The Patrons and Players of O.C.'s Arts and Philanthropy Scene

By Wendy Bowman | November 21, 2019 | People

The arts and philanthropy come together as we shine a light on the benefactors who are bolstering our local institutions, and those who are benefiting from their inspiring altruism.

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Patron: Judy Whitmore
Player: Jeanne Skrocki

Newport Beach-based bestselling author and vocalist Judy Whitmore remembers her parents generously supporting many nonprofits. “My father was a private man and believed giving should be done anonymously,” she says. “With the exception of a small entrance plaza at West Point, you won’t find my family’s name anywhere.” That’s why, when the arts philanthropist and Pacific Symphony board member got the chance this past spring to endow the orchestra’s assistant concertmaster chair, she thought what better choice than to put it in their names: Arlene and Seymour Grubman. Even better, the gift supports longtime violinist Jeanne Skrocki, who resonates with her in more ways than one. “There were three generations of violinists in my grandfather’s family,” says Whitmore, whose grandfather worked with superstars from Judy Garland to Fred Astaire while serving as first violin at MGM Studios from 1934 until the late ’50s. “I was surprised by the coincidence that there were also three generations of violinists in Jeanne’s family, but it astonished me when I learned she had a degree in aeronautical engineering and her pilot’s license. I had spent years as a pilot flying everything from seaplanes to jets, and even hot-air balloons.” The two women even both grew up north of L.A. in the San Fernando Valley. “Personally, this means the world to me, especially as I became aware of Judy’s background and all of the similarities in our lives,” says Skrocki. “Professionally, I felt a sense of honor and pride when I walked onstage for that first concert after the endowment was announced. I’m sure that I hold my head a little higher knowing my position is supported by Judy, and especially that it’s in honor of her parents.”

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With a true devotion to the arts, this advocate has made many of the great successes at Segerstrom Center for the Arts possible.

Patron: William J. Gillespie

An overture to classical music and ballet while in high school inspired William (Bill) Gillespie to use his family’s Farmers Insurance inheritance to launch an O.C.-based philanthropic foundation in 1994. Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts has since garnered the majority of his generosity (think upward of $15 million), with Gillespie’s extensive support helping to establish the Pacific Symphony’s early financial bedrock, buy a one-of-a-kind concert organ for the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and found the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) William J. Gillespie School (now entering its fifth year). “Segerstrom Center is the artistic hub of the county, where the full matrix of the arts is taking place side by side,” says Gillespie, a Laguna Beach resident and ABT board member. As for the school there named in his honor, it’s been filled almost to capacity from the outset. “The opportunity for dance education was met with a tidal wave of passion in O.C. and beyond,” says Gillespie, who’s not just a donor, but also drops in regularly to observe the students’ and school’s progress. “Personally, I like watching the incredible achievements of our students,” he says. “Their passion is inspirational, with some coming from many miles away.”

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This veteran ballet dancer says altruists like William J. Gillespie are critical to the future of the arts in Orange County.

Player: Kenneth Easter

“Through his generosity, Bill Gillespie is providing tremendous opportunities and tools that aspiring young dancers need to help them achieve their full potential in the art of classical ballet,” says Kenneth Easter, a teacher at the ABT William J. Gillespie School (as well as a former ABT dancer and children’s ballet master for the troupe’s annual production of The Nutcracker, set this year for Dec. 13 to 22). The result? An ideal teaching environment replete with world-class teachers employing the ABT training curriculum, as well as professional studios, flooring and live accompaniment. “It is so rewarding and exciting to see the ABT Gillespie School progress since opening five years ago,” says Easter. “Each year, we have expanded the age range of the students and advanced its professional training curriculum. These classes are essential to preparing advanced level dancers for what will be expected in the ‘real world’ of professional performing arts. I believe the school will continue to grow and, very soon, supply students directly into not only ABT, but other professional ballet companies and Broadway shows alike.”

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This O.C. businesswoman hopes to encourage the next generation to involve themselves with Orange County Museum of Art.

