Ralph Burgard, Advocate for Arts Programs, Dies at 81
Published: July 10, 2008
Ralph Burgard, a leader in the movement to create arts programs in communities around the country, died on July 3 at his home in Duxbury, Mass. He was 81.
Ralph Waite Burgard was born in Buffalo on June 22, 1927. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1949. Three years later he was named manager of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, in Providence. In 1955 he became director of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem, N.C., the nation’s first local arts council. Then, from 1957 to 1965, he was director of the St. Paul Council of Arts and Sciences, in Minnesota.
From 1965 to 1970 Mr. Burgard was the first director of the Arts Councils of America, an organization (now known as Americans for the Arts) that brings together private groups, government agencies, educators and donors to build local cultural programs. The organization currently has a membership of more than 5,000 groups and individuals.
While director of Arts Councils of America, Mr. Burgard wrote “Arts in the City” (1968), a book in which he argued that decentralized, local cultural institutions “rooted in local history and traditions” could transform not just towns and cities, but also neighborhoods in large urban areas.
“I’ve always believed that the arts are the antennae of the human race,” Mr. Burgard wrote.
Two years after publishing the book he started Burgard Associates, a planning company that helped develop arts programs in several cities, including Charlotte, N.C., and Santa Cruz, Calif.
Concerned about the lack of arts education for children in poor communities, Mr. Burgard started the A+ Schools Program in 1988. Its comprehensive arts curriculum is now offered to 18,000 students in 42 public schools in North Carolina.
Mr. Burgard’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his wife, Marjorie, he is survived by a brother, Edward, of Kimberling City, Mo.; two sons, Christopher, of Putnam Valley, N.Y., and Timothy, of San Francisco; a daughter, Nadia Fonstein of Brooklyn; four step-children, Russell Burbridge, William Burbridge and Dianne Brown, all of Beaufort, N.C., and Richard Burbridge of Hingham, Mass.; and five grandchildren.