A golden era of giving ends

Yesterday marked the demise of one of the region's most prominent patrons of the arts and education: the Kreielsheimer Foundation, which expired 25 years to the day after the death of fisheries magnate Leo Kreielsheimer.

Kreielsheimer wanted his money to be passed out by people he knew and trusted. He reasoned those people would retire within 25 years after his death, so that would be a good time for the foundation to end.

Through careful management, the original $22 million left by Kreielsheimer and his wife, Greye, has produced almost $100 million in grants to performing and visual-arts groups, museums, colleges and other institutions - most of it in the past 15 years.

The money has left its mark.

The regional arts scene has a range of groups with ambitious plans. Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Art Museum and A Contemporary Theatre's Kreielsheimer Place have helped revitalize downtown. Seattle Center is reinventing itself with a glittering new Opera House and thriving institutions such as the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Intiman Theatre and Seattle Children's Theatre. The Eastside is growing venues such as the Kirkland Performance Center and the new Bellevue Art Museum.

The Kreielsheimer Foundation was a critical player in all these developments and many more.

Enabling major steps

Arts administrators, assessing the effect of the foundation and trustee Don Johnson, say it's not just the donations. They say the foundation has been a catalyst for their groups to get their finances in order, widen their ambitions and think of the whole community's needs.

Susan Trapnell, former managing director of A Contemporary Theater and now head of the Seattle Arts Commission, put it this way: "I think every arts organization that was dealing with the Kreielsheimer Foundation was able to take a major growth step, not just financially, but also sort of psychically, because it allowed them to take a glimpse outside of decisions based on scarcity."

Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz says that without the foundation's early support, Benaroya Hall might not have become a reality.

"I'm very sad," Schwarz said during the symphony's lunch honoring Johnson and the foundation. "Here is a foundation whose trustees have cared deeply about the arts, and the results have been quite remarkable. There isn't an equivalent foundation to replace them, and I feel we don't have that partner who has been with us for so long."

Seattle Center Director Virginia Anderson says the Center was in dire straits in the late 1980s, but the foundation showed its support with a donation for the Seattle Children's Theatre building.

"One councilman said, `Why would we invest any money here? It's a slum.' To have a private donor who could see beyond that and begin to invest in it was a pretty significant sign of encouragement, a big shot in the arm."

The Center and its resident groups are by far the largest of the estimated 165 recipients, getting more than one-fourth of the foundation's money (as much as $27 million, although final figures won't be in until the last audits are done).

That support was capped by recent grants of more than $17 million, including the Opera House gift and the donation of one-third of the Kreielsheimer Block to the city and Seattle Center for a park, and two-thirds of the block for a future Seattle Opera center.

The Seattle Rep credits the foundation's vision not only for its two theaters but also for projects such as the ambitious "The Cider House Rules" and a four-year plan to produce Shakespeare works.

"There are not a lot of places we can go to get $1 million for a four-year Shakespeare program," said Christine O'Connell, a Seattle Rep administrator. "There just aren't. That's a story that's best told to the Kreielsheimer Foundation."

The foundation has been a sustaining force for Cornish College of the Arts on Capitol Hill, with gifts that Johnson estimates total more than $10 million. But the level of support sometimes surprised the college's leaders. President Sergei Tschernisch said that during tough financial times in the 1980s, Cornish sold one of its buildings. The foundation eventually bought it.

"Don Johnson revealed to me that if they saw good things going on at Cornish, then they would think about giving the building back. They could have just sold the building to anybody, but the wisdom was to see Cornish through some rough periods of time." The foundation gave the building to Cornish this year.

Giving hasn't ended

Despite Johnson's careful planning, his offices in Queen Anne's Century Building were still filled with stacks of papers and files awaiting closure a week ago. Above the stacks were photos, plaques and posters - souvenirs of decades of arts patronage by Johnson and his late predecessor, Charles Osborn. Johnson quietly discussed his plans: Some grants hadn't been announced yet, even to the recipients. Other final grants will be overseen by a new "passive trust" called the Kreielsheimer Remainder Foundation. At 70, Johnson is looking forward to "some time off, some travel" with his wife, Dottie, although he will stay on as an unpaid consultant to the Remainder Foundation.

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of grant announcements to arts groups and colleges, including final allocations to the Intiman, the Seattle Symphony, the University of Washington and others. Most of the arts money has been designated for endowment funds, which will earn interest for their beneficiaries.

"This is where I have wanted to focus," Johnson explained, "on helping these groups build their endowments to give them some momentum. Some, such as Seattle Opera, just do not have an adequate endowment fund because they have been so preoccupied with surviving and with putting on such major projects as the `Ring.'

"But I'm not just interested in the big groups," he said, mentioning about $10 million in invested endowments for smaller arts organizations, from the Seattle Chamber Music Festival and Seattle Youth Symphony to Artists Trust.

The foundation and local arts patron Ida Cole recently gave the Intiman Theatre gifts totaling $2.75 million to start an endowment but made it clear that the gifts are part of a vision to support the entire arts community.

"We cannot touch the principal of this fund for any reason," said Laura Penn, managing director of Intiman. "This isn't a safety net in that way. . . . If for some reason we should not be around, this endowment would go to another theater.

