Ted Culter with his late wife, Joan.

Credit: Courtesy of Emerson College

A Farewell To Boston Arts Legend Ted Cutler

March 31, 2017

I last saw Ted Cutler just a few weeks ago. It was the opening of Boston Lyric Opera’s 'The Rakes Progress.' He was acknowledged from the stage, as he was time and time again all across Boston, for his role in supporting the company and the production. Fittingly, it was inside the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College—the theater district landmark that now bears his name for how vociferously he championed its restoration and renovation. It struck me that afternoon that, even in his advancing years, Ted continued to be indefatigable. He was a landmark institution in and of himself, or as I once wrote of him, he was a superhero—just without the cape.

I knew Ted Cutler both professionally and personally. As a fellow Emerson graduate covering the arts, he saw me at the cross-section of two of his sweet spots. What I saw in him was a monument to pure philanthropy and altruism. Ted supported the arts because he fundamentally believed they helped make the world a better place. “A city without performing arts is a dead city,” he once told me matter-of-factly. Ted graduated from Emerson College in 1951 and founded a music agency booking performers including Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis, Jr.  He later found considerable financial success in the corporate travel and convention business. In his later years, he and his late wife Joan invested a sizable portion of their fortune in shoring up Boston’s arts and culture landscape.

Ted was an icon at Emerson College where he was a trustee and Chair of the Board from 2001-2007 spearheading numerous initiatives including the Majestic renovation and new facilities for its radio station, WERS. Ted supported a lengthy roster of Boston institutions including Boston Ballet, Boston Lyric Opera, the Anti-Defamation League, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and the Greater Boston Food Bank. And he didn’t just write checks. Always, dapper in his perfectly tailored suits, Ted was a fixture at opening nights across the city.

In 2013 he founded Outside the Box, the summer arts festival he conceived as an opportunity to bring free performances to a huge swath of the population and most importantly children.  “If these kids don’t get the opportunity to see the performing arts…we’re going to lose a generation of kids,” he told me in 2015.  And when he struggled to find other funders to support the festival and its mission, he simply wrote most of the checks himself.

What I loved about Ted is that whenever I saw him, which was quite regularly, he always launched past the pleasantries and directly into what he thought was most astonishing, most deserving of support and most worthy of coverage on the arts scene. There was no time for small talk. He was always more concerned with addressing the most pressing matters. In a city that relies heavily on its benefactors, in an age in which arts sit squarely in political crosshairs, Ted Cutler leaves an epic legacy and lesson.


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