From contemporary art to opera, you could say St. Louis is packed to the rafters—or rather, to the top of the Arch—with art. The organizations behind these creative spaces and spectacles need financial support. Luckily for them, the terms 'Susan Sherman' and 'arts fundraiser' are practically synonymous in St. Louis.
But Sherman's first local fundraising work started with a different philanthropic cause. "I came [to St. Louis] in '93; and in '96 I chaired this big event for Saint Louis Effort for AIDS," Sherman says. "The only gal I knew here asked me to co-chair…and I think that was the beginning."
Since the Saint Louis Effort for AIDS Mardi Gras Ball, Sherman has served as chair or co-chair of the Women of Achievement Luncheon, Contemporary Art Museum's Grand Opening Gala, Dance St. Louis' Ballet Ball, the Contemporary Art Museum's Dada Ball, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Gala, Forest Park Forever's Hiram W. Leffingwell Award 'Hat' Luncheon and the Siteman Cancer Center Gala.
Sherman enjoys being a team player, noting how wonderful working with a co-chair can be. She specifically mentions Alison Ferring, with whom she worked alongside for the recent Opera Theatre of St. Louis '27' Gala.
When serving as an event chair or co-chair, Sherman says she likes to delegate tasks to the committee. "I see the role of chair as a cheerleader and motivator; someone who can run meetings and make others feel good about the roles they've undertaken."
What does Sherman prefer to do herself? It's the task that makes many uncomfortable. "I actually love to raise money, and I don't mind making the ask," she says.
Sherman is the former chair of the Contemporary Art Museum and the president of Susan Sherman Inc. She co-founded The Fashion Lab at Craft Alliance Center Art + Design, and now serves as chairman of the board for the new Saint Louis Fashion Fund. "Saint Louis Fashion Fund is a new nonprofit that was launched in May and was formed to help strengthen the fashion community, to support emerging fashion designers, and to bring fashion education and outreach to St. Louis." She says that the ultimate goal is to build a fashion incubator, which she estimates could open in two to three years. "We want to try to bring the business of fashion back to St. Louis."
The community has taken notice of her hard work over the years: Sherman was a Women of Achievement Arts Leadership honoree in 2006, in addition to being named a Grand Center Visionary Awards recipient the same year.
Sherman says she is now hoping to pass the torch and make the Saint Louis Fashion Fund her main focus for the next few years. For those up to the challenge of chairing similar fundraising events, Sherman recommends working with organizations that you feel enthusiastic about.
"For me, it's the joy that you get for making a goal and giving back," Sherman says. "It's kind of made my life here. I've gotten involved with several organizations that are now near and dear to my heart."