"It wouldn't save us because that's not what he's in the business of doing. It's a commitment to the long-term health of the Seattle arts community. And a reminder that the world is bigger than us."

Not all the recent grants have gone to the arts; the foundation also gave $500,000 to the Alaska Native Heritage Center near Anchorage, and $1 million to the Maritime Heritage Center on Lake Union.

Kreielsheimer money also helped last year's summer arts festival at the University of Washington, and $1 million will go to the UW's Danforth program, which helps train educators.

Big shoes to fill

Johnson says he hopes the Kreielsheimers' legacy "will motivate others with far greater wealth to get involved in supporting the arts. Everyone looks to the Gateses and the Allens, but it's not just the megarich.

"Look at what the Kreielsheimers achieved . . . $22 million is a lot of money, but there are many others with much deeper pockets. They can make a tremendous difference. I'm still very concerned about future projects, especially that $125 million Performance Hall (Opera House) campaign. This is a project absolutely vital to Seattle."

Peter Donnelly, president of the Corporate Council for the Arts, says the Kreielsheimers have left some big footprints to fill.

"This foundation came on at the beginning of our golden era for the arts," Donnelly said, "and has reached out into so many areas of the community. Its impact will be felt for a long time to come."

Seattle Times arts-and-entertainment editor Doug Kim contributed to this report.


Recent Kreielsheimer Foundation grants

Seattle Symphony Orchestra: $2.25 million for the orchestra's Learning Center endowment fund and special programming.

University of Washington: $1 million for the Arts Initiative, which helped fund last year's Summer Arts Festival, and $1 million for the Danforth Program, to train educators.

Seattle Art Museum: $1 million plus an earlier $1 million for the museum's Olympic Sculpture Park.

A Contemporary Theatre: more than $2 million, for an endowment fund.

Seattle Opera: $2 million, for an endowment fund and the "Ring."

Pacific Northwest Ballet: $2 million, for an endowment.

Seattle Repertory Theatre: $2 million, for a continuing Shakespeare cycle and an endowment.

Intiman Theatre: $2 million, for an endowment fund.

Bellevue Art Museum: $1.5 million.

Cornish College of the Arts: $3 million in scholarships plus $1 million toward a land purchase for an additional building.

Seattle Center (Opera House renovation and related projects): $17.1 million, including donation of the Kreielsheimer Block on Mercer Street for a park and a future Seattle Opera center.

Smaller-budget arts organizations, including Artist Trust, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival and several others: $10 million in pooled, invested endowment funds.

Maritime Heritage Center on Lake Union: $1 million.


The Kreielsheimer Foundation: a history of giving

1975: After a successful career in salmon fisheries, primarily in Kodiak, Alaska, Leo Kreielsheimer dies after creating a foundation to benefit arts and educational causes, to be managed by his attorney of the past 31 years, Charles Osborn, together with Seafirst Bank.

1980: Kreielsheimer's widow, Greye Kreielsheimer, dies, leaving a sizable portion of her estate to the foundation, whose assets total $22 million. Later that year and in early 1981, Osborn begins making small grants while the foundation's assets grow. Among the early recipients: Cornish College of the Arts (then Cornish Institute), for scholarships.

1985: Osborn acquires a $2.15 million piece of real estate across Mercer Street from the Seattle Center, deeding it to the city for "cultural and educational purposes" - originally, Osborn had hoped, for a new Seattle Art Museum. The museum elected to build downtown instead.

1986: The Kreielsheimer Block is studied as a suitable home for a Seattle Symphony concert hall, and Osborn assists the financially troubled orchestra with a $300,000 grant (then the third-largest in the orchestra's history). Osborn also gives grants totaling $989,821 to the Seattle Art Museum and continues to step up the pace of giving.

1990: Osborn continues the process of getting a concert hall for the symphony, extending his previous deadlines for using the property and funding feasibility and design studies for a new hall. Those plans receive a setback the next year, however, when King County voters defeat a Seattle Center levy to provide funding for the hall.

1992: After a long battle with cancer, Osborn dies at 74. His trusteeship is passed to his law partner, Don Johnson, 62, a longtime arts fan who closes his practice to devote time to the foundation. The foundation's assets are approximately $40 million.

1993: The stalled concert-hall project is ignited by a $15 million gift from Jack and Becky Benaroya, and the rest of the funding begins to fall into place. The following year, with the backing of then-Mayor Norm Rice and other downtown activists, the symphony decides to build its concert hall in downtown Seattle with the promise of substantial financial support from the city.

1996: The foundation has become a major player in the region's arts boom, helping fund a second theater (named the Leo K.) for the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and ACT Theatre's new Kreielsheimer Place, as well as continuing gifts to the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Opera, Cornish College and a host of other institutions.

1999: Kreielsheimer funds go to increasingly diverse sources, including $1 million each for a Seattle Art Museum sculpture park and Seattle Opera's "Ring." In November, after voters approve a $29 million Seattle Center levy, Johnson announces a $10 million gift - the largest in the foundation's history - to jump-start a campaign to raise $55 million in private gifts to renovate the Opera House.

2000: The Corporate Council for the Arts moves into Queen Anne's Century Building, which Johnson do nated to the agency, after advising Kreielsheimer to acquire it as an investment. Kreielsheimer grants include $5 million to Cornish College and a series of gifts in the $2 million range.