Howard Ahmanson Jr. is the son of insurance and loan tycoon Howard Ahmanson Sr. Having made his fortune by selling insurance to businesses during the Great Depression and then later by issuing home loans to Californians, Howard Sr. was adamant that the money he made for California should be put back into California.
Ahmanson Sr. started the Ahmanson Foundation, through which he would begin his career in philanthropy. Among his many initiatives he also offered patronage to a variety of artists, both local and international, even commissioning them to build his office buildings.
After his passing in 1968, Howard Sr.’s legacy of philanthropy would be continued by his son, Howard Ahmanson Jr. Although he and his father did not see eye to eye on everything, one thing they shared was a love of the arts. Through a variety of projects and initiatives, Howard Jr. and his wife, Roberta Green Ahmanson, have deeply enriched the art scene both globally and locally. One such local organization that the Ahmansons have supported is Orange County’s Pacific Symphony Orchestra.
The Ahmansons have a long history of patronage of the arts. Howard’s wife Roberta has spearheaded a project called Bridge Projects, which seeks to discuss the relationship between contemporary visual art and religious living tradition. The Ahmansons funded a curatorial fellowship program in art and religion at the National Gallery in London, and Howard has made over one hundred donations to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
The Ahmansons provided their support during a March 2020 gala benefit hosted by the Pacific Symphony. The gala was a fundraising event as well as a celebration of Director Carl St. Claire’s 30th year in the position. A press release from the Pacific Symphony states:
“Pacific Symphony’s gala benefit was an evening of surprise and delight throughout. But nothing was more surprising than John Forsyte and Joann Leatherby capping off the spectacular evening with the announcement that Howard and Roberta Ahmanson made an incredibly generous gift of $2 million in honor of Carl St.Clair to fund Class Act for another eight years through the Symphony’s 50th Anniversary in the 2028-29 season.”
The Class Act program, also called the Frieda Belinfante Class Act program, connects the Pacific Symphony with a number of elementary schools each year. The aim is to improve early musical education by providing more profound musical experiences to the students, such as seeing the Orchestra perform. The program is run by a new musician each year who acts as a “Class Act teaching artist.” The education features music centered on a significant historical composer. Past featured artists include Beethoven, Mozart, and most recently John WIlliams.
Howard and Roberta are both honorary members of the Board of Directors at the Pacific Symphony. Howard himself says that he knows far more about music than about visual art, with his website claiming classical and rock as his two favorite genres.
The Pacific Symphony was formed in 1978 as a collaboration between California State University, Fullerton and Orange County community leaders. The vision of the Pacific Symphony is to “lead a renaissance in the appreciation, accessibility and impact of classical music in Orange County and the region, through creativity, responsiveness and innovation.” They do this by “inspiring, engaging and serving Orange County and the region through exceptional music performances, and education and community programming.” For the last 30 years this mission has been enacted by Director Carl St. Claire.
The Pacific Symphony also offers education and musical training programs, such as the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO), Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble, and Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings.