On a steamy hot summer day in July, 2015, Ted Cutler sat relaxed at a table on the Boston Common, holding court at the reception area for “Outside the Box,” a free, multi-day festival of music and the arts.
Cutler, in his 80s, was in his element. The musician-turned-businessman-turned-philanthropist was the sponsor of the multimillion-dollar event, the second year he presented this cultural gift of concerts, plays and other arts happenings to his beloved city where he was born.
In conceiving the idea over a period of several years, Cutler said he wanted the festival to be a professional platform for the city’s large pool of talented musicians and performers who are often relegated to performing in synagogues and church basements.
But his big aspiration was to offer Boston residents, especially its children and families – the chance to experience high caliber arts and entertainment free of charge. He was troubled by the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots in his city and other urban areas.
“They can’t afford to take their kids to a baseball game or to the theater because it’s an expensive evening,” he lamented. “They should not be deprived of the opportunity,” he said in a conversation at the 2015 festival.
“The way we do it, we make the whole city feel welcome. Everybody in the city is welcome, every kid in the city,” adding with pride that in the prior year, some 50,000 kids took part in the events.
“It’s such a good thing for kids. It makes me feel terrific,” he said.
Cutler, of Newton and Falmouth, a visionary arts patron whose charitable giving included Jewish causes, hospitals and feeding the hungry in Boston and Israel, died Thursday, March 30, at 86.
Cutler, who served in the early 2000s as board chairman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and also as a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is being remembered for his passion and devotion to the city where he rose from meager beginnings as the son of Jewish immigrants to become one of Boston’s most beloved and influential philanthropic leaders. “Ted was a person whom others instinctively trusted – he was so genuine, and he so clearly cared about the well-being of his friends and family,” said longtime CJP President Barry Shrage.
Over the years, he served as an influential leader on the board of a number of institutions including Emerson College, his alma mater; Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and the Boston Ballet.
Over 25 years, Cutler and his late wife, Joan, donated tens of million of dollars to human services, education, arts and health care, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told the Boston Globe. “…it’s a shame his very gentlemanly and old-fashioned manner and kindness won’t be with us anymore,” the Globe reported. Baker said his wife, Laura, once described Cutler as a sweet man. “I thought that was exactly right,” he told the Globe.
His passion for music and the arts transformed the city’s theater and arts world, notably restoring the century-old Cutler-Majestic Theater, as well as the Paramount Theatre, both owned by Emerson College.
Cutler led a $35 million campaign for a new building for the Greater Boston Food Bank that opened in 2009. “He believed everyone has a right to three meals a day,” its chief executive Catherine D’Amato told the Boston Globe.
“Ted clearly articulated the moral imperative of Jews to give back, to make sure that the Jewish community would be there for those in need,” according to Steve Grossman, former Massachusetts Treasurer and a long time leader and philanthropist in Jewish and arts institutions. Grossman and his wife, Barbara, a theater historian at Tufts University and vice chair of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, knew Cutler and his wife, Joan, over many years.
Cutler grew up on Blue Hills Avenue in Dorchester, one of two sons of David and Mary (Baron) Cutler, His father was in the fruit business. As a teen, Cutler played bass in a cowboy band, along with his friend Jerry Benard. He worked his way through Emerson College, graduating in 1951, and entered the world of business booking bands. He branched out to the wider world of business, from charter tour companies with another childhood friend, Irwin Chafetz, and later in the entertainment, hospitality and conventions, where he earned his wealth. Among his other business partners was another childhood friend, Sheldon Adelson; their joint ventures, with others, included the purchase of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
In 1953, Cutler married Joan Berman, with whom he shared a lifelong love affair, Grossman recalled.
“You never saw them together when they weren’t smiling and enjoying life,” Grossman added.
Cutler was a generous donor to CJP and supported a pivotal program at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, along with Adelson, that sent freshmen Republican congressional members to Israel.
Cutler poured his creative instincts and millions of dollars of his personal wealth into “Outside the Box,” reflecting his belief in the power of arts and culture to transform lives for people from all across the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
“The things I do, I do for the city I love,” he said. “What else can I say? That makes me happy.”
Cutler is survived by three children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Funeral services were held last Sunday at Temple Israel in Boston.