I love Isamu Noguchi.  I have spent hours at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, NY, looking at the large outdoor pieces at Storm King Art Center.  I find his sculptures to be powerful, graceful, and inspiring.  Recently, I have discovered yet another reason to adore his work:  Noguchi supports nursing.     

In 2005, Barbara and Donald Jonas sold 15 works from their collection of postwar art, including two Noguchi pieces, yielding $44.2 million from which they created The Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence.  “The art was always going to be given at our death to charity,” says Donald Jonas, a former retailing executive and the Center’s co-founder with Barbara Jonas, his wife.  “”But as the value of the work kept appreciating, the thought was, why not give ourselves the joy of doing it in our lifetime?”      

 The Jonases – after considerable research – decided to invest in nursing. “We began this journey because we had been stunned to learn that nurses, in whose hands we all place our trust and care at some point in our lives, had few advocates in the philanthropic, business or legislative communities,” said Donald Jonas.      

“Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, but they are under-appreciated by the public and the philanthropic community,” said Barbara Jonas. “We have a responsibility as a society to support nurses and provide the tools and education so they can continue in their vital roles at the height of their potential and capabilities. Essentially, we need to care for them so they will continue to care for us.”      

Mr. and Mrs. Jonas recognized early on that the nursing faculty shortage forces schools to turn away at least 60,000 qualified nursing applicants annually.  They subsequently tailored a program of funding around this issue.  In 2008, the Jonas Center supported six scholars.  Today, the program boasts students at nearly two dozen of the nation’s leading academic institutions.      

Given the alignment of our strategic visions to grow nursing faculty, in 2010, the Jonas Center partnered with the Hartford Foundation on an initiative to support a Jonas Scholar at each of the nine Hartford Centers of Geriatric Nursing Excellence.  According to Dr. Patricia Archbold, Director of the Hartford-funded Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity Initiative, “Our partnership is exciting and productive.  The Scholars’ commitment to strengthening care for older persons in community settings and older persons with mental illness is inspiring.  These are the future leaders our country needs to improve health care of older people.”      

 On April 13, 2011, Barbara and Donald Jonas, together with 300 of their closest friends from the nursing and art worlds, celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Jonas Center.  The event was held at Christie’s, the art auction house where it all began.  During this celebration, the hosts announced the expansion of the Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholars program with an additional 100 doctoral nursing scholarships to be funded nationwide by 2012.  At least 25 scholarships will go to members of the military who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  As a result of this expansion, there will be a total of 150 Jonas Scholars educating the next generation of nurses and improving patient care.     

“Improving the future of nursing is perhaps the single most powerful thing we can do to affect health care nationally – and permanently,” said Barbara Jonas. “This initiative had its genesis in some of the art world’s greatest talent.  It somehow seems appropriate that the Jonas Center’s work is fostering extraordinary talent, knowledge, and skill in the art of healing.”      

The Hartford Foundation is proud to do this work together.  And like Noguchi's art, I find this powerful, graceful, and inspiring.      

Below: Jonas Center video with comments from Hartford’s Board Chair Norman Volk and Executive Director Corinne Rieder