Ken O’Brien sought a way to commemorate his late father and founder of Music and Arts Centers, Benjamin O’Brien.
An avid music lover, Ken O’Brien had attended concerts at Strathmore since the opening of the Music Center in February 2005. He felt that a contribution to Strathmore — its acclaimed concert hall and the vision of its founders — served as an indisputable place to honor his father. His donation of $150,000 to the capital campaign at Strathmore and commission of a sculpture, "Tetra Con Brio," by artist Roger Stoller to be installed in the fall, as well as his continuing generosity to and support of Strathmore’s educational programs and mission, has earned him a place on the board of Strathmore Hall Foundation, Inc.
"Involvement with Strathmore was natural because of the location, the Rockville Pike, which is home of Music and Arts Center. To be involved in a homegrown organization like Strathmore is just perfect and it’s in part a continuation of the legacy my father started — a lot of the performers and audience were students of Music and Arts. It is great to be a part of a place that has such deep roots and is so close to my family’s work," O’Brien said.
The Strathmore board members, who number 30 and serve three-year terms, come from all walks of life.
"The board, that’s kind of like a Noah’s Ark — not too many of one thing, but lots of different, creating a sort of matrix. There are people who are corporate, like representatives from Marriott, Comcast, and Discovery, there are people not in ‘job titles’ but who are active in the community," said Eliot Pfanstiehl, president and CEO of Strathmore.
O’Brien’s business acumen and reputation as a philanthropist makes him an asset to Strathmore, said fellow board member Catherine Milroy, as does his career and life work with the Music and Arts Center, that so closely match Strathmore’s goals. "[O’Brien is] a hard person not to walk away from and not have very strong … positive impressions, about," she said.
A LIFELONG resident of the Potomac area, O’Brien is the president of Music and Arts Center, an 89-store chain that was recently acquired by the Guitar Center.
When Music and Arts was opened in 1952 in Bethesda, it was a facility not unlike the Levine School of Music. Benjamin O’Brien.
offered music, dance and drama lessons and sold art supplies and musical instruments. Today the store continues to offer lessons and helps facilitate student involvement in music.
Ken O’Brien’s munificence towards Strathmore has extended beyond his monetary contributions to the facility. He has donated instruments to Strathmore educational programs and to the music program at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School, in Silver Spring. His work at Loiederman is a joint project with Strathmore, which gives arts resources to the school, bringing children from Loiederman to Strathmore’s Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane facilities. Strathmore adopted the newly built middle school after the untimely death of Strathmore’s president of the board of directors, for whom the school is named.
WHILE O’BRIEN’S INVOLVEMENT on the board will be balanced with his continuing work at the Music and Arts Center, he is committed to promoting Strathmore and its mission within Montgomery County and beyond.
"I have no predetermined goals or ideas. I think I work well with people, I think I can sell a good idea, or sell a good product, and Strathmore has a wonderful product and a wonderful set of services. I’m sure [the board’s] responsibility is to let other people know how great Strathmore is, entice more performers there, get more corporate organizations to sponsor it," O’Brien said.
"We were fortunate to find him," Pfanstiehl said. "Boards of non-profit organizations mostly reach out to other people to bring them into the institution that they represent and get them involved. People can’t do that unless they’ve been generous and have contributed to the institution."