Arts Advocates: Tom Nielsen
Q&A with Tom Nielsen
Q. You have degrees in engineering and business, yet the arts hold a special place in your heart. Why is that?
TN: My mother was a piano teacher, and I played clarinet growing up so I always stayed involved with music through the marching band or the choir at church. When I went to the University of Washington, I was busy with civil engineering, so I set aside the arts. But that reawakened when I returned to Orange County and had the opportunity to work with local organizations including the Orange County Museum of Art, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.
Q. How did you become involved with CTSA specifically?
TN: My wife became involved with the school of the arts at UCI, and we attended social events together, although at the time, I was focused on other departments around the campus. My direct involvement with CTSA really developed over the last 10 years. My latest work with the school is a result of the relationship I have with Dean Stephen Barker, and his responsiveness to helping me understand the people and needs within the school, and his willingness to discuss different ideas about how we might work together.
Q. Over the years, in what ways have you supported the school?
TN: I’ve supported the school annually for 20 years. But, recently, I was in with Dean Barker and someone presented a need for sewing machines to help with productions. What they wanted seemed reasonable, so I provided the money. I’d never had such warm feedback on a single gift!
Q. Why did you choose to support that unique behind-the-scenes productions cost?
TN: It isn’t about the sewing machines themselves, it’s the people who use them and how they can be more efficient and effective. I enjoy those kinds of deeply meaningful contributions that are directly connected to people’s success. It makes the donor feel a lot better, and the response from the recipient is so enthusiastic, warm and welcome.
Q. Do you have a favorite experience, production or exhibition from CTSA over the years?
TN: I’ve always enjoyed Broadway productions, and I think CTSA does a great job with those. The most exciting event to me this year was the Claire Trevor Society welcome celebration. We got to hear from the department chairs and see work from each department: paintings on display, a wonderful dance routine, alumni from Broadway singing, and beautiful music being played. It gave us a chance to better understand what the whole school is about.
Q. Looking ahead, what are you most excited to see come to fruition through your philanthropic partnership with CTSA?
TN: I’ve become interested in making the Contemporary Arts Center the central focal point for the school. The people are what make CTSA special, not the building, but since I come from a buildings background, I know that the building could much better serve the people. I hope to help make that happen.