Tag Archives: culture

Simon Pivots to Social Justice

Rachel Simon would be the first to admit she was blessed by the circumstances of her birth. 

Her father is Herbert “Herb” Simon, the Indianapolis-based real-estate billionaire (and owner of the Indiana Pacers!), and her mother is Diane Meyer Simon, the notable political and environmental activist who founded Global Green, U.S.A.

Her father, Simon says, gave his kids “just enough room to make our own way, but was always there to instill the most important core values.” 

Diane Meyer Simon was an active figure in the populist progressivism of the early Kennedy era. “My mom was just, you know, this super-cool woman, she worked for Bobby Kennedy and had all these awesome stories,” Simon says. “She was an environmental activist and so a lot of my interests probably followed from watching her do her work. [My parents are] both extremely engaged in the community and politically active. So, I mean, I lucked out. We all did.”

Together, Simon says, her parents created in her “a very environmentally conscious and progressive thinker.” 

That progressive thinker is now leading the second generation of philanthropy at the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, based in Indianapolis, but with a regional and even global reach focusing on the environment, education, art and culture, and issues of social justice and sustainability. 

As lucky as Simon is to have cool parents with a desire to give back to their communities and the means to do it, she is also grateful for the gifts that come with being the daughter of two distinct regions that are integral to the country’s cultural fabric – the American Midwest and the American Riviera. 

As director of the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Rachel Simon is bringing her diverse geographic and cultural influences together as she leads the foundation into a new decade brimming with urgent challenges

Simon was born in Indianapolis and spent a good part of her childhood as a Hoosier, before her parents took up primary residence in Montecito. She returned to Indianapolis to attend the Herron School of Art and Design in the early 2000s. She majored in painting, something she laments she doesn’t find enough time for these days, and stayed in Indianapolis upon graduating. 

Simons says she loves the seasons and close-knit community there, but admits that California and Montecito are never far from her mind. Montecito had a familiar small-town feel as her early childhood, and yet the West Coast opened her cultural horizons and helped hone a keen interest in climate and sustainability. 

“As much as Indianapolis raised me, Montecito raised me,” she says. “If I hadn’t spent so much time in California, I definitely wouldn’t think the way I think, and wouldn’t be aware of the things I’m aware of… the social issues that are the forefront of the brain.”

As director of the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Simon is bringing her diverse geographic and cultural influences together as she leads the foundation into a new decade brimming with urgent challenges, especially related to climate change, sustainability, and social justice. Simon says the foundation has just finished a strategic planning session that will keep its philosophy intact but will focus efforts more directly in some key areas. 

“We are still focused on the environment, arts and culture, and basic needs,” she says, “but social justice will be its own impact area.”

She says the foundation will also work to sharpen its mission and message, especially working with grassroots, community-based organizations. “You know, you can support the education and then you can support equity in education. You can support the environment and then you can support environmental justice, and depending on how you tailor your focus, it could be in a bunch of different areas,” says Simon. “The intersectionality of [environmental and social justice] is so important for people to recognize right now.”

Getting back to parental influences, Simon says she’s “a huge basketball fan” but she won’t give her love to the Lakers, even though she attended USC, just down the road from Staples Center, for a couple years. That’s understandable as Simon is active with Indiana Pacers Foundation. For the Pacers, she has love, for the Lakers, it is “respect.” 

Hey, we can live with that, after all, love and respect is what it’s all really about and that, in the end, seems like Simon’s true inheritance. 

“Speaking of my parents, one of the most important things that they taught us was that we were so blessed and so fortunate… Every day that I work on foundation work, I feel grateful and blessed that I have the opportunity to give back because of the hard work of my parents. So, it’s an awesome responsibility that I’m grateful for.”

Investing in Community and Getting Better Returns than Wall Street

Tom Parker has been marinating in Santa Barbara philanthropy since the 1950s when, as a kid, he and his dad would distribute food to Santa Barbara’s homeless through the local Kiwanis Club. Tom says philanthropy has always been woven into Santa Barbara’s fabric because it’s a small enough place where it’s easy to see the impact of one’s good deeds – and enjoy the gratification that comes with it. 

