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Sunday, August 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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ArtsFund CEO playing a new tune

Seattle Times music critic

Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that "There are no second acts in American lives."

Many have proved that aphorism wrong, though few have had more fun doing it than Jim Tune. A Seattle lawyer at the top of his game — managing partner for two distinguished law firms, and voted a "Super Lawyer" for the past seven years — Tune tossed his legal career aside to take a completely new direction. In January, he succeeded Peter Donnelly as president and CEO of ArtsFund, a Seattle-based united fund for the arts that required a whole new skill set. Or so it would seem. Actually, Tune's existing skills have served him and the agency extremely well in the eight months of his new "second act." And to those who know him, Tune's turnaround was not exactly unexpected: "I always figured I would do something else than law. This was my opportunity to convert my avocation into a vocation."

Tune and his wife, Kathy, are surrounded by art — paintings, glass, all kinds of media — as they sit down to chat in an airy room off the kitchen of their Madison Park home. They bought the first house they looked at in 1974, when they moved to Seattle, and they've filled it with carefully chosen pieces that they love. For them, art isn't an investment; it's something they can't live without. Tune likes to quip that "Kathy would sell me before she'd sell that Sam Francis" (the American abstract expressionist painter, 1923-1994).

At ArtsFund, Peter Donnelly left some pretty big shoes to fill. He completely revamped the fund, then called the Corporate Council for the Arts, when he took over in 1989, adjusting its focus, changing its name, building a remarkably probing allocations system for grants, and working to create endowment funds that would provide income year after year. Donnelly also built ArtsFund into a communitywide resource and a clearinghouse of arts know-how. With an old theater director's savvy, he rounded up more than 1,000 arts workers, politicians, donors and artists into an annual luncheon, which proved such a landmark on the arts calendar that everyone has kept coming every year.

Star material

Donnelly thinks his successor is doing just fine.

"He has a real passion for the theater, and he was star material from the moment he got on the Seattle Rep's board," he says.

"I was delighted when he declared himself a candidate (for the ArtsFund presidency), but the real question I had was 'Why?' He had a very successful law career; he was highly respected. Why leave?"

Donnelly says it was the right time for Tune and his family, when he could "afford to take this kind of leap." But leaping isn't normally part of the Tune strategy: "He's much more organized and methodical than I am. I'm better at free-falling and landing on my feet; he uses a road map. But with that road map, he really knows the community. People know him and trust him already. With his great track record, everyone just fell in behind him. He knows where all the bodies are buried — and who buried them."

Grounded in visual arts

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Tune, now 64, hails from a small town in Virginia — Chatham — and there is still that tinge of the Suth'n gentleman in his speech. His childhood was well grounded in visual art, partly because his mother painted; he also played the trumpet in the band, and participated in high-school theater productions. As a University of Virginia undergraduate, he also was involved in the arts.

A Navy ROTC student, Tune also spent two years on a destroyer, and participated in the invasion of the Dominican Republic. He was the officer in charge of a Swift Boat in Vietnam, though he didn't know his fellow Swift Boater John Kerry, because the two were on different segments of the coast.

Tune's tour of duty concluded in Washington, D.C., where he met his wife. He had intended to work on a Ph.D. in political science, with Woodrow Wilson and Danforth Fellowships held in abeyance during his military service. Kathy, however, wanted to study in a linguistics program at Stanford.

"Why, that's west of the Alleghenies!" her startled husband replied.

They ended up at Stanford.

"This is the secret to our 37-year marriage: obedience!" Tune teases.

Tune switched to the law school at Stanford, and afterward the couple moved to Seattle. Kathy Tune had been working as a teacher in several grade levels (preschool through sixth grade).

Friends suggested they move to the Northwest, and the Tunes arrived during one of the nicest Seattle summers on record, in 1973.

"We explored the state, climbed The Brothers, walked in the rain forest, checked out Spokane. Seattle had a more settled feeling, more like an East Coast city than California, and the people were not so transient. I liked the change of seasons."

He joined the now-defunct firm of Bogle & Gates, where he stayed for 25 years (and was managing partner from 1986 to 1993). After that, he went to Dorsey & Whitney for a couple of years, then to Stoel Rives the past five years (three of those as managing partner).

During those years, Tune saw great change in the legal profession, including increased specialization that reflects the greater complexity of today's world. His focus was wide: litigation, banking, commercial and tax law ("I'm still dangerous in the tax area"). The pressure was intense, with a focus on more billable hours, personal productivity and bringing in new clients.

Still, Tune says he found "an enormous amount of personal satisfaction in doing my job well as a lawyer. Putting together a good contract is like a craftsperson looking at what he created and thinking, 'Hot damn, that worked.' There were times when what I did in six or seven hours was worth several million dollars to the client."

A persuasive advocate

But the Super Lawyer always had a hankering for the arts. Even in their starving-student days, when the Tunes relied on a corner grocery that sold 10 pounds of hamburger for $6.90, they eked out enough money to buy a painting here and there (starting with their honeymoon).

Those 32 years as a Seattle Rep season ticket holders weren't enough; the Tunes didn't get to the opera, symphony, ballet or other theater nearly as often as they would like. Meanwhile, Donnelly arm-wrestled Tune onto the Rep board, where he did the legal work to set up the Rep Foundation and helped put together the Leo K. Theatre.

"That was the first time I discovered I could ask people for money," Tune observes.

That ability has come in handy. Now Tune is a very persuasive advocate of not only corporate support, but also individual workplace giving for the arts — often right alongside workplace giving campaigns for United Way.

"People should support both," says Tune, who also is a former chair of the United Way board. He quotes philanthropist Millard H. Pryor Jr., who says: "Giving to social-purpose organizations supports a community's needs. Giving to arts and heritage organizations supports its assets. Great communities do both."

In Seattle, ArtsFund's workplace giving programs netted $400,000 this year, but Tune notes that a similar program in Cincinnati brought in $7 million, with $6 million in Milwaukee and Charlotte. Such programs, he feels, are "good for the ecology of the arts."

"Stepping up the game"

Tune has more plans for ArtsFund, including "stepping up the game" in Pierce County (ArtsFund serves both King and Pierce Counties, but the former gets the lion's share), and investigating possible expansion to Snohomish County.

He'd also like to expand ArtsFund's grants to the smaller arts groups, who "sail close to the wind" and need more support. Tune also has his eye on Olympia, where the "Building for the Arts" program — originated by an ArtsFund and Boeing — has channeled more than $42 million into the region's capital arts facilities since 1991.

Taking a hands-on approach, Tune is working his way through all 70 of the arts groups his agency funds, giving them feedback about how they're doing and how they can improve. According to attorney and ArtsFund executive committee member Mark Paben, Tune also is an excellent communicator with his board and staff: "His weekly e-mail reports to the board, called 'Board Talks,' work wonderfully to keep us informed, engaged and entertained. He energizes the board, business and arts communities alike with his focus, intellect, arts savoir-faire, wit and business acumen. He's made an exceptional entrance into the arts administration arena, leading with distinctive style and flair."

All the serious stuff aside, the Tunes are having the time of their lives, now that their two children are educated and launched, and the legal career has been set aside. They're out to arts events three nights a week, sampling everything from niche theater to chamber music and even the complete Wagnerian "Ring" (last summer), which was "a revelation."

Is Tune happy with his own "second act"? You bet.

"I've finally found a job," he says, "that "gets me up in the morning with my tail wagging."

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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