Linda Lombardi

Member Spotlight: Patrick Rath

Posted by Linda Lombardi, Oct 04, 2021 0 comments

Linda Lombardi

In October 2020, Patrick Rath became the president & CEO of United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF), the largest united fund for the performing arts in the country. Since 1967, UPAF has been dedicated to securing community resources, promoting the performing arts as a regional asset, and improving the quality of life through responsible investment in and financial support of the performing arts in Southeastern Wisconsin. Every dollar raised comes from individuals, companies, and foundations. Rath brings more than 30 years’ experience in development and on the boards of several performing arts organizations to the role. He is also a classically trained double bass player and has performed with eight of UPAF’s 14 member organizations.

Smiling person wearing glasses, a light blue shirt, and dark gray suit
Patrick Rath, photo courtesy UPAF.

You took the reins of UPAF during the pandemic, while performing arts organizations have faced never-before-seen struggles. How has the pandemic and the heightened focus on equity impacted your funding process and the conversations you have with donors?

Early in the fall of 2020, it looked like the biggest wave of the COVID virus had come and gone. Our members were planning holiday performances and prepared to bring audiences back in socially-distanced settings. However, the worst surge came quickly and shuttered all activities. Thanks to UPAF support, our members quickly moved to virtual performances and developed innovative new experiences that let the “at home” attendee control their experience. This was well received from the donor community and we focused our message and support to elevate the importance of the individual artist and our cultural ecosystem. With crucial dollars flowing to our members, they were able to sustain operations and employ local artists—providing a living wage and benefits at a time when many arts institutions around the nation stayed closed. This focus enabled all 14 UPAF members to be active with live, in-person performances and school-based programming by the fall of 2021 at a pace and scale typical of pre-COVID seasons.

In August, you launched a Rally for Arts Education fundraiser with a goal of raising $200,000 for your Bright Minds arts education program, which educates 80,000 children about the arts in southeastern Wisconsin. What was the inspiration behind the campaign and how did it go? 

The main intent was to further build on the impact our arts community has on every facet of our society. Arts education has become the #1 reason why children stayed engaged during countless Zoom class hours because it offered them an opportunity to express themselves. Being creative is not a skill; it lives within each of us. The important effort is to provide time and space for that creativity to be shared. Ultimately, to be the best creative professional, this is built through talent, drive, ambition, curiosity, and zeal to create no matter the obstacles, but it all starts with the creative spark. Bright Minds embodies this by going beyond arts appreciation and giving interested students the time to be creative and harness their unique talents. With more than $300,000 in total support received, we also earned a generous grant from Herb Kohl Philanthropies that will enable 875 area schoolteachers to receive our smART Card to take advantage of free and exclusive performance discounts in the area. After teachers gave so much during the past year, it is wonderful to extend a small tribute and to further connect them to the opportunities that exist for more arts programming in the schools.

Group of young people all dressed in black with pink accents, swing dance in pairs
Danceworks Mad Hot participants, photo by Jeff Zmania, courtesy UPAF.

You started playing string bass at the age of 10, so I know National Arts in Education Week (September 12-18) has personal meaning for you as well. What would you say are the benefits of arts in education? 

I believe everyone who has been a student performer experienced a level of pride that is only attainable when done with others. There are many ways to reach personal success, but collective success is an essential need of any work team. Being accountable for your part, how your effort balances with the work of others, understanding when you need to lead or when you need to support, are all part of the creative process. It also happens to be what we value most when elevating the concept of “teamwork” in any business situation. Without arts education, we are missing core experiences that are directly relevant to leadership success and exceptional teamwork.

In 2020, Kasey’s Fund was created to ensure the accessibility of the arts by eliminating barriers imposed by disability, special needs, geography, and other physical and mental considerations. Has that program taken on special resonance during the pandemic, when access to the arts has been so altered?

What we saw was how important virtual arts experiences were to eliminate barriers—be it seniors who have lost mobility, to rural and urban communities alike where lack of transportation limits exposure to arts programs. When we reached through the screen, we made new connections and people of all backgrounds felt welcomed. These efforts will continue because UPAF places a premium on achieving greater access to performances for all, and donors continue to support this important effort. Ultimately, we want to see those people, especially our communities with disabilities and special needs, to be present in a performance venue and share the same experience with others. It will also be important to see individuals like them on stage to showcase the true intent that the arts are indeed for all.

Americans for the Arts Membership

This series features the many Americans for the Arts members doing transformative work for arts education, public art, advocacy, arts marketing, and more. An Americans for the Arts Membership connects you with this network of more than 6,000 arts leaders and gives you access to latest professional development and research. You can become a member by visiting us online, sending an email to [email protected], or calling 202.371.2830.

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