Patroness of the Arts…

Patroness of the Arts…

ArtSmart recently sat down for an interview with one of our most generous supporters, Maria Manetti Shrem. Read more about Maria below and why she supports ArtSmart.


ArtSmart: Where did you grow up and what was your earliest memory of the arts as a child?

Maria Manetti Shrem:I grew up in Florence, Italy and lived there until I was 31 one years old. Florence is the birthplace of opera, and I was always surrounded by art, culture and classical music. At 15 years old, I saw the opera La bohème with Renata Tebaldi and fell in love with the art form of opera. I have over 2,000 CD’s and 55 audio speakers around my property, so music is playing all the time at my home. I never studied music formally, but I’m sure I will in my next lifetime.

AS:Where do you currently make your home and how are you involved in the arts in your local community?

MMS: I currently live in San Francisco, California but also have residences in Oakville, California and Florence, Italy. I am a supporter of The San Francisco Opera and sponsor two Italian operas, an Italian conductor and an emerging opera star at the San Francisco Opera every year. I am also a supporter of the San Francisco Symphony and the founder and largest supporter of the Festival Napa Valley. Also, in November of 2016 my husband and I opened the the Manetti Shrem Museum of Contemporary Art at UC Davis which has won 18 awards. Thirty percent of the building is dedicated to education. It includes an art studio, lecture hall and collection room…it is always full of students.

AS:What was your life’s vocation?

MMS: I attended school for language and economics and have had a career in fashion. During the 1960’s through the early 1970’s I worked in Florence in design and manufacturing for the clothing industry. After a divorce that only left me with 2,000 dollars to my name, I moved to the United States in the 1970’s and began work selling Gucci products in Berkley, California. I became the principal force behind Gucci’s integration into American department stores and retired from the company seven years ago.

AS: That must have been challenging to move to a new country with very little money. How did the arts play into your life during this challenging time?

MMS:I went to the opera as often as I could, only being able to afford the standing room cheap seats. Opera gave me so much inspiration at that time. I waited outside of the stage door entrance at the San Francisco Opera to meet the singers and over the years developed relationships with opera luminaries such as Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming.  

AS:How did you become affiliated with ArtSmart?

MMS: I met Michael Fabiano through post-performance events at the San Francisco Opera. After his performance as Rodolfo in La bohème, Michael was talking to me about this new foundation he was working on and that he wanted to bring the study of opera and voice to underprivileged schools as well as to give paying jobs to singers who were not as fortunate as he was in the performance arena. I know the struggle that many singers have in pursuing a career and there are many with great voices who never make it! It was very impressive to me to see that at his age, in his early 30’s, that Michael’s focus was to help other people and not just himself. I knew I wanted to get involved and support ArtSmart. I started out with a set contribution and have increased my support every year as the program has expanded and succeeded.

AS:Why do you feel arts education for children is especially necessary in our society today?

MMS: By being involved in art, students develop an eye for beauty and feeling…there is so much feeling in opera…it helps them develop a heart! Music brings people together and it helps alleviate pain. When I am in a bad mood or am exhausted…music lifts my soul and my spirit. Music also provides and enhances students’ educational studies. In music, students learn about math, science, literature, language and history but in a way that brings them inspiration. The arts make students more well-rounded. 

AS: What most excites you about what ArtSmart is doing for underprivileged children in America? 

MMS: The number of students that the ArtSmart program reaches is amazing. It is also wonderful how many teachers and musicians are being employed by the program. I am so happy the program is so successful and going so well. I speak often with many people about ArtSmart. I am an ambassador. 

AS: Why do you feel it is so important to support ArtSmart in a financial way?

MMS: We must support those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Art plays a very important role in education and in the larger scope of our society. ArtSmart is a great help to its students, the landscape of education in America and the future of our society.

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