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Kohl’s Heart Is Filled With Passion for the Arts

First published in the Oct. 20 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.

By Natalie Miranda
The Outlook

Music is a universal source of expression and feeling, a vessel that transports its creators and listeners alike to a different place and time — it’s transcendent and transformative.

For Terri Kohl, music is all of that and more, wrapped into a gift of love — one that she and the Blue Ribbon, the premier women’s support organization of the Music Center, have been providing through their commitment to arts education, volunteerism and financial patronage.

Kohl, the group’s president, champions the Blue Ribbon’s mission to raise funds for the Music Center and its resident companies: the L.A. Opera, the L.A. Philharmonic, the L.A. Master Chorale and Center Theatre Group, as well as Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

The Blue Ribbon was created in 1968 by the Music Center’s founder, Dorothy Buffum Chandler. Since its inception five decades ago, the Blue Ribbon has raised more than $78 million for the Music Center’s resident companies and arts education programs. In that time, the Blue Ribbon has become far more than a fundraising organization — it represents the core of civic duty.

The bow on top of the women’s efforts is their annual signature event, the Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival, the largest free arts education program that brings more than 18,000 5th-graders to the Music Center each spring and has hosted more than 875,000 students since 1970. The event also gives students the opportunity to experience a performance by a professional dance company, offering some of them their first glimpse into performing arts, in addition to the children putting on a dance of their own.

The next festival will be March 28-30 at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Photo courtesy Blue Ribbon
Terri Kohl (center) is flanked by fellow Pasadena residents Kathleen Kane Eberhardt, Annette Ermshar, Valerie Foster Hoffman and Nancy Van Tuyle.

“We really try to open doors for these kids,” Kohl said. “If they have access to live performances, it can bring new adventures to them. We’re hoping to provide them with great experiences and encourage them to venture out and try dancing, music and whatever it is they might be interested in — to change their lives.”

Kohl, a longtime lover of rock ‘n’ roll and a new admirer of the classical genre, said immersing herself in live music changed her life. Since dating her now husband, Jerry, the couple have been frequent attendees of live music, visiting venues like the Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl on a weekly basis. It’s a pastime she believes shouldn’t be a luxury, but a necessity in the lives of today’s youth.

“Live music opens up your world,” Kohl said. “It’s like oxygen, for kids especially. It’s so great for them to learn about the arts. It has the power to change how they look at and hear things. I’m hoping that it spurs them on and inspires the next generation of performers.”

Both Terri and Jerry Kohl’s philanthropic efforts and passion for the arts run deep. One of their donations included a $5 million gift and a challenge grant in support of the L.A. Opera Orchestra and the company’s post-COVID recovery — the largest pandemic-era gift the company has received to date — making the couple among the largest donors in L.A. Opera history. They have also given a $1 million challenge grant, with a $500,000 gift to the Music Center’s TMC Arts Fund and the Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival Endowment that the couple matched dollar-for-dollar to advance transformative arts experiences for students and all Angelenos, and separately provided more than 2,000 guitars for Pasadena Unified School District students.

Kohl recalled growing up in a public school system with an arts education program; however, today many students don’t have adequate access, if any at all — depriving some children of the joy and discovery of music, dancing, singing and theater early on in life.

To increase that access, Kohl is supporting an initiative — Proposition 28 — that garnered 1 million signatures and has qualified to be on the Nov. 8 ballot, which if passed, would boost funding for arts and music education across California public schools.

“Every child is entitled to have music in their lives — it’s essential,” Kohl said.

Kohl stepped into her role as the Blue Ribbon president in 2019, with her two-year term extended an additional year because of COVID shutdowns.

“Her challenge was to keep our members connected and engaged for nearly two years before we could again schedule in-person activities,” said Suzy Boyett, director of the Blue Ribbon. “Terri kept our members involved and stimulated by scheduling regular Zoom events on all sorts of interesting topics. … As other organizations struggled to maintain their membership, we were regularly welcoming new members.

“We frequently get messages from our members praising her leadership during this challenging time,” she added. “Terri was put in the very difficult role of keeping donors connected and she definitely rose to the occasion.”

Beyond leadership responsibilities, Kohl said she has gained a sense of sisterhood since joining the Blue Ribbon 16 years ago.

“This opportunity has opened me up to new friendships — to women I may have never met otherwise,” Kohl said. “It’s pretty magical. We have a very special group of ladies, a group full of support.”

Boyett agrees with that notion and said she has found a friend in Kohl while helping to meet the Blue Ribbon’s goals.

“Terri is a very kind and compassionate person, and I so enjoyed working with her,” Boyett said. “Much more than a donor or a boss, I feel like Terri has become a real friend. She cares deeply about people and is devoted to her family. I love that she shares photos from her many activities, and I often laugh to myself that I might have more photos of her adorable grandkids than I have of my own children.

“Terri is extremely generous with her time and her resources, and the Blue Ribbon and the Music Center have been the lucky recipients,” she added.

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