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Bay area arts patron ratchets up his support

LENNIE BENNETT
Published July 20, 2003

Tom James, chairman and chief executive officer of Raymond James Financial, is a high-profile bay area philanthropist and collector who now takes his business and cultural acumen to the national level. James was recently appointed to the board of directors of the national Business Committee for the Arts, an organization founded in 1967 by David Rockefeller. It's a prestigious assembly of CEOs peppered with names such as Forbes. (James said that Chris Forbes makes all the arrangements for the board meetings.)

"What you have is a group of dedicated collectors who give awards for various aspects of collecting art," said James in a recent telephone interview. "I was impressed that they were trying to promote art and its interface with business, mostly through recognition."

Raymond James has been involved with the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts, the local affiliate, for years. Like its national parent, the committee's mission is "to encourage corporate support for the arts." Among its activities are leadership and board-building seminars, development of partnerships between specific businesses and arts groups, and an annual awards dinner and fundraiser. Raymond James received a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2000.

James takes on this new challenge in daunting economic times when "everyone is impacted by declining profits," he said. "But don't underestimate the plethora of new companies being built in this area. You need to get them involved (in the arts) early on."

During his more than three decades as head of Raymond James, he estimates that the corporation has given as much as $25-million to community causes and organizations.

"We give more to social services and support for the disadvantaged; next is education. About a third of our contributions are to the arts," he said.

James and his wife, Mary James, give personally through a foundation they established. The couple own one of the largest private collections of art in Florida and one of the largest collections of Western art in the United States.

He says that his greatest personal commitment is to the United Way of Tampa Bay, for which he heads the local chapter of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, the group of givers that contributes $10,000 or more.

James has been president of the board of directors of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg for 15 years; for much of that time, the board has wrestled with the stay-or-go issue in trying to expand the museum and make it less vulnerable to possible hurricane damage.

"There is a never-ending flow of new opportunities from people offering free space somewhere else, and the fact is, that excites our board members," James said. "But the offers rarely wind up being free."

He is committed to staying and expanding at the waterfront location near the University of South Florida campus.

"We need $15-million, and we don't have the donation base on our board," he said. "We could probably do $6- to $10-million. We need help from the local community and the state."

He hopes that the Dali Museum "can get a special donation (from the state) to build a facility that will make it an even bigger international draw," much like the allocation provided to the John and Mable Ringling museum in Sarasota two years ago.

A match of tennis and art

The matches at Wimbledon were only part of the reason for Frank and Vicki Fox's transatlantic trek earlier in the month. Even though they are avid fans of the game, a more compelling invitation came from William Farish, the United States ambassador to the Court of St. James, and his wife, Sarah Farish. They hosted a reception at Winfield House, the historic mansion given to the U.S. government by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and now used as the London residence for U.S. ambassadors. The occasion was the opening of an exhibition by Florida artist Stephen Scott Young, whose work the Farishes collect.

A painter who works primarily in watercolor, Young has been compared to Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins, and his paintings bear those influences. But Henry Adams, curator of American art at the Cleveland Museum of Art has observed that in style and tone, he harkens back to Caravaggio in his treatment of light and dark, and Vermeer in his elevation of an everyday scene into a transcendent moment. Young, who is white, has gained his reputation mostly through his portraits of blacks, particularly Bahamians, painted in a rich range of colors that defy stereotype and avoid social commentary.

The Foxes have been friends with the artist for many years and were thrilled when London called, especially because it gave them the excuse to go to Wimbledon for the first time.

"There were 200 of us at the reception, the weather was gorgeous and Scott's paintings were on their walls and set up on easels," said Vicki Fox. One of the paintings was Muse, shown above.

At the party, the couple visited with John Surovek, the Palm Beach gallery owner who represents Young, and met Richard Stone, the official portrait artist for the royal family. Stone told them that he brazened his way into the job more than 30 years ago by calling Buckingham Palace and announcing, "Don't hang up; I may be the next Rembrandt." Someone suggested that he send some of his work around, and he has been painting their famous faces ever since.

Young's work, which sells for prices in the six figures, is in numerous private collections, including those of Marshall Field and Oprah Winfrey, and museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Grand prize for USF Chamber Singers

The University of South Florida's Chamber Singers, directed by Richard Zielinksi, was named the Grand Prize Champion Choir at the 38th International Festival of Choral Song in June in Miedzyzdroje, Poland. The 21-member chorus performed En Une Suele Fuele by Morten Lauridsen, Alleluia by Romuald Twardowski, Abide with Me by Moses Hogan, Angelus Domini by Pawel Lukaszewski and other works during a two-week European tour that also included concerts in Poland and Germany. The group will celebrate its award with a concert Aug. 29 in the Music Recital Hall on the USF Tampa campus. Zielinski also is director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

Asolo adds three works

The Asolo Theatre filled out its 2003-04 season by adding three works to its previously announced lineup: Murder by Misadventure by Edward Taylor (Nov. 29-Jan. 11), Will Stutts in a one-man show (Jan. 28-Feb. 22) and The Smell of the Kill by Michele Lowe (May 7-30). The season opens Oct. 31 with The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

- Times performing arts critic John Fleming contributed to this report.

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