by Jennifer Steele
Change is coming thanks to a transformational gift from The Fleischner Family and the Arts, Equity, & Education Fund. Their contribution to the Paul J. Ross Fellowship (Program) gives the PSO the opportunity to increase the number of fellows from one to four over the next four years with a significant increase in compensation and benefits. Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting on zoom with Leslie Fleischner and her daughter-in-law Dawn Fleischner to learn more about their philanthropic engagement in the Pittsburgh arts community and to discuss why they decided to support this particular program.
Leslie and the late Hans Fleischner have been subscribers and financial supporters of the PSO for many years, giving to the annual fund and most recently to the newly designed Paul J. Ross Fellowship. Music and art have always been an important part of their lives and they passed on that love to their children. Sadly, Hans passed away last November but his spirit lives on in all that he touched. Christopher (son of Leslie and Hans) and his wife Dawn are committed arts enthusiasts and philanthropists. In addition to supporting the PSO, Dawn is the former Board Chair of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and Christopher is on the board of the Carnegie Museum of Art. The entire family has a desire help expand the reach of the arts and culture in Pittsburgh. As welcoming as Pittsburgh is, they believe the city’s arts community must become more inclusive. “Art is for everyone and is an important way to demonstrate our shared humanity. We wanted to create a more formalized process to help”, said Dawn. In 2017 they established a family foundation, The Arts, Equity, & Education Fund. Its sole purpose is to provide funding for various arts and education related organizations, to amplify systemic change and to strive towards giving a boost to the historically underfunded.
As the enhanced version of the PSO’s fellowship was being created, Melia Tourangeau (CEO) and Mary Anne Talotta (Senior VP of Development) were in touch with the Fleischners and were having discussions about how their funding values align with our needs. The Fleischners were impressed with the work our institution is undergoing with regards to DEAI, and they believe supporting the expansion of the fellowship would have a significant impact. As Mary Anne told me, “all the stars aligned at the right time”.
The Arts, Equity, & Education Fund and Hans and Leslie Fleischner also seek to inspire others who believe in the mission of the Paul J. Ross Fellowship Program by pledging funds of an additional $150,000 to be matched by new and increased annual fund gifts to the Pittsburgh Symphony designated to the Fellowship over the next four years. If successfully matched, the financial need for the program will be almost fully met for all four years.
I’m thrilled to share that the Musician’s Care Fund will kick off this “matching funds” campaign with a $5,000 donation to show our support. The PSO Musicians Care Fund is an endowment established by the Musicians of The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and administered by The Pittsburgh Foundation. “PSO musicians leading the way is significant and the collective effort will make a big difference in the orchestral world”, says Dawn.
The PSO is heading in the right direction when it comes to diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusivity. Times are changing and it’s necessary for us to listen, learn and reflect on how (the field of) classical music and access to it can improve. I believe that widening our lens to include all people, by intentionally offering greater access and education to those who have been historically excluded, will make for a richer experience for all.
At its essence, music is about connecting to our humanity and expressing the full complexity of the human condition. This is what we share with our audiences in Pittsburgh and beyond. We are at the beginning of a marathon, not a sprint, and I look forward to seeing the seeds we are planting today grow over time. To quote Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”. Let’s honor the humanity in everyone through our music.