In September 2019, Anne L. Kaplan succeeded Zachary Lazar as The Joffrey Ballet’s Board Chair. She’s well prepared from her work as Board Chair of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) from 2015-2018; prior Joffrey service as Executive Committee Vice President and member of the Strategic Planning, Development, and Campaign Planning Committees; substantial other civic contributions as a philanthropist and trustee of the Mayer and Morris Kaplan Family Foundation; and as an acclaimed interior designer whose work has been published by Architectural Digest and Chicago Magazine.
In celebration of Better once again being Joffrey’s Season Content Partner, Founder Susan Blankenbaker Noyes was honored to do the following Q&A with Kaplan.
SBN: You juggle many powerful and interesting roles through work, as a philanthropist and civic leader, likely within your family too. How do you describe yourself
AK: I love the arts! As a goer and doer, always interested and energetic, I’m very excited by whatever goes on around me. I never get tired of going to galas and events for organizations, seeing what story they are telling. Also, I have a great family, which includes three children and nine grandchildren. They don’t actually live here, but they visit often and love attending the Joffrey. We go on many adventures too, particularly skiing. Last year we went skiing in Japan. I love, love Japan. I like to have fun. Fun and joy. That’s one reason I love the Joffrey — there’s so much joy in the building!
Your efforts as MCA Chair included guiding the museum through a remodel and leading its 50th Anniversary Celebration. How will this inform your Joffrey leadership role?
The MCA taught me how to work as a team. Nobody ever asked what their job description was; they just pitched in and got the job done. I did learn a lot about leadership, however, they made it easy. I do feel like a serial Board Chair; but I did take a one-year hiatus.
The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and President and CEO Greg Cameron describe you as “always leading with mission.” Were you always a natural leader?
Oh no! I couldn’t possibly imagine myself as a “Chairman” in the past. I came out of an era where we did as we were told — we were more reactive. But I did start to learn leadership when I took a designer role that was offered early in life. I knew such opportunities came rarely and I valued independence of thought and creativity. Eventually, I realized I could do a lot of things and do them well. Being a designer definitely trained me to be a leader too. If you keep your eyes open, you learn, gain experience. In a sense, everyone becomes a role model.
Thanks for the good segue to our next topic. Quietly, women long have been visionaries and leaders in the arts. For example, MCA was founded with a donation from a significant female artist. The founding of a Women’s Board secured Joffrey’s Chicago future. The Women’s Boards of several other arts organizations are considered true development powerhouses too — like the Lyric Opera and Art Institute. Now — in the #MeToo era — there is nothing quiet about the power of women collaborating for the greater good. How will you leverage this powerful moment in time for women in your role here?
Well said and exactly right. Let’s start with the Joffrey Women’s Board — they are so accomplished! Every member is so smart. They come with big ideas and no one is quiet. They make us known in the community, and they invite the community in too. No one wants Joffrey “on a pedestal.”
We open with “Jane Eyre,” choreographed by a woman, Cathy Marston, too. We’re leveraging opportunities everywhere.
What are your goals as Chair?
The impending move to the Lyric looms large. Our motto, “Joffrey Moves,” brings a whole new metaphor! How do we make this transition historic and iconic? Ashley (Wheater) has a wonderful, inspired season lined up, which we are excited to announce early next year. We are planning family events and we envision a fulsome experience for the entire community too.
A big goal is to be able to fully endow live music. Everybody wants to dance to live music.
We’re already working with our dancers to ensure that they have a good future after the Joffrey. But I want us to do even more. They rarely dance long. Sometimes they don’t have a good education because they focused fully on dance so young. We already help them learn about professional opportunities and are forming collaborations with community colleges. Like our own children, we want all of our dancers to have a wonderful future!
Let’s get more personal. Please tell us your favorites.
Books: I just finished “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne. But I love reading too much to ever pick just one book or favorite author.
Food: I love all food! I love going to new restaurants, all types of them — from holes-in-the-wall to all the amazing new developments throughout Chicago. I’ll never live long enough to explore all the great new restaurants popping up. But I want to!
Art: I love modern art; but, I’m most fascinated by contemporary art. If you think about a piece long enough, you will understand what the artist is conveying. Art is very important in my work as a decorator too. The architecture is a big influencer, but I listen to my clients and try to inject art that takes it to a whole new level.
Anything else you want to tell us?
Bring the men in your life to the ballet too. It’s as much fun as watching basketball — the dancers are just as athletic too.
Susan B. Noyes is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of Make It Better Media Group, which includes Better.
A mother of six, former Sidley Austin labor lawyer and U.S. Congressional Aide, passionate philanthropist, and intuitive connector, she has served on boards for the Poetry Foundation, Harvard University Graduate School of Education Visiting Committee, American Red Cross, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Annenberg Challenge, Chicago Public Education Fund, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New Trier High School District 203, and her beloved Kenilworth Union Church. But most of all, she enjoys writing and serving others by creating virtuous circles that amplify social impact.