Conversation on Philanthropy
Jean Strouse Sharf '61
Jean Strouse Sharf '61 is among the most dedicated, consistent supporters of the College's annual fund – The Simmons Fund – having made gifts every year for nearly 40 years. She and her husband Frederic A. Sharf are accomplished philanthropists whose activities include sharing their wide-ranging collections of art, design, and cultural artifacts with others through exhibitions in museums – and hospitals.
What inspires you to give?
We have to have an interest in the institution. And we want to get enjoyment out of helping that institution.
What causes mean the most to you?
We're very focused on museums and hospitals. Most of what we have will go to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and our collections will end up there. At present, our collections are used for permanent and traveling exhibitions in the United States and abroad. Right now, we have exhibits at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and in Boston at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston Children's Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The exhibit at Brigham's is nurse' uniforms over the years, starting in 1900. When you put art in hospitals, it gives patients something to look at and think about other than why they are there. Each exhibit has a catalogue, and the hospital can give them to people who are particularly interested in the art. People have told me how much they love being able to look at art while they are in the hospital.
What's the most important quality you look for in an organization seeking your support?
The organization has to have a people-oriented mission.
What do you most enjoy about being philanthropic?
We're always looking for a project to participate in – we enjoy seeing projects through to completion. And it's so rewarding to witness the results. For example, we organized a traveling exhibit of car designs that's now at Brigham Hospital. The art is by an auto designer who as a child spent six months in a hospital and watched cars going by outside his window. That led to his career choice. At Children's Hospital, his designs inspired a child to draw a flying car and explain that "in the future, the hospital will come to me. I won't have to go to the hospital." Sometimes children can express more through art that they can through words.
What do you consider to be your most significant philanthropic achievement?
I would say our involvement at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston – the expansion of their collection, and the museum's exhibit mission. Design is something people often forget about, especially designs from the past. But you can’t understand how you’ve gotten to the present if you don’t know what happened in the past.
Which living philanthropist(s) do you most admire?
Ned Johnson [chair and CEO, Fidelity Investments]. I don't think anyone will ever know how much he has done for Boston. He does it so quietly, even anonymously.
What should everyone who aspires to be philanthropic know?
I think you should select an institution in which you can have fun in the process of helping. Then you need to make sure your help is meaningful. I don’t think anyone would give to a cause in which they are not personally involved, and for which the mission is unclear. You should enjoy the process of philanthropic involvement.
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