A Conversation with Elizabeth Koch
Chairman of the board of the Koch Cultural Trust and president and director of the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation
How did the Cultural Trust begin?
It began in the late 1980s, a time when my mother-in-law, Mary Robinson Koch, who was such a patron of the arts, was getting on in years. She had so wanted me to become involved. She had done such a good job supporting the arts and she was concerned that no one would continue with that work. So I picked up the gauntlet.
What is the most important role of KCT?
The most important contribution is probably getting young people to the places that they need to go to fulfill their love of the arts. Training is expensive. To go to Aspen or any of these music camps, it’s a commitment. Our program keeps them not only focused, but involved in their dreams.
Talk about the importance of the arts for you personally.
Honestly, I have zero talent artistically, in any field you can name. We can’t all be artists, so there I am. There needs to be somebody out there who appreciates art. I love dance, I love music, I love visual arts and drama. Life without those things would be so bland and depressing; all of these things are sort of my serotonin. Artists and performers should be glad I have no talent so I can buy into theirs.
How do you feel knowing that you have made such a difference in the lives and careers of so many artists?
It feels great. If KCT helps artists stay in their chosen professions, that’s awesome, it’s wonderful. I just want to keep doing what we’re doing and make it better.
How does the selection committee work?
They are selfless in their selections. Each has expertise in one field or another. They’re not working to feather their own nests; they don’t favor their own students. They’re a team. They’re really looking for the most talent and the most ability as they consider each applicant. They’re committed to excellence, to developing excellence.
How was your approach different than that of your mother-in-law?
She was very interested in giving to what is, giving support to existing arts organizations. I was more interested in the creative process, the creative process of launching people who hoped to become artists. I am very interested in young people. So we looked at students of the arts and tried to create a way of either launching a career or getting a student to a summer camp or something that would further their interest in their chosen art form, whether it was dance or painting or drawing or sculpting or music. That was how I approached what she wanted me to do. So KCT combined her love of the arts with my love of young people. That’s how it started.
Why the name change from Kansas Cultural Trust to Koch Cultural Trust?
For clarity. We had too much confusion with the name Kansas Cultural Trust. People thought it was a government program when in fact it isn’t.
How does Kansas benefit from the work of the KCT?
Everyone benefits when you can identify talent and reward it. We tell our grant recipients, “Don’t forget your roots.” Many who have gone on to work abroad or throughout the United States come back to Kansas to perform with groups here. Many stay in Kansas to work as artists here.
What would Mary Koch think of the program now?
We’ve taken a different approach, but I think she would be happy. As a matter of fact, I know she would. She would love it.