Patron: Tracy Schroeder

In her 20s, Newport Beach native Tracy Schroeder lived in New York City. It was during her time there that she became passionate about art, particularly the modern variety, via new experiences and friendships. “Art was my extracurricular focus aside from my career,” she says. Upon moving back to Newport Beach, she again sought to fulfill that creative and cultural desire, and that’s when she found Orange County Museum of Art, which will move to a new, permanent home at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in 2021. Today, the local interior designer and real estate investor is on track to becoming one of the museum’s most active young donors. She’s already helped create a support group for young men and women called the Contemporaries, and recently was tapped to co-chair a young donor group with Mia Van Bergh that’s officially launching in 2020. The aim? To dive deeper into the world of art via personal encounters with local and international artists and creatives who are making their mark as visionaries and tastemakers. “Coming up with a fun way to get people involved with something exceptionally cool is very satisfying,” says Schroeder. “We are more enthusiastic than ever about the future of the younger generation’s engagement with OCMA.”

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For this artist, leaders like Tracy Schroeder are key to keeping institutions like OCMA thriving.

Player: Carolina Caycedo

For SoCal artist Carolina Caycedo—whose water portrait series is featured in the Wanaawna, Rio Hondo and Other Spirits exhibition on view through March 15, 2020, at OCMAEXPAND-SANTA ANA—patrons make up a vital piece of the entire arts ecosystem. “It’s a double-way relationship, where patrons fund an art institution like OCMA and receive cultural offerings,” she explains. “A strong investment in public programming and promoting local and international artists and organizations to work together with museums like OCMA helps build a fertile ground for artists and thinkers to live and work in O.C.” Thanks to the financial funding that patrons provide OCMA, for example, Caycedo has been able to freely produce her artwork with full administrative and economical support from the museum’s team. “The ability of OCMA to commission artists to develop new works gives space for cultural workers like me to deepen and strengthen existing thought processes, as well as take risks and experiment in new productions,” she says. As for the current exhibition, expect photographs of area rivers and waterfalls that have been mirrored, altered and remixed as printed fabric works, still images and videos. “The aim,” says Caycedo, “is to challenge and rethink our relationship with nature.”

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Barriers for deserving students to achieve artistic success have been torn down at the hands of this trailblazing giver.

Patron: Lisa Argyros

Lisa Argyros has loved art, music, film and theater for as long as she can remember, and she credits her philanthropically minded family for propelling her journey when it comes to supporting arts education. In fact, her parents, George (a former United States ambassador to Spain) and Julianne Argyros, first connected her to the Orange County School of the Arts (ocsarts.net). Her mother was on the community partners advisory board for years; her parents co-chaired the OCSA Gala three times; and the couple gifted $1.5 million to help build The Argyros Science Center at the school’s midtown Santa Ana campus. Following in their footsteps, Lisa has since become a board member of the OCSA Foundation and has gone on to co-chair a gala as well. Two of her five children also have been enrolled in OCSA (one graduated in 2018, and another is set to complete courses in 2021). Perhaps the biggest mark she’s made on the tuition-free, donation-dependent public charter school, though, is pledging $500,000 over five years to the Artist Scholar Sponsorship Program, which provides financial support to low-income students. “This program creates incredible opportunities for students with limited resources,” says Argyros. “Not only is my donation supporting 40 students each year, but I also hope my commitment will challenge others to join me in this important project.”

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Thanks to the caring minds of individuals like Lisa Argyros, OCSA is able to make good on its goal of creating the next generation of innovators and artists.

Player: Teren Shaffer

When he finished graduate school, Teren Shaffer was aspiring to pursue a career as a professional conductor. He went on to land a job directing one of the premier ensembles at Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), and his world changed forever. “I found myself in an inspiring environment—students hungry to learn and pursue excellence, an organization led by incredible visionaries and a unique school culture providing young people a place to thrive,” says Shaffer, who has since shifted his focus away from the professional conducting arena and dedicated his career to education. Today, as executive vice president of the school’s foundation, he lauds people like Lisa Argyros for helping to raise the $10 million-plus needed annually to bolster needs such as the Artist Scholar Sponsorship Program that provide students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the full OCSA experience (access to technology, school and art supplies, tickets to school dances, yearbooks and more). “Lisa believes in the power of OCSA—the unique environment, rigorous college-preparatory academic program paired with preprofessional arts training and commitment to innovation. When people believe in a cause and invest deeply in its success, it has a profound impact.”



Photography by: Ashley Barrett | Judy Whitmore and Jeanne Skrocki photo shot on location at Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts | William J. Gillespie and Kenneth Easter portraits shot on location at The American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center for the Arts | Tracy Schroeder and Carolina Caycedo portraits shot on location at OCMAEXPAND - SANTA ANA | Carolina Caycedo dress courtesy of The Kaliman Vintage | Lisa Argyros and Teren Shaffer portraits shot on location at Orange County School of the Arts