Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Americans for the Arts leadership and staff are saddened to learn of the passing of longtime partner, patron, and friend William (Bill) J. Lehr Jr. His legacy of support for arts advocacy, both nationally and in his home state of Pennsylvania, will live on in the many nonprofits, public-private organizations, government entities, and the lives of individual artists that he impacted during his decades long leadership and support in the arts sector.
Lehr was instrumental in founding Americans for the Arts in 1996, having joined the board of its predecessor organization, the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, in 1993. He played a pivotal role in Americans for the Arts’ success, serving a combined tenure spanning almost 30 years on its board of directors, occupying numerous leadership positions including Board Chair and Director Emeritus along the way.
Lehr also was a founding board member of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund in 2004 and remained an active board member until his passing. He was particularly noted for leading the creation of the Arts Action Fund’s connected Political Action Committee in 2005 and serving as the PAC’s Chair and largest donor for 17 consecutive years.
In his time with the organization, Lehr was instrumental in spearheading work on numerous fronts, including the creation of the Americans for the Arts Foundation in 2007. His special interest in supporting the long-term professional growth and development of community arts leaders is reflected in the Bill and Beverlee Lehr Fund, which he and his wife established at the Americans for the Arts Foundation in 2008. In 2017, he was honored at the National Arts Awards with Americans for the Arts’ Legacy Award, which recognizes artists and art leaders who exhibit exemplary national leadership and whose work demonstrates extraordinary achievement.
“Bill’s tremendous commitment, support, and belief in the work of Americans for the Arts and the arts and artist communities we support is unmatched. I know I speak on behalf of the entire boards of Americans for the Arts and the Arts Action Fund when I say that we are profoundly grateful to him and his family for his many years of friendship and leadership. In his time on both boards, Bill guided the organizations with wisdom and thoughtfulness. He was a personal mentor for so many of us. He will be greatly missed,” remarked Julie Muraco, Chair, Americans for the Arts Board of Directors.
The value of Lehr’s impact on the arts and humanities and the need to preserve, advance, and amplify its role in this nation was noted by Alice Anne Schwab, executive director of the Susquehanna Art Museum in Pennsylvania, during the National Arts Awards event: “He has a really uncanny ability to accept the arts as a whole, as an important feature for a human being to enjoy.”
Americans for the Arts also thanks Lehr’s wife of 60 years, Beverlee Balch Lehr, who shares his legacy of passionate commitment for and leadership in the arts. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to the Susquehanna Art Museum’s Bill Lehr Fund for Education and Exhibition Excellence. We are in gratitude for the Lehr family’s dedication and contributions to this organization, our members, and stakeholders.