An Interview with Laurie
Update (EU): What contribution in
education is of prime importance to you?
Laurie Tisch Sussman (LTS): First and foremost, is the Center for Arts Education, most importantly
because of its focus. We directly run programs in 80 schools
and with over 150 cultural organizations to whom we give
direct grants. We give many more grants to Parents of Arts
Partners Program—smaller grants that come directly
from the Department of Cultural Affairs to set up programs
with parents and their children. The money goes right to
the schools and the programs are incredibly successful. We
have a large outreach in career-training programs. That started
We have influenced the system. Now, for the first
time, we have 70 million dollars a year that's part of the
school budget and is specifically for the arts. That hasn't
happened since the cuts in the 70s. This is city money. Part
of it is because we work and advocate with the city. When we
gave out our first round of grants 7 years ago, about one third
of the schools applied. The mayor, then Guiliani, saw the tremendous
need and desire for arts to come back in the public schools.
Almost everything I do in my foundation is either
geared to the arts, education and NYC life. I also serve on
the newly formed Mayor's Cultural Advisory Commission and the
NYS Council on the Arts. We received the Governor's Arts Award
EU: Can you expand on the Career Training Program
school kids (juniors and seniors) suggested to us by their
guidance counselors who have a
B+ average attend a two-week spring break “boot camp.” They
learn how to do everything from talk, dress, etc. Then they're
matched as interns with the most interesting array of not-for-profits.
EU: What are some of your new endeavors?
new that I'm doing is an outgrowth of chairing the strategic
planning for Teachers College. What came out of that was
that TC needs some additional focus and direction. After
two years of planning we came to the very obvious conclusion
that educational equity is the primary issue. Teachers College
will be moving toward educational equity in everything it
does. We are trying to create a high-level think tank and Arthur
Levine [President of TC] has asked me to chair the think
tank. Its papers will be disseminated throughout the nation.
It will really make Teachers College the leading venue for
experts and policy-makers on the issue of educational equity.
on the board at the Whitney and Children's Museum. Twenty-one
years ago I was introduced to a tiny institution called Manhattan
Laboratory Museum/GAME (Grow through Art and Museum Experience).
It was a little jewel of a place that nobody had heard of.
One thing led to another and I became Vice Chairman and then
Chairman. One of the things people don't know about the Children's
Museum is that a huge portion of the budget goes to public
programs—teen parents, disadvantaged kids,
etc. We also have a tremendous number of public school programs.
EU: What's your vision in five years?
project with Teachers College is taking off so I hope to
come far with that, make a dent and do something for understanding
and implementing educational equity. The Center for the Arts
has become more international, has become the ombudsman and
umbrella organization to ensure that art is integrated into
the curriculum and will affect every child. We're the place
to go to for research and demonstration events.
EU: Where were you schooled?
lived in New Jersey and Miami and attended public schools
until I moved to Scarsdale for high school.
EU: Did your family's philosophy of philanthropy
never used the term “giving back.” I feel like
I'm so lucky to have the resources and the ability to actually
make things happen. We all get so much mail to buy a ticket
for this, a table for that, that sometimes you lose sight
of the fact that you're actually making something exist that
didn't exist before. Or making something better. My mother
was very influential in bringing attention to AIDS and research.
I think sometimes people forget and I really try to get my
funders and boards to sites in schools so they can see why
they're there, they can see what they're making happen.
A few years ago there was a series of front-page
articles in the New York Times about
the decline of sports in schools, decaying fields, the consequences
of no sports, etc. And after I read a few of those articles
I called my mother and said, “I think I have a great
idea for Bob (my father). He can do for the sports what we,
under the guidance of Walter Annenburg, have done for the arts.” On
the books were 50 fields and I believe 45 have been completed
to date. His project is called, “Take the Field.”
my family that influenced me. Parents, uncles, brothers,
cousins, all are involved in caring about society. Just as
I never thought there was a choice—to
give—it's never occurred to my family to not do community service and it's the same for my children.