Art, Philanthropy, and Legacy: Talking with Ronald Cresswell (Cresswell Family Foundation)

We are beyond grateful for the support that we’ve received for our 20th anniversary. As part of our recent series on getting to know our sponsors, we recently did a quick Q&A with Ronald Cresswell, of the Cresswell Family Foundation. Mr. Cresswell and his wife, Sheila, have been long-time lovers of the arts, and have supported the arts through their foundation. Below is a transcript of our interview. Many thanks to the Cresswell Family Foundation for their continued support of Detroit arts and youth development!

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Living Arts: To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to start the Cresswell Family Foundation? 

Ronald Cresswell: We (my wife Sheila and I) came to the US in 1960. We married the year before and I had just finished a Ph.D. We had $200 between us, of which Customs greeted the new immigrants with an $80 charge, but thanks to an education I had a good paying Post Doctoral fellowship at Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in Manhattan. After Sloan Kettering I took a job in the pharmaceutical industry as a research scientist. We were introduced to philanthropy by my first employer, a company itself owned by a registered charity.  Quite honestly, with a family of 5 girls to bring  up and educate, our means did not allow much by way of philanthropy for a long time. In 1988, we moved to Ann Arbor and I became Chairman of Research Development and Medicine at the laboratories of Warner Lambert/Parke Davis. We became involved in local philanthropy, and then through the success of our research efforts we finally had some money to share. Stock options and some smart investments during the period of “irrational exuberance” in the late 1990’s made us comparatively wealthy. It was at this point, shortly before retirement, that we decided to fund the Cresswell Family Foundation.

LA: How did you become involved with Living Arts?

RC: Our daughter Susan became interested, and asked if the Foundation could support. My wife and I love art, although neither of us claim to be in any way gifted. We were already supporting music and art for handicapped children, and Living Arts offered a chance to support art in a different context. So Susan brought us into the relationship.

LA: What motivates you to support the work of organizations like Living Arts?

RC: The experience of the power of education in our own lives as a family, and secondly the knowledge that in every generation there are undiscovered talents. Talents that for one reason or another were  never given the exposure and the opportunity to flourish.

LA: Why do you think arts education is important for children? 

RC: Artists portray and picture the world around them, as they see it. The scope of their vision can be profoundly moving, and the sense or wonder that the arts engender is something that children should have the chance to experience.

LA: What makes you passionate about arts/arts education?

RC: I think I have probably answered this already, but for us art is an essential part of life. We want to have new experiences of it, and we want it around us. As for education it is part of a complete education and it is the discoverer and encourager of talent.

LA: What was your experience with the arts as a child? Do you have a favorite teacher who brought creativity into the classroom?

RC: My efforts in arts class were very poor and I dropped the subject to pursue science. My wife has tried to take up painting but did not feel she was gifted either. Yet, we both love and collect art, and it is a vital part of our lives. I did have an inspirational art teacher but the inspiration was to the benefit of others, and one of my classmates Alasdair Gray became and is one of Scotland’s foremost artists.