Lateral Move: How a Tech Donor Became a Patron of Classical Music

photo: Africa Studio/shutterstock

photo: Africa Studio/shutterstock

The Chamber Music Society (CMS) of Lincoln Center recently received a $5 million gift from Ann S. Bowers of Palo Alto, earmarked for its CMS Two residency program, which develops the next generation of young musicians.

The CMS Two program, according to the center, constitutes “the world's most distinguished opportunity in chamber music for outstanding young artists in the early stages of major careers.” The rigorous three-season residency fully integrates the program's artists into every facet of CMS activities in New York and abroad, performing, recording and often teaching, as equal colleagues alongside CMS musicians.

Bowers’ gift is the largest individual gift in the society’s 48-year history.

If that wasn’t newsworthy enough, consider the source of the gift. Bowers has the distinction of being the first woman to hold a vice president title in Silicon Valley while working for Apple. In a giving space where tech donors remain less than enthusiastic about the arts, Bowers’ gift is a notable outlier—and an encouraging one.

A closer look at Bowers’ CV underscores the risks of attempting to pigeonhole “tech donors” as ones-and-zeros types with minimal interest in the arts.

Bowers began her professional career in human resources while working at Macy’s in San Francisco before transitioning to the region’s technology field. She became the first director of personnel at Intel before moving on to Apple, where, as noted, she became the first female vice president in the valley.

Bowers was married to the late Robert Noyce, founder of Intel, and she created and served as senior trustee of the Noyce Foundation, which had been a huge proponent of STEM education across the past 25 years prior to sunsetting in 2015.

She started the Noyce Leadership Institute in 2008 with the goal of preparing the next generation of leaders for science-intensive museums, with a particular emphasis on gaining the skills and perspectives needed to increase the engagement of those organizations with their immediate communities. The institute’s final cohort convened in 2015.

Bowers is also a longtime board member and supporter of San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation. The museum’s Bowers Institute helps educators “build their skills in all aspects of Design Challenge Learning and gain confidence with cutting-edge tools for STEM teaching.”

She’s also a trustee emerita at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

Speaking to Dimensions magazine in 2015, Bowers, reflecting on her transition from tech boardrooms to the museum world, said:

My background is in human resources, and so that’s what I’ve lent to the leadership programming. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years talking about working on the kind of culture you need to have within an organization to make it a productive and vibrant and joyful place to work. So I think that as a result of trying to move my skill set into a different field, one that I didn’t play in because I was in business, I’ve learned a lot about the difficulties of working with an organization who can’t measure its effectiveness in terms of sales.

Bottom line, here? While most of the relatively small pool of tech donors supporting the arts hail from the engineering world—examples include Paul Allen, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, and David Bohnett—Bowers spent her career cultivating human capital. Her leap from training science museum curators and STEM teachers to educating young classical musicians is a logical one.

Bowers’ gift comes roughly three years after the CMS received a $4 million bequest from Jane Kitselman, a patron and cellist. In recognition of the gift, CMS Two will be renamed the Bowers Program, beginning with the 2018-2019 class.

“Enabling young artists to move their careers forward is an expression of my love of music,” she said. “I've seen the impact that the CMS program has had on so many young musicians, providing them unique and significant experience. With this gift, I'm ensuring that the program will continue enhancing the lives and careers of the finest emerging artists now, and for generations to come.”