The recipient of Thea Foundation’s 2017 Pillar of the Arts award, Judy Tenenbaum, on why the arts and philanthropy are so vital to our state.

Thea Foundation was only in the very early stages when you got involved. What appealed to you about them?

From the beginning of my community work and philanthropy work, I dedicated my time and efforts to the arts, education and cancer research. It was a natural partnership, combining the arts and education. The Thea Foundation was clearly visionary and ahead of its time, and I have been honored to be a part of its origins.

How would you describe the foundation to someone who had never heard about it?

The Thea Foundation describes its mission as designed to help kids find confidence, self-worth and perspective through creative expression and experiences in art-related activities — both extracurricular and in-school. Thea’s programs are uniquely inclusive, offered state-wide and available to students in grades K through 12. The longest running program, Thea’s Scholarship Program, has awarded more than $2 million to Arkansas high school seniors.

Today, Thea continues to be a visionary in its work here in Arkansas. Students who have come through the programs or received scholarships have seen their lives completely turned around. Many are now working in advanced artistic academics or performing professionally. What greater testament can one ask for?

Why are arts so important to kids?

When you include arts in education, a student will excel in their major school subjects like math, English, etc. As Vincent Insalaco (Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas) has stated, a paintbrush, a stage, a microphone, poetry, creative writing and dance movement are as important as football, baseball and other sports. It has been shown through research how sports influence a child’s life. The arts have the same influences, perhaps even more so.

You were chosen as the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas’ Woman of the Year for your Philanthropy. What did it mean to you to receive this award?

There were so many other women who were more deserving than I to get this award. With that said, I was humbled and honored to receive the Woman of the Year in Philanthropy from the Women’s Foundation. When I work and give to an organization, I give in two ways: financially and physically. It takes both for organizations and non-profits to survive. Philanthropy comes in many forms, and what matters most is the hands-on influence of individuals with children, adults and the elderly. Here in Arkansas, resources are limited, so any help that can aid these different causes deserves real attention. I am grateful to be a small part of this.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned?

That the work must continue. It never ends. In fact, because of certain legislation being considered and passed by the current political mood in Arkansas and the United States, the private work we do becomes even more important. I will continue to do my part, but I hope through my efforts others will recognize the urgency of this work and get involved. It does take a village, and any type of support will go a long way.

Into the Blue, the Thea Foundation’s annual fundraiser, will take place on April 29 at 6 p.m. at the Center for Humanities and Arts, UA - Pulaski Technical College. For tickets visit or call 501.379.9512.