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Pappajohns to Be Honored in New York for Arts Philanthropy

The national nonprofit group Americans for the Arts plans to honor John and Mary Pappajohn at a ceremony tonight in New York.

The Des Moines philanthropists will share the spotlight with several other honorees, including blues legend B.B. King, actress Dakota Fanning, and sculptor Joel Shapiro, whose angular bronze handiwork graces the Pappajohns’ namesake park in Des Moines, as well as the riverside terrace by City Hall.

It’s not the kind of party John Pappajohn might have imagined when he was growing up in Mason City or studying business at the University of Iowa. He took a “fluff” course in art appreciation and never forgot it.

“The arts have enhanced our lives so much,” he said. “They’ve introduced us to a whole different group of people.”

Their particular award, the Eli and Edythe Broad Award for Philanthropy in the Arts, “is probably the ultimate award that anybody could get in the arts,” said Pappajohn, 85, the venture capitalist who founded Pappajohn Capital Resources and Equity Dynamics. “You know, when you’re in Des Moines, Iowa, you don’t think about getting national awards. You really don’t. So it was a pleasant surprise.”

The news is less surprising to the many organizations that have benefited from the Pappajohns’ generosity, measured in time as well as money. The couple, who once outranked Oprah Winfrey on a list of philanthropists (they gave away $47.3 million in 2009, compared with her measly $41.4 million), have served over the years on the boards of the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Des Moines Art Center.

Tonight’s guest list reflects the couple’s widespread support. The attendees include University of Iowa President Sally Mason, Drake University President David Maxwell, former Principal Financial Group chief Barry Griswell, Kum & Go CEO Kyle Krause, and Des Moines Art Center Director Jeff Fleming, who will present the award.

“Their generosity to the University of Iowa is unparalleled, and they are equally passionate about the arts,” Mason said. “This recognition is hugely deserved, and I know that I speak for the entire University of Iowa family when I say we are proud of John and Mary, and very grateful for everything they do on behalf of Iowans.”

Americans for the Arts chief Robert Lynch serves on a tourism advisory board for the U.S. Commerce Department and often cites the Pappajohn Sculpture Park as an example of the kind of public-private partnership that can boost an area’s cultural profile. The Pappajohns donated the first two dozen works, valued at around $40 million, to the Des Moines Art Center, which worked with corporate donors and the city to create the site.

“It became a real signature for the city,” he said. “It became an attraction for people to come from around the world.”

He mentioned similar projects in Miami and Santa Fe, where public-art investments attracted galleries and museums that turned the cities into artsy hot spots over just a decade or two.

Here in Des Moines, the Pappajohns are building on the momentum of other leaders. Griswell received a corporate citizenship award—presented by John Pappajohn, in fact—at the Americans for the Arts ceremony in 2008.

The latest addition to the works in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a colored-light sculpture by Olafur Eliasson, is scheduled to arrive soon.

The installation team from the artist’s Berlin studio plans to arrive Nov. 11 and finish the work over the following two weeks.


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