“Very few businesses give you the kind of feeling of fulfillment a nonprofit can,” says the third-generation Santa Barbaran and president of the Hutton Parker Foundation.

The Hutton Parker Foundation primarily focuses on supporting Santa Barbara nonprofits, especially in the areas of Education, Health & Human Services, Civic & Community Development, Youth & Family Services, and Arts & Culture. The Foundation was started by Tom and his aunt-in-law who are sort of a riches-to-rags-back-to-riches story – with many valuable life lessons learned along the way.

Parker did well in real estate investing as a young man, so much so that when the real estate portfolio of his wife’s beloved aunt Betty Hutton became distressed in the 1980s, Tom had the flexibility – and wherewithal – to move his family to Orange County to work with Betty for quite a few years whilst turning around her ailing business and her underperforming assets.

As with Parker, philanthropy was always a priority for aunt Betty. So as soon as Betty’s financial ship was righted and the family had “enough,” Tom and Betty funneled the rest of their assets into their newly formed Hutton Parker Foundation. “You get to a certain point where it feels better to give back than to consume. If you are fortunate in life, that’s not just an obligation, it’s an ingrained part of you.” Not surprisingly, Parker is grooming his sons Christopher and Jess to take over the foundation and carry on the family legacy.

Parker’s philosophy as a philanthropist is that most of the charities he focuses on are great at their primary mission, but their good deeds could go further if these nonprofits ran better, leveraged assets, and found productive synergies. To this end Tom sees himself as more of an aggregator and super connector rather than a micromanager. He uses lessons learned streamlining his aunt’s businesses and has innovated a system whereby multiple nonprofits pool resources and invest in local real estate, and frequently (with Tom’s help) buy the buildings where they operate.  

“The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

– Tom Parker

To facilitate its mission, the Hutton Parker Foundation makes below market loans to nonprofits, buys buildings, and has housed 55 nonprofits in 17 renovated Santa Barbara structures, not just saving these organizations millions in operating expenses, but greatly benefitting the larger community of Santa Barbara. “The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

Parker says the key to his system is identifying and sometimes synthesizing collaborations, or as he likes to say, “Whatever you do, try to make sure everybody wins.” By maximizing symbioses, Parker scores a quintuple win for nonprofits, the people they serve, other nonprofits they partner with, and the communities where they’re located. 

Parker’s system (known as “tenant equity”) has been so successful there’s even a book about it: The Hundred Million Dollar Secret: Why and How Foundations Should Invest in Community Instead of Wall Street. Parker says he wrote the book because he was a “boring lecturer.” Although that is likely a fiction, Tom’s book in fact proves that foundations can yield superior returns by investing locally rather than in an ordinary portfolio of stocks and bonds. 

Parker is also a big believer in the utility and importance of data: that how a place (or group) is doing can be measured, providing data that’s invaluable in terms of allocating resources and focusing efforts. This is one of the reasons Hutton Parker is a main underwriter of UCSB’s “Indicators Project” – which literally measures leading indicators in a multiplicity of categories, showing how various aspects of a hyper local community is doing or at least trending.

As recently as this year, Tom “reused” data collected by the United Way during relief efforts for undocumented residents in the 2018 debris flow to spearhead a new outreach to undocumenteds today, during the pandemic. “Investing in our local communities is like watering a thirsty plant – you can see the local communities springing back to life,” says Parker.

For his achievements in philanthropy Tom has been awarded Santa Barbara County’s Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce Founders Award, the Anti-Defamation League Distinguished Community Service Award, the Women’s Economic Ventures Man of Equality Award, and countless others. More importantly, Tom Parker has won the respect and gratitude of thousands of Santa Barbarans, though it is very clear this is not why he does it.

“For me, it’s the ‘teach a man to fish’ thing,” says Parker. “Helping nonprofits work better and sustain over the long haul is much more satisfying – and ultimately more useful – than simply writing a check.”

Relighting the Marquee

You are sitting up front in the ornate Granada Theatre. It has been too long since you have had an experience like this. 

The motionless curtain tantalizes. Impatient for its revelations, you look around and up to the balcony: so many people (1,500) sharing the same exhilaration. You feel a richness coming back to life. Then–the curtain rises. 

