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James Collier

Backstage: Philanthropist supports 17 arts organizations

Philanthropist James M. Collier and Brava! Opera Theater are presenting San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Grand Opera Concert on Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Mountain Avenue Theatre in Ashland as part of the James M. Collier Young Artist Program.

Collier supports 17 performing arts organizations, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Rogue Valley Symphony, the Britt Festival, Chamber Music Concerts, the Repertory Singers and the Camelot Theatre. We met at his gracious home overlooking the Rogue Valley.

JC: The first Oregon Shakespeare Festival production that I saw was in 1970. I fell in love with the live performance, and everything started to fall into place. It’s wonderful to have all of these arts associations here in the Valley, and the talent — the teachers, the actors and actresses, all of the other performers, and all of the coaches, the support people, and the lighting technicians, sound technicians and costumers, all the phases of live performance. I’m very happy to be able to be involved in supporting the whole panorama of these kinds of activities for live performance around here.

EH: How did it happen that you became such a generous donor?

JC: A family inheritance came my way. I inherited this money after I retired from teaching. Consequently, I came into it later in life. Had I had the money as a young person, I probably would have bought sport cars and homes, and all the ostentatious objects of wealth. Instead, because I had already done my work as a high school English teacher, and I had done some traveling, I’d gone beyond all that. When I got the money, I wasn’t so interested in the showing off of wealth. So therefore, I decided to support organizations that bring live entertainment and enjoyment to people.

EH: When you were an English teacher, did you bring your students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival?

JC: I took them to Europe instead. I took my students on tours in the northern European countries. When we were in the cities, we’d go to live performances. In London we went to many plays and museums.

I felt our students should get away from the swimming pools, the cars, and the other things that teenagers get involved with, and give them some cultural experience. I think it’s wonderful that they become aware of aspects of the arts that have stood for centuries. Later in my teaching career, I specialized in Shakespeare. That’s why I’m here.

The majority of my gifts are to arts organizations here in the Valley. I get continual thanks here, there, and everywhere. I’m doing one thing after another, and it brings me great enjoyment and other people enjoyment; to me that’s very important.

In this area, we have many very skilled people in the various arts, to enhance the quality of the performance product. All the products are so varied, and some of them are different qualities than others, so I don’t quite do all of the performing arts, but I do the majority, and probably the better known ones. I tend to look for quality in whatever the group is, and also youth oriented ones. I have a soft spot in my heart for young people.

EH: Is there a magic that happens during live performances?

JC: I think it is a transport from the real world to the world of creativity.

Brava! Opera Theater and James M. Collier Young Artist Program present San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Grand Opera Concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Mountain Avenue Theatre, 201 South Mountain Ave, Ashland. Tickets (adults, $25; students, $5) are available online at www.bravaopera.com and by phone at 800-901-7173, ext. 3 ($4 per phone order). Call Brava! Opera Theater at 541-261-5776 for more information.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog at ashlandtheater.wordpress.com. Email her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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