Philanthropists Karl and Nelda Buckman created an incredible resource for artists to fully commit to their passions.
By Evelyn Deal
One of the most notable characteristics of philanthropists Karl and Nelda Buckman is their intrinsic dedication to the arts and creativity. Earlier this year, Nelda founded Nelda Studios to contribute to general arts and creativity with novel media productions and giving back to the community. The power duo’s first philanthropic fund, The Buckman Fund, was created because “many creatives don’t have the backing they need, either financially or other tools to allow their ideas to come to fruition.”
This fund has allowed the couple to birth The Buckman Center to “remove limitations for creatives by providing opportunities.” The Buckman Center, a donation to the University of Texas at Austin, will be a research media center to support students in the School of Design and Creative Technologies within the Doty Fine Arts Building.
Founder of Nelda Studios
I love creatives and the creative process. When I look back at my life, everything that I’ve been really energetic about was centered on the arts and what comes out of creative minds. Generally, when we think about the arts, we think a painted canvas or a performance on stage, or an orchestra, or someone singing. But creativity and the arts are so much more. Creativity has moved into technology and impacted other advances in the world. Creativity and the arts are also about conceptualizing solutions, innovating with new ideas and creating things that didn’t exist before. Sparking those moments is really exciting to me. Lifting up creativity and the arts is my passion and at the center of Nelda Studios.
What would you say is the studio’s overall purpose?
Many creatives don’t have the backing they need, either financially or other tools to allow their ideas to come to fruition. To move an idea from “what if” to “what is.” Nelda Studios is not only producing content that highlights all of the amazing humans out there creating. We are also removing limitations for creatives by providing opportunities through our philanthropy. By creating The Buckman Fund, we are sponsoring special events and are establishing spaces and places to create and innovate, as well as providing opportunities for those who don’t have access to experience or participate in creative activities.
Tell us about notable Nelda Studios productions and contributions.
There have been so many beautiful avenues we’ve explored since launching our production house and our philanthropic projects. They are each as special as they are unique and primarily focus on creative endeavors and their impact. I should also mention that we are a woman-led organization. We are proud to support numerous projects that are also helmed by women including our two feature documentaries and Life Unscripted, which tell the stories of women forging their own unique paths.
It’s all about inspiration and creative exploration leading to innovation.
One of our new series, Journey Through Art, focuses on the important art all around us that you might not be aware of. For example, we captured the nearly lost collection of iconic Hollywood backdrops that were recently rescued from destruction and are now on display in museums, as well as the artistry and artists behind them. We are also getting involved with the initiative to preserve the backings by sponsoring restoration, a website, and a documentary. The series also explores exploding trends in immersive experiences from projection mapping to themed museums. We also looked at public art and its impact, such as large scale urban murals. Essentially, we’re putting a spotlight on artists who are out there impacting our experience as human beings.
In another series we’re developing, Life Unscripted with Meredith Walker, we’re sharing the stories of women who are forging a second renaissance in their lives to pursue their passion and succeeding.
We also have two feature documentaries on the horizon. We’re executive producing Disbeliever, along with Terrence Malick, Robert Redford and Nick Offerman. The film looks at the denaturing of childhood and how that affects developing minds. We’re also executive producing Beauty Isn’t Pretty, which follows the global chase of beauty standards and its impact.
I’ve also had the privilege to produce on Broadway. I just love live theater, and I think there’s nothing like it in the world. I was a co-producer on the Tony-nominated Broadway musical, The Prom, which was adapted into a feature film starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden and Kerry Washington. The show was not only entertaining but carried with it a message of acceptance. The Prom leaves the audience at intermission in a place that requires them to consider, “Have I ever bullied anybody in any way, shape or form, period?” Then the second act shows a path to healing through love and acceptance of one another. It’s brilliantly and beautifully done.
Outside of productions, Nelda Studios is also providing opportunities for art and creativity through philanthropic efforts supported by The Karl and Nelda Buckman Fund.
We have sponsored community events. Bringing creative experiences to Austin such as Buzzfest in Bee Caves, an immersive outdoor light show, and will be sponsoring Synthwave this November at The University of Texas, an immersive soundscape experience.
Our newest impact initiative provides music lessons for Austin children experiencing foster care. We are partnering with Austin Angels, a foster family support organization, and Band Aid School of Music through the scholarship program A Chance to Rock. For children in care, it’s like a rolling earthquake for them during that period of time in their lives. So to be able to say, “Hey, here’s some solid ground over here that you can also create from. Once you learn to play an instrument or once you learn to use your voice, you can take it with you.”
It meets a need for these children. But also it’s more about what does it grow in them? What kind of stability does it give them simply because they have a way to express themselves? It also gives them beauty; it gives them encouragement. I truly hope it will be something they can keep within, grow it from within themselves, all of their lives.
Who are the people you want to be working with?
Through Nelda Studios, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with lovely, incredible people who are doing magnificent things and sometimes don’t even know it. These folks are reaching out with their work and are changing the world through the arts. Their hearts are so huge and their love of what they do is so infectious. They share that with me, my team and the next generation behind them. I really see life as a sort of portfolio that is always changing and growing. Don’t be afraid of those changes, of new things, of new people, of doing something different. I can’t wait to see what’s next in the portfolio of Nelda Studios.
What is your favorite part of working with Nelda Studios?
I’m thrilled by the things we’re doing. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I’d be doing anything like this, I would’ve laughed. That someone who was really starting over in midlife would have the ability to become a Tony-nominated Broadway producer, would be producing television series and feature documentary films or be able to help others achieve their dreams is nothing short of amazing. I’ve learned that if you step up to challenges, and you dare to be open, to see and do things differently, the opportunities are endