Gates' fairly quiet arts philanthropy doesn't attract a great deal of notice - but it's there. Recent noteworthy gifts from the couple's foundation, which is administered by Gates' father (Bill Gates Jr.), have included $2 million to the Seattle Symphony concert hall and $1 million to the Seattle Art Museum.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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