For Hayley Firestone Jessup, the Granada’s vice president of advancement, that moment, when it comes, will be “relief, huge emotional relief.” 

State Street Ballet & SB Choral Society – “Carmina Burana” Granada Theatre 5/30/08

“It will be the lights, the sounds, the visuals, the excitement,” Firestone Jessup says breathlessly. “The beauty of live artists again. The color of the stage. The sound of the musicians.”

For Firestone Jessup and her colleagues, who have seen the theater’s staff drop from 35 to 10, the long months of the pandemic have made it all too apparent “that without music, theatre, and dance one’s life becomes incredibly flat.”

The theater itself is a beacon of culture for not only Santa Barbara, but the entire state and country. Following a top-to-bottom seismic upgrade and architectural restoration in 2008, the Granada was reborn as the downtown home for eight resident companies including the Opera Santa Barbara, The Santa Barbara Symphony, and State Street Ballet. 

To accommodate the varied performances showcased in the now 96-year-old venue required intensive alterations to what had most recently been a multiplex cinema. This included enlarging the stage for the opera, making the floor flexible for dancers, enhancing acoustics for the symphony, and widening the proscenium arch for Broadway tours. 

The result is a venue where Yo-Yo Ma, the Peking Acrobats, and the Beach Boys all find the amenities and high quality that bring them back time and time again.

Beyond the performances within the theater, the Granada provides Santa Barbara and the region with so much more. Tourists take selfies by the entrance of Santa Barbara’s highest “skyscraper” – the city’s icon of the performing arts and the cultural vibrancy to be found on this particular stretch of California’s coast.

“The Granada adds a dimension to the community life of Santa Barbara just by its presence, just by the lights on the marquee,” Firestone Jessup says. “While we have taken an intermission, we will be back!”

The Arts, Back in Full

Finally, after a five-year, $50-million capital campaign to renovate the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, in the spring of 2021 visitors will be able to witness this jewel of the art world anew.

While most of the building has been under construction, the rest of the museum has remained open, albeit with fewer galleries available for visitors. The museum will reopen with new exhibitions, while taking old favorites to new heights.

 In addition to renovating the 12 original galleries in the main building, two entirely new galleries have been added: one for photography and the other to showcase the museum’s impressive collection of contemporary art.

Lansdowne Hermes (Roman), First half of 2nd century CE Marble, 86 1/4 x 40 x 13 3/8 in. SBMA, Gift of Wright S. Ludington, 1984.34.1 Photo courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Of the 100,000 people who visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art annually, most won’t be able to forget Ludington Court, which houses some of the museum’s most prized sculptures and assorted antiquities. Foremost among them is the Lansdowne Hermes, a life-size marble sculpture made in Rome in the 1st or 2nd century AD. Since 2016, when renovation began, Hermes and a handful of other sculptures were on display at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where they also were meticulously restored.

“We hope that our loyal members and visitors to Ludington Court will be enthralled by the new installation featuring the Lansdowne Hermes on an elevated pedestal at its center. Paintings ranging in date from the 15th through early 20th centuries will be hung densely to emphasize the now dramatic height of the gallery,” says Eik Kahng, Santa Barbara Museum of Art Deputy Director and Chief Curator.

In addition to having these restored antiquities back, Ludington Court itself has undergone a total transformation. The original triple-arches have been restored, and a new grand staircase overlooks the gallery.

Come spring, the museum will have more space to provide programming for some 40,000 children and adults alike through a near constant cycle of school programs, symposiums, exhibitions, and lectures. Most of the museum’s programs have moved online and will resume on-site when restrictions are lifted, in accordance with the State of California and Santa Barbara County COVID-19 protocols.

While the pandemic delayed the intended fall opening of “Through Vincent’s Eyes,” a blockbuster exhibit featuring a selection of Van Gogh’s most iconic paintings alongside an additional 100-plus works by the artists and authors that inspired him – the closure created an opportunity for something more. In early spring 2022, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art will bring the Van Gogh exhibition to the community with more and different works than originally anticipated. 

And most importantly, Santa Barbara, a community known for its world-class cultural institutions, will have this vital hub of the arts back in full.