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A Worldly Influencer Fostering the Arts at Duke

October 14, 2019 | by Greg Jenkins


A masterclass in the Rubenstein Arts Center taught by ABT Studio Company’s current Ballet Mistress Petrusjka Broholm. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.

Patty Morton ’77, P’06 was a small child when she began to understand the transformative power of the arts. Her family lived in Paris, Rome and London, enthusiastically immersing themselves in European culture: museums, ballets, symphonies and more. “That was the spark and the seed of my love for the arts,” she says. “It opened my eyes to what was possible.”

Morton, elected to the Duke Board of Trustees in 2015, has become a powerhouse in cultivating the university’s rapidly expanding arts landscape. Thanks to friendships gained as an alumna and a patron of the arts, Morton was able to help Duke create and fund a prominent three-year partnership with American Ballet Theatre (ABT). She and ABT executive director Kara Barnett ’00 are friends, making the partnership a truly rewarding experience.

As a trustee, Morton has provided a valuable perspective to administrators, while Duke embarks on a renewed vision for the arts under the leadership of President Price. The arts culture at Duke is fueled by remarkable visiting artists like the dancers of American Ballet Theatre, and Morton is pleased that ABT principal dancers are coming to North Carolina for the first time in over 50 years. The company is scheduled to perform “Giselle” March 26-29, 2020, at Durham Performing Arts Center.

“We are so fortunate to have this opportunity for students, faculty and dancers from the local community to engage with such a remarkable dance program,” Morton says.

Formative years for arts appreciation

When her family returned home to Pittsburgh from Europe, Morton’s arts appreciation continued to grow. Flourishing steel mills and other industries brought wealth to the city, which in turn expanded its arts and culture. Highlights included the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Frick Art Museum and musical genius André Previn directing the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Morton took arts appreciation courses in high school and applied to an up-and-coming college in the South.

“Duke was open and welcoming to those who were curious,” Morton says. She wasn’t involved in the arts as a student, but it wasn’t long after graduating that she reengaged with arts passions that were sparked during her time abroad.

While employed at J.P. Morgan, she lived and worked for 15 years in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and London, all cosmopolitan locations with vibrant and diverse arts cultures. Living in London as an adult, Morton was able to expose her children to the arts in the same way she had been as a child.

It was during this period that she and her husband, Thruston, began collecting visual art. Morton describes collecting as taking her arts appreciation to the next level. “Collecting art requires context and understanding,” she says. At Duke, Thruston and Patty found ample opportunity to make meaningful investments in the arts.

Patty Morton headshot
Duke trustee Patty Morton was instrumental in launching the university’s landmark three-year partnership with American Ballet Theatre.

A Duke homecoming

When her family moved to Durham in 2002 for Thruston to take the helm DUMAC (Duke’s investing arm), the family had a well-developed worldview of arts appreciation and philanthropy. Morton quickly became reconnected at Duke, working on President Nan Keohane’s women’s initiative and joining the board of the brand-new Nasher Museum of Art.

The Nasher Museum came at the right time and provided the right opportunity for Morton. She became more deeply involved with Duke’s arts administrators as the university was dramatically increasing ways that students could participate in the arts.

“Being involved with the arts at a university enriches one’s arts experience many times over,” Morton says. “If you instill a love for the arts early in students’ lives, they will be empathetic and curious. Art takes on tough, difficult social issues — if you are uncomfortable, you’re learning.”

As the dance M.F.A. program was readied for launch and the Rubenstein Arts Center was being built, Morton conceptualized the ABT partnership with her friend Barnett. She worked closely with Duke to engage prospective donors to launch the landmark partnership. One year in, the residency is exceeding Duke’s and ABT’s expectations.

“Duke and ABT together bring an expertise and a passion to create an amazing partnership,” Morton says. “This collaborative approach is why Duke will continue to excel."

About the author

Greg Jenkins

Greg Jenkins Senior Development Writer

Greg’s work includes publications, proposals, reports, collateral materials and web content. He joined University Development in July 2012 after a stint with Duke Medicine Marketing & Creative Services. Before that, Greg worked as editor of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine, and spent more than a decade as a sportswriter covering everything from Little League to ACC basketball. A North Carolina native and lifelong resident, he holds a BA in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill and lives in Durham with his wonderful wife and two young sons.

Greg Jenkins can be contacted via email or by phone at (919) 684-5252.

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