Our series of Conversations with Board Members continues in celebration of IECF’s 80th Anniversary and new Signature Funds, each of which will raise $80,000 in their inaugural year. Each of our valued board members brings experience and insight into a wide variety of causes that represent their individual passions and connect us to the people of our region. Our board is devoted to creating a culture of philanthropy and ensuring that IECF’s good work paves the way to a prosperous, diverse and equitable future for all.
Meet Ann Sheffer, who joined IECF’s board in 2021 while also serving as chair of the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission. As an IECF board member, she shares her passion for the arts by chairing the Arts for the IE Fund.
Ann’s interest in the arts began as a teen. She attended a large, suburban high school where the drama department had more students than the athletic program, and that’s where she fell in love with theater. “It was clear even then,” Ann says, “that being in the theater program – either onstage or backstage – was what kept a lot of kids in school. Even if they weren’t into athletics or academics, the sense of self-worth and community they found through the arts kept them engaged through graduation.”
Ann says, “Research has shown that early introduction to the arts can help students develop empathy, find ways to express themselves, and approach problem solving through creativity – all skills that enhance learning in all areas. Arts Education is critical to giving our kids the best skills and understanding to succeed and inherently promotes inclusion, diversity, and equity.”
Ann went on to major in theater at Smith College. “I was a terrible actress,” she jokes. “I loved working backstage, though, and got a lot of non-speaking roles as a maid because I knew where the prop trays were kept!” After graduating from Smith, she received her Master’s in Arts Administration from Tufts University, where she wrote her thesis on audience development in nonprofit theaters. She later moved to Seattle, where she worked to bring artists and art programs into schools while earning an M.B.A. at the University of Washington.
With this background, Ann is quick to point out the economic value of the arts in our region. “While the arts bring culture, education, and inspiration to our communities,” she says, “they are also a key segment of the economy. In our region, the latest study – about five years ago – showed there were more than 6,000 arts-related businesses, employing 25,000 people. One of the first projects the Arts for IE Fund will be to assist IE organizations and communities in participating in the upcoming national Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 Study. This will provide the data to advocate for the entire Inland Empire arts community.
There is a real need for this effort: according to a 2019 report Inland Empire: Changing the Narrative, “Nonprofits in this region received donor support in the amount of $25.55 per capita, as compared to the state average of $262.99.” Government arts funding is even worse: the per capita state average is $3.00, but for the Inland Empire, it’s 40¢. More information about arts in the IE can be found in the Arts for the IE 2021 Annual Report, produced by Riverside Arts Council, Music Changing Lives, and Arts Connection-the Arts Council of San Bernardino County.
For over 50 years, Ann has maintained an influential presence as a supporter and patron of the arts. Her involvement with philanthropy began in her 20s as a board member of her grandfather’s foundation, which supported college students by providing funds for unmet needs. She has served on the board of Americans for the Arts and was a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under President Clinton. Ann and her husband, Bill, divide their time between Connecticut and Palm Springs and enjoy seeing their six children and now eight grandchildren making the arts and philanthropy part of their lives.
Ann sees the Inland Empire as a rich resource of the arts. “We have everything from large performing arts centers and museums, to children’s theatre companies and neighborhood arts centers” she notes, “and, importantly, our arts offerings serve a cultural purpose. The Cheech Center for Chicano Art & Culture is a great example of that. Art is a way to tell the story of a community, its history and its people.”
Ann emphasizes the importance of keeping the arts at the forefront of any discussions about local funding priorities. “As a community foundation, we’ve identified several crucial issues that need action in the region, including quality job development, the advancement of justice, creating pathways for our youth, and healing our communities. With our 80th Anniversary Signature Funds, we’re highlighting priority issues to address them in a very visible way. That’s where the Arts for the IE Fund comes in.”
Brie Griset Smith, Senior Vice President of Charitable Giving, adds, “With leaders like Ann, we are changing the narrative in the IE and inspiring philanthropy. At IECF we’re challenging ourselves and others to look at the personal ways that contributing time, talent and treasure can create a legacy of which we can all be proud. By embracing the arts as a powerful cross-cutting theme in our philanthropy, we create a path that promises to meaningfully improve our region in ways that inspire the creativity of our communities, artists and young people for generations to come.”
Ann recognizes that donors have a wide variety of interests when it comes to philanthropy. She invites anyone interested in supporting a vibrant region to consider a contribution to the Arts for the IE Fund. She says, “By investing in the arts, we preserve our region’s rich history and culture, and secure a strong future for those who follow us. More money for arts agencies helps stimulate the marketplace for cultural activities and spurs local and private investment in the arts. We hope that others who want to support the arts throughout the Inland Empire will contribute to this fund and help us be the rising tide which lifts all the boats.”
The Arts for the IE Fund welcomes gifts of any amount. Choose your own role! Suggested donation levels are:
- Director – $10,000
- Stage Manager – $5,000
- Leading Role – $1,000
- Cameo – $100-$999
Visit our website for more information, or contact Brie Griset Smith, Senior Vice President of Charitable Giving at email@example.com. Sign up for our monthly eNewsletter to stay up-to-date on all the good we’re doing in the IE through the generosity of our donors.