Honored by the Governor for Her Contributions PATTY SHAHEEN Takes Community Responsibility to a New Level

    icon Dec 11, 2008
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"Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved."
-Andre Malraux


"The Great law of culture: let each become all that he was created capable of being."
-Thomas Carlyle


To those meeting Patty Shaheen for the first time there is a generosity and warmth to her demeanor that is readily apparent. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts and an active force in the Arts Community since she first married Dr. Samuel Shaheen and moved to Saginaw back in April of 1965, her record of community service has pollinated a litany of organizations: The Catholic Community Foundation, Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees, The St.

Mary's of Michigan Advisory Committee, The Saginaw Art Museum, and The Saginaw Community Foundation, to name but a few.

Recently honored by Governor Jennifer Granholm as a recipient of the 23rd Annual Governor's Awards For Arts & Culture for her 43-years of civic leadership, one is hard-pressed to think of a more non-assuming and committed activist – a woman who's passion for the arts extends past the narrow parameters of self-interest, or the parochial concerns of singular arts organizations; but in reality, extends into weaving improvement into the very physical and spiritual fabric of the community, which in today's economic climate, can be a sizable challenge

"I've lived here long enough to see the ups and downs," she explains.

"When I first came to Saginaw, I didn't realize how prosperous it was

- but then, one of my family rules growing up in Massachusetts was to always buy American. It's sad because I saw people going away from that and buying foreign cars. But we have other strengths besides manufacturing and a wealth of land and farming in Mid-Michigan, so there is more to the area besides GM that can be fostered and developed."

With an interest in the Arts that started in the public schools of Agawam, Massachusetts, Patty notes there were only 100 students in her graduating class and that her high school was known more for football and sports than anything. "But it wasn't far from Springfield, so I remember going to the symphony with a bunch of girls, which fueled my appreciation for the arts."

"When I first came to Saginaw, I was recently married and didn't know anybody, so I decided to volunteer at the Saginaw Art Museum and take art classes as well as art appreciation," she continues. "I'd also volunteer and straighten books out at the library, so by becoming involved, I developed a fondness for all of the arts. I may not be the 'expert' that some others are, but I know what I like and dislike and have always been willing to learn."

"Actually, I love to read. People can tell you things, but when you read you can digest and think about a subject more. I've always had a practical side, even when I was much younger. So back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I started the first endowment campaign at the art museum, which is something that people weren't thinking about.

Nobody on the Board had ever done that before.  And because it was something new, I had to convince the Board to get behind it, before we could out to others to solicit contributions."

Citing fellow Governor's Award recipient Patricia Shek as her mentor, Patty says she misses the fabulous style shows and puppet shows and fundraisers that many women's auxiliary groups would throw back in the sixties & seventies. "Those were magic times and they raised a lot of money for the arts, but I think that all happened because back then women didn't have to work. Most women were college graduates and could go to work, but were supposed to stay home and raise children.  Women didn't have to worry as much about going out and making a buck.

Consequently, one day I'd be involved with the schools and the next I'd be cooking dinner for a group at Chippewa," she laughs.

One of the biggest changes Patty has witnessed over the years is the downturn in volunteerism throughout the community. "Arts groups are in desperate need of volunteers and still get them, but many are not as full time as they used to be. Now a lot of these duties are turned over to arts professionals and museum professionals, which is good because there has to be professionalism present; but you don't see a lot of the grass roots shows and revues and fundraisers that once occurred."

In terms of her own personal goals for the Arts in Mid-Michigan, Patty states that she's striving to foster greater professionalism throughout the community. "I like to see things done well. I like to see financial stability and professionalism with all of the organizations that I involve myself with. From the way I was educated, you need a definite level of this in anything – whether it be a painter or a street sweeper. You can have fun too, but you need a certain amount of respect for the people around you and the businesses that support you."

      When Patty was honored with her Governor's Award back in November, her face blossoms with color and excitement. "It was different for me because I felt like a star that was at the Oscar's or something," she smiles. "But then I got serious and during my acceptance speech, apart from remembering to thank everybody, felt it important to communicate two points to this statewide audience that was in attendance."

"The first point, which I truly believe, is to leave things better than you find them. It doesn't matter if it's a home or the desk in front of you or an arts organization. The second thing, which I wasn't quite sure how to get across, is that imagination is more important than knowledge. If a person uses their imagination they have no excuse for being bored. Imagination fosters knowledge. You can know everything but not know what to do with your knowledge."

Given the economic climate and economic uncertainty raging through the land right now, is Patty concerned about the immediate future?

"Yes, I am," she soberly responds. "We in the Arts have to turn the gas down a little bit right now and not be so anxious to get too ambitious or bite off too much. We have to make sure the bottom line is financed and still offer quality programs and features and perhaps foster and open up more venues for local talents as opposed to top dollar marquee artists."

As one that worked with the Temple Theatre Arts Association and other community volunteers back in the '80s, this reporter cannot help but question Patty about the 'bricks-and-mortar' contributions she and her husband have made in terms of renovating the Temple to a state of pristine splendor beyond that of its glorious heyday.  Obviously, the financial commitment had to be harrowing, as well as the responsibility.

"My husband and I worked on the Temple together," she explains. "He would ask my thoughts and what I envisioned and then we would debate,"

she laughs. "The Temple was something else, but for our entire family – my children and my husband – it was a matter of community pride."

"We feared it would be knocked down and it had actually been sold and was in disrepair, so when the owner defaulted we had to buy it back from the bank. The power had been shut off, the basement flooded. It was a mess.  We didn't realize the plaster was falling off the ceiling until after we purchased it. But I can say it was out of respect to the community and the people before us that tried to save it – the Ken Wuepper's and Julie Stevens – and the Organ Club – that had these visions of what they wanted for the Temple Theatre that we were able to bring that to fruition."

"Much of the groundwork had been done by a Restoration group and we mainly up-scaled for what they did.  My husband insisted on gold leaf instead of paint and my job was mainly to work with the community volunteers to make sure we weren't stepping on any toes while also trying to fulfill their dreams."

Has Patty noticed more cooperation between the various arts entities lately, given the many challenges they confront?

"Yes, I have and would like to see more. Competition is a given so we need to cooperate more because it brings a broader richness to projects. In fact, many donors are insisting upon it. You don't see the same level of cooperation between organizations down in Detroit as you do here, because I believe they are more ego driven down there."

"But in terms of immediate agenda, I'd love to see more arts awareness in the schools," notes Patty. "I think it can be combined with other subjects, even if it involves basic appreciation. Math students could figure out budgets for arts groups. The possibilities are limitless."

"Students need to appreciate more what we have around us and made aware by the schools of what is available throughout the community.

There's nothing wrong with field trips, which should happen more. You can often learn more from a field trip than you can from a classroom."

"I can remember when I was a junior in high school having to knock on doors to collect money for senior scholarships," concludes Patty. "We may have missed a class or two, but we learned an important lesson about giving and looking after others."

"There's more to an education that reading, writing and arithmetic."

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