David Kaun

By Scott MacClelland9148-d3_David_Kaun_Santa_Cruz_Portrait_Photography-S

David E Kaun is a player. Instead of maintaining an IRS-anointed retirement account, he gives his money away. The officially retired UC Santa Cruz economics professor—who still teaches half time—used a small inheritance grown large through stock market investing and some of his income to support an eclectic assortment of regional non-profits. The one thing they have in common is music. They range from the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, to the El Sistema music program at Gault Elementary School in Santa Cruz, to a music program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison, to sustaining support for the Music in May chamber music festival.

But Kaun is probably most widely-known for Economics of the Arts courses that he teaches at UCSC’s Kresge College. Enrollments range from 100 to 150 students per session, about two thirds of whom are economics majors with the remainder from the arts curricula. (The next upper division version of the course, Monday and Wednesday at 5pm, starts October 6; auditors from the community are welcome to attend at Kresge 321.) For the last three class sessions each quarter, Kaun invites performing arts people as guest speakers. (He fondly tells of a visit by violinist Rebecca Jackson, of Music in May and the Cabrillo Festival orchestra, who spoke on the subject then stunned the students with the force and beauty of her playing. “They were spellbound,” he says.)

Until the1980s Kaun had played first chair clarinet with the Santa Cruz Symphony for 25 years. He still plays. “Two or three years ago I did a concert at the Santa Cruz library with (pianist) Lynn Kidder, one of their Munching with Mozart concerts. The audience ate their lunch while we had a terrific time.” Around the same time, he participated with the UCSC Wind Ensemble.

Philanthropy was always an important part of Kaun’s Jewish heritage. But it took on more gravity after he read Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, which argued that those who had gained wealth had a proportional obligation to use it to benefit their communities and society as a whole. (Carnegie described it as “the true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth.”) “I had recently taught a two-unit class on poverty,” Kaun explains. “From that moment I was completely persuaded.” He says his philanthropic priorities are (1) youth who are (2) disadvantaged, and (3) art. (He bends his own rules from time to time.) But he scored a hat trick when he commissioned John Wineglass to compose Someone Else’s Child for a Cabrillo Festival premiere in 2012. The orchestral piece wraps around a narration of poems written by residents at Santa Cruz Juvenile Hall.

Kaun decided he wanted to fund a clarinet program at UCSC. The music department instead asked that he support the recently established student resident string ensemble pursuant to building an orchestra. Kaun agreed with a $100K contribution. Today, the string quartet residency, under violin faculty Roy Malan, invites high school seniors to apply for scholarship support and gives the four accepted into the quartet $5,000 a year for four years. For the past fifteen years, Kaun has donated more than $700,000 to local and regional arts organizations. Today, his philanthropic model is $5,000 per year to a selected recipient for five years, verbally agreed. “I’m open to smaller contributions,” he says.

Although Kaun complains often and loudly about the lack of governmental support for the arts in the US, as compared in particular with the nations of Western Europe, he does acknowledge that American individuals, corporations and foundations give far more to the arts than their European counterparts. (To read his essay on the topic, click HERE.)

Meanwhile, he confesses that Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Festival’s parade of new orchestral music have soured him on the old classical canon—the music heard on classical radio stations, the music he himself used to play. “It bores me,” he says. He doesn’t begrudge the art itself but finds new experiences both more challenging, exciting and life-affirming. And even though he complains about traditional orchestra programming, “I love Danny Stewart,”–conductor of the Santa Cruz Symphony–and, after a long drought of support, agreed to fund Stewart’s 2014-15 season-opener.

Photo, Kaun at home with family portraits by Michele Giulvezan-Tanner