Queen of Arts

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"They validate you," says Robert Wills, dean of Arizona State University's College of Fine Arts. "They mean that somebody thinks enough of you and the quality of what's going on to make that kind of investment."

And they often lead to more gifts.

Several weeks ago, on the heels of the Herberger donation, ASU's College of Fine Arts revealed another multimillion-dollar private donation of land and money, to build and operate an art center in northeast Phoenix.

A similar snowballing occurred last September, when patrons pulled Ballet Arizona from its most recent financial crisis. Before Carol Whiteman donated $100,000 to the company, Herberger had given $60,000. Those donations leveraged others.

With a budget gap of about $350,000, and no prospect of cash arriving before the Nutcracker was slated to began its run a few months later, the 15-year-old Ballet Arizona was on the verge of closing its doors.

The flood of private support prevented that. It also helped the company to secure a three-year, $398,000 grant from the Flinn Foundation and vital business training from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Arizona Community Foundation.

"I hadn't been involved in the ballet for some time," says Whiteman.

But the thought of losing it aroused a number of anchoring memories in her life.

"When people talk about ballet, theater and the symphony," she says, "they often talk about high art and sniff at it. But it's as rewarding as religion in some ways. It opens doors you may be grateful for later in life."

She says her father, Paul Nickerson, was crazy about ballet.

"He was a poet, an English professor who taught at a college in Montclair, New Jersey. He used to take me into New York to see ballet. It was just something we did. I was fortunate, really, because dance, music and poetry weren't any kind of unusual epiphany. They were simply a part of living."

She married a doctor and lived for a period in Oklahoma City where she was involved with the arts. She moved to Tucson in the 1960s and eventually became managing director of the Arizona Theater Company. She sat in on early discussions about consolidating the marginal dance companies operating in Tucson and Phoenix into one corps.

"But my interest really waned," she says. "When I would go on rare occasions, it was like the theater was in the early days. You'd have some good principal actors or dancers and then there'd be some spear-holder that would come out and say something like, 'The king is waiting for you,' and the whole thing would go down the tubes. It was the same thing with the dancers."

Over the years, she says, the caliber of Ballet Arizona has risen steadily, first under choreographer Michael Uthoff, and more recently under Ib Andersen.

News of the ballet's financial woes reached her the same way it reached just about everyone else.

"I think I read in the paper on a Wednesday that the ballet was going to close on Friday," she says. "I had been through two crises like that with ATC. It's so terrible, just awful. You can't sleep and all of these dancers had their bags packed."

When she thought of helping in some way, she thought of her husband Jack. The couple -- her second marriage -- had met while serving together on the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Jack Whiteman, who had died the year before, had owned the Caterpillar dealership here.

"You might not think of that kind of guy as an arts advocate," she says, "but he was. He established a foundation at his company for art. His primary interest was arts education."

As it turned out, the ballet's announced closing date was Jack's birthday.

Says Whiteman, "I thought, 'What a lovely gift that would be to Jack's memory.'"

Patronage usually begins with some sort of passion.

"With us," says Daniel Albrecht, former president of the board of the Heard Museum, "you could probably call it an obsession."

The sprawling Santa Fe-style house that he and his wife, Martha -- a second marriage for both -- share in Paradise Valley is swelling with the usual symptoms of collectors who just can't help themselves. Theirs is the Native American strain.

The living-room mantel holds three ceramic plates by the renowned potter Maria Martinez. An abstract sculpture in greenish soapstone by New Mexico artist Allan Houser is parked not far away. Native American paintings, textiles and baskets fill the rest of the walls and nooks in the room and nearby hallway. Inuit sculptures, mostly in whale bone and soapstone, have commandeered nearly every other surface in the house.

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow