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Two Dancers Performing on Stage

Collective Interests

Trustee and multi-decade donor Lillian Lovelace supports her diverse passions at UCSB

Not too long into their tenure as Santa Barbara residents, Lillian Lovelace and her husband Jon attended a dinner party with some unique entertainment: seated performers dancing only with their hands. The piece had been choreographed by Jerry Pearson, then artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT), UCSB’s resident professional dance company.

Captivated by the work — and by Pearson, at the time also a professor of dance — they started supporting SBDT. It was the couple’s first philanthropic connection to UCSB, one that would last more than a decade and set the stage for what became, and is, Lovelace’s expansive generosity to the campus.

Lillian Lovelace and Bill Moyers
Lillian Lovelace and Bill Moyers

“That’s the kind of thing we always liked to do — to support something we really believe in and want to see continue,” Lovelace said, “especially if there are people involved whom we believe in and think what they are doing is very special. Across the university there are so many academic achievements and activities in the arts departments that it's been thrilling to live in Santa Barbara with an institution of such quality.”

Over three decades of engagement (and counting) with UC Santa Barbara, Lovelace, a UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee since 2006, has provided significant funding for myriad events of UCSB Arts & Lectures and for several exhibitions at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum. In addition, Lillian and Jon were major donors on renovations to both Theater and Dance’s main stage, Hatlen Theater, and the adjacent dance building, where a pair of studios bear their names.

Jon Lovelace served decades at the helm of Capital Research and Management Company. A prominent and well-regarded philanthropist, he was for many years chairman of the board of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

At UCSB, the cumulative impact of the Lovelaces’ longtime support extends beyond the arts and into the humanities more broadly, by way of the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life. 

A spontaneous conversation during an East Coast getaway with friends including Norman Lear and Bill Moyers inspired the Lovelaces to fund a unique series that was among the center’s first major programs. 

“We all spent the weekend talking about religion and ethics in politics and governance,” recalled Lovelace. “Part of this group was Martin Marty, a professor and well-known lecturer and author in that field. We had a fun weekend talking about very deep questions that we all wanted to have answers for — and still do, now more than ever.” 

William DOLE , Abecedarium (Discorso), 1975
William DOLE (United States, 1917 - 1983) Abecedarium (Discorso), 1975 (Detail), Screenprint with hand-coloring Gift of Lillian and Jon Lovelace

So launched the Capps Center’s Martin E. Marty Lectureship on Religion in American Life, established with an endowment by the Lovelaces in 2004. The inaugural lecture in 2005, by Marty himself, has been followed every year with luminaries including Bill Moyers and E.J. Dionne. 

Following their mutual interest in such issues — and a belief in the importance of early engagement — soon led the Lovelaces to support students, too. Lillian Lovelace for many years has sponsored Capps Center Public Service Interns working in Washington D.C., Sacramento, and local nonprofits.

“Jon and I felt strongly that that’s where help was needed,” Lovelace said of their focus on students. “I think young people really need to be involved in the public process, in governance, in politics. If they’re better educated in these things earlier, they’ll better understand the importance of voting, of turning up to the polls and supporting their candidates. And they really get a feeling of what governance is all about.”

Lillian Lovelace has a strong belief in the importance of giving. Taught from an early age to get involved and give back — her parents were active in social issues, civil rights and the arts — she has adhered to those lessons her entire life. As she eloquently explains: “I’ve always believed in helping and supporting the people I want to see succeed in their humanitarian efforts in bringing excellence to not only the cultural world but the academics of education as well.”