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The Art of Leadership - Contributing to the new arts center

August 25, 2006

The arts play a central role in the lives of Martha Hulings Kaemmer ’66 and Art Kaemmer ’65. Events ranging from gallery openings to nights at the opera fill their calendar pages. Their daughter, Julia Kaemmer Hynnek ’95, is a sculptor and their son, Fred, is a glass artist. And if it weren’t for the arts, they might not be together today: The two met at choir practice at Carleton.

“The choir director was convinced she was responsible for us getting together,” Art recalls. He doesn’t confirm the claim, but notes that she did create the seating charts for the group, and when Art was a sophomore and Martha a first-year student, they were halfway across the room from each other; by Art’s senior year, they stood right next to one another.

Though their careers haven’t been directly related to the arts (Martha is a managing partner of HRK Group, Inc., and a founder and president of the St. Paul–based cooking school and kitchenware store Cooks of Crocus Hill; Art is a retired pediatrician), the arts have been inextricably linked to their lives. When former Carleton president Stephen R. Lewis Jr. first proposed the idea of an art museum at the College, the Kaemmers emerged as leading supporters, providing an early $1 million gift. As the museum plans expanded to a comprehensive arts center, the Kaemmers’ support never wavered.

“This [arts center] will show that Carleton doesn’t just pay lip service to the arts program and then stuff it in a back corner,” says Art of the proposed new space in Northfield’s former middle school building. “This is a major step forward.”

It was a need that the couple saw firsthand when they visited their daughter, a studio art major, during her senior year at Carleton. “Boliou Hall is an incredible building, but her studio was literally a big closet,” Martha recalls. “Not that she had to have a grand space, but a school of Carleton’s caliber deserves better facilities.”

They understand that there may be resistance to change, but they acknowledge the need to move forward. “If you liked the school that you went to, you tend not to want to see it change,” Martha says. “You don’t want to see them change the classroom where you had your great moment. But we saw this as a great opportunity
[for Carleton].”

The Kaemmers know from personal experience that the arts can be transforming. They hope that what students learn at Carleton will serve as a foundation for rich artistic experiences throughout their lives. “Exposure to the arts during our educational years has enriched us,” Art says. “We love opera, we love going to events at the Walker Art Center, we love choir; we don’t think of it as ‘doing’ art—it’s a part of the fabric of our lives. Art expands your horizons; it makes the world so much bigger and more interesting.”

They both believe it’s critical to have top-notch arts facilities at an institution that prides itself on providing an outstanding liberal arts education. “I have friends who are in business who say they’re sending their kids to college to get a job, and that makes me grind my teeth,” Art says. “People will teach qualified candidates job skills, but CEOs want people who are articulate and thoughtful and engaged in the community, and that’s what the liberal arts do,” he says. Adds Martha: “Creativity makes today’s innovators like Bill Gates and MicroSoft a reality. And fostering creative thinking and problem solving is at the core of a liberal arts education.”

Development director Gayle McJunkin says that the Kaemmers’ willingness to lead by providing early support is a credit to their understanding of the importance of the arts at Carleton. “We started out with an art museum, which moved toward a comprehensive arts center,” McJunkin says. “Both Martha and Art could see the vision behind that. They could see how important it is to integrate the arts in a building that helps fulfill more than a single purpose.”

They’ve also continued in family footsteps: Martha’s parents, Bill ’36 and Betty Andersen Hulings ’36, were major contributors to Carleton. Hulings Hall is named in honor of their lifetime of support and service to the College.

McJunkin notes the Kaemmers’ support of Carleton has included service in significant leadership positions. Art is a class agent and Martha is a trustee; both have contributed their time and energy to reunion committees and other projects. “Art and Martha haven’t been merely observers of the things that Carleton has done, they’ve helped to set the course,” McJunkin says. “They have always been willing to serve in leadership roles—not just where they had to give, but where they had to help govern the institution and help shape its future.”

For the Kaemmers, it was about doing the right thing. “This is a great opportunity to watch something new grow,” Martha says. “It feels good to be involved in a project that we know will make a difference.”