donor spotlight: martha boschen porter

Every potter needs a kiln, every professional musician a tuxedo. These are basic requirements of the job. But for many artists, the costs to start – and keep – making art can be prohibitive.

Martha Boschen Porter understood this in her bones. An artist and photographer herself, Martha settled with her husband in Sharon, Conn., in 1959 and then moved to Salisbury for a few years until her death five years ago last month. She lived a long and creative life, pursuing twin passions of creating her own work and helping other creative people thrive. 

Through a private foundation she established, Martha began supporting artists in the Northwest Corner through individual grants for specific needs, in some 50 acts of generosity. 

In 2007, when she was 92, she turned to Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to help create a legacy that would survive her. She dissolved her foundation and established the Martha Boschen Porter Fund to support artists across the Berkshire Taconic region. 

When Martha died in 2011, the fund received a $1 million bequest from her estate. As a result, regional artists will have a powerful source of support for years to come.

Raised in rural New Jersey, Martha moved to New York City in the 1940s. She studied painting at the storied Art Students League, where Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock had been students. In a 2008 interview, she vividly remembered the sense of excitement and freedom that connected the artists and writers of the city during those years.

Still, the pleasures of rural life exerted their pull, and she and her husband moved full-time to the 18th-century Litchfield County house that had served as their weekend retreat. 

Martha promptly went to work at the Lakeville Journal. Equipped with a camera and darkroom equipment, she taught herself photography. Eventually, her work—art photography, images of architecture and industrial design—was widely published. 

When she began her work as a local philanthropist, she had a specific objective in mind. 

“My goal is to support artists who are not candidates for big grants,” she said. “In the arts, even modest amounts can make a huge difference.” One of the first grants she made was for that tuxedo, purchased by a musician who had immigrated from China.

Today, the Martha Boschen Porter Fund accepts applications from artists of every stripe: visual artists, writers and craftspeople; digital, installation and performance artists; and interpretive artists working in dance, music and other performing arts. Its focus is on emerging artists and those seeking to advance to the next level of their development.

Back in August 2007, when the fund made its first awards through Berkshire Taconic, a total of $4,500 went to five recipients.

Last year, the fund awarded $50,000, and in all, it has made 60 grants totaling over $175,000. Next month, the committee that makes grantmaking decisions will review this year’s applications. 

One recent recipient, Connecticut photographer John Atchley, has found the support from this fund transformative. “It’s a great grant,” he says. “It has helped to push my work in new directions.”

That’s just as Martha Boschen Porter would have wanted. An advocate for all forms of art and performance, Martha believed that nurturing individual creativity ultimately enriches communities. 

“I’m interested in work that can make an audience think or feel differently,” Martha said. “To me, that’s the true power of art.”