Queen of Arts

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In the past six years, Halle, who was previously married to the philanthropist Herbert Cummings, has spent an estimated $5 million on approximately 80 works by some 40 artists from 13 nations.

"I'm trying to give them a first-class collection," she says. "I am trying to give them something they don't have in any other area. It hopefully will be the best Latin American collection collected by an American."

Howard Hirsch has always been looking for something else to do. From the 1950s through the late 1980s, he and his brother ran a successful company that manufactured screws and nuts. But he never really liked the business.

"Too many engineers and people who were too regulated by their thinking," he says. "So I was always trying in some ways to get out of it. The problem was that everything I tried to do to get out of it or make it more interesting just made my company different from my competitors."

The business only got better and better.

Most screw-and-nut catalogues of the day were printed in black and white. Hirsch's was in color. He filled his company's Illinois offices with art. To lift his employees above the smoke, noise and grime of the factory floor, he instituted Screw U, a series of informal lunch-hour seminars -- meals on the house -- about art. And on the company's 25th anniversary in 1978, he filled the acreage around his factory with sculptures by contemporary artists. On another plot of land, he displayed General Motors trucks, Ford cars and Whirlpool appliances -- all companies that used Hirsch's fasteners.

"What I was really trying to do was to get our employees to realize that there was a relationship between these things and what they did. I wanted them to think better of what they were doing, to see themselves as artisans."

Now, he wants more of the Valley's wealthy transplants to see themselves as patrons.

Last year he formed the Five Arts Circle, a private group that seeks $5,000 contributions from members in exchange for special access to five Valley arts institutions. The Circle's first year brought in 25 patrons and $125,000. The money went in $25,000 chunks to the Arizona Opera, Ballet Arizona, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Art Museum.

Hirsch and his wife, Lori, have been working together on the project. They want to double those numbers this year.

"I get the feeling sometimes that people see patronage as an Eastern thing," he says. "I think people would like to help more but they don't know how. So we've got to train people to pick up this responsibility."

The training isn't as tough as one might think. The first "class" took place in late March, in an art-filled home just north of the Paradise Valley Country Club. The lure was mezzo-soprano Isola Jones, a Valley resident who's performed hundreds of times with New York's Metropolitan Opera, and with many other orchestras throughout the world.

Waiting for the cocktail-hour audience of 70 or so prospective patrons to gather around her, she stood before a gleaming black grand piano, smiling and gently rolling a napkin between her palms.

Then, with barely a nod, her piano accompanist stroked the opening chords of the Habañera from Bizet's opera Carmen. She tossed her mane of black hair to one side and inhaled a cavern of air. Her voice, powerful and pure, buzzed the panes of the immense wall of windows behind her and stirred a dog in a far-off room to wail.

Jones kept on singing. Eyes wide, nostrils flaring, mists of spit pluming from booming consonants, she was every inch the unflappable diva -- a mermaid enticing budding patrons toward the philanthropic deep.

"You wouldn't get this for a thousand-dollar donation to the symphony in Chicago," Sheldon Berman, a retired business owner, said afterward. "You make a contribution there, and maybe you get a thank-you card. Here you get Isola Jones."

In the years that Berman and his wife, Lynne, who are in the process of relocating here from Chicago, contributed to Windy City cultural institutions, they never tipped glasses with any of the muck-a-mucks.

"Here, I have," he says. "You can mix with these people."

Circle members are invited to cocktail parties and dinners at the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Phoenix Art Museum.

"The Ballet, the Opera and the Symphony have also been very kind to us," adds Berman. "That gives you the feeling that you're much more meaningful to them."

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow