10 Questions with Char and Alan Augenstein

Posted By on August 4, 2020

Philanthropists and arts supporters

  1. Where did you move to Arizona from, and when?

CHAR: We were excited to have the opportunity to make Arizona our forever home beginning in 2003, albeit sad to leave the wonderful experience we had in Kansas City for the previous 13 years. We started our professional careers in Pittsburgh, living in Cincinnati and New York City, before relocating to Kansas City. We made the joint decision early in our marriage that Arizona would be our choice to share the final chapters of our lives. Due to a favorable combination of circumstances, Alan was asked to relocate to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Phoenix office, where he finished his career with the firm. We often comment to those gifted with birthright in this fabulous state, “We worked a lifetime to get here!”2

2. Why are the arts so important to you?

CHAR: The arts are a vital resource, contributing to personal well-being, professional success and societal health. The intellectual stimulation they provide leads to increased academic performance in our schools, as well as heightened creativity and innovation in the workplace. The arts have a social impact, improving the quality and livability of our community. They unify us and feed our souls. The arts also play an essential role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy, strengthening competitiveness in the marketplace.

3. Do you have a personal background in the arts?

CHAR: We both grew up in Pittsburgh, where culture is part of your DNA. August Wilson hails from Pittsburgh and has always been my favorite playwright. We both believe an integral part of who we are today is due to the developmental benefits of early exposure to the arts. I was selected to participate in a Carnegie Mellon University creative program for youth K–12, allowing for early immersion and artistic enrichment. Although we opted for satisfying careers in business and accounting, our passion always has been with the arts.

ALAN: In New York City, my office was directly across from Radio City Music Hall. My daily commute entailed walking through the Broadway theater district, often in the evening hours at the bustling start of all the shows. This was Broadway immersion at its finest! I am currently on the board of the Herberger Theater Center, the exceptional performing arts center in downtown Phoenix, where I serve as treasurer, on the executive committee and chair the finance committee.

4. How are you helping to keep the arts top of mind during COVID-19?

CHAR: In addition to helping the organizations we are involved with manage an unprecedented crisis, we are active in an advocacy role, communicating the challenges and progress made. We are taking our directive from competent individuals in leadership roles in the nonprofits we serve. It can go unsaid fundraising is critical at this time to sustain organizations while

they are dark, having pivoted to digital platforms for retaining relevance.

ALAN: The United States citizen pays about the cost of one postage stamp in taxes to support the arts. The real stars of the arts right now are the donors. Contributed revenue comprises the lion’s share of support, and continued support is necessary to bridge organizations to a time when reopening on a sustainable basis can be achieved. We are all thinking out of the box to appeal to those with the good fortune of being capable of giving at this time.

5. Char, you are heavily involved with Arizona Theatre Company. Can you talk about your service to the organization?

CHAR: Arizona Theatre Company is comprised of some of my favorite people! Under the dynamic leadership of Sean Daniels as artistic director, and Geri Wright as managing director, it is an exciting time to be involved. At present, I am honored to be board chair with tremendous, supportive trustees. Although I have great love for all the arts, my heart has always belonged to the treasured LORTs (League of Resident Theatres) in this country, of which ATC is one. The excellent artistry ATC creates can truly transform our community. We take great pride in creating art that beckons you to lean into the piece, often experiencing personal growth. The plays evoke conversation, and often the stories linger with you. ATC has given me great joy.

6. Alan, you’ve had several walk-on roles in various productions. Which was your favorite?

ALAN: Without a doubt, portraying a resident of River City in Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” on Center Stage of the Herberger Theater Center. What I would have given to see Robert Preston in his Tony-winning performance of Professor Harold Hill! The creative team selected by ATC consisted of several Tony-winning talents, and the resulting collaboration was superb. Kara Mikula was my handler, which greatly enhanced the experience. Kara is a COVID-19 survivor, and everyone’s thoughts and prayers were with her throughout the harrowing ordeal. Singing in the closing musical number in Act One, “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” was a highlight. Fortunately for everyone, I was not mic’d!

7. What do you feel is notable about our local arts scene?

CHAR: Our demographic diversity allows us to flourish. There has been explosive growth since we arrived in 2003. The arts organizations have put leaders in place that bring a fresh, open-minded perspective, many of whom are visionaries. They are making strategic, forward-thinking strides, creating an arts scene to which the nation is beginning to pay attention. It is indeed an honor and privilege to serve the community on behalf of many arts organizations.

8. Why are the arts so critical to Arizona?

ALAN: A vibrant, well-funded arts and culture sector contributes greatly to community vitality, the tourism industry, business attraction and job growth. We strongly believe the arts improve the quality of our lives and feel a civic responsibility to support them to the best of our ability. We continue to be concerned about the ongoing level of funding for the arts in Arizona. Arizona has long suffered from chronic underinvestment in the arts, despite it being an economic stimulus for the economy. Arizona currently ranks 45th in total state arts agency funding per capita in the United States.

9. What would Frontdoors readers be most surprised to learn about you?

ALAN: At the ripe age of 14 months, I was selected by H. J. Heinz Company to be the “Heinz Baby of the Year.” At the time, Heinz was a large producer of baby food and there was an annual competition for the coveted role. I was featured in all print media for the year.

CHAR: From 1988 to 1990, I took a sabbatical from my demanding career and operated as sole proprietor, conducting unique tours in New York City. My tours consisted of walking, biking, roller skating and ice skating. One of the most popular was a walking tour, “Must-See Cemeteries,” each one fascinating in its own right.

10. What else would you like people to know?

ALAN: We both optimistically believe the arts will return post-COVID-19, and emerge stronger and more relevant than ever. The spirit and energy of the arts will never die; they will always prevail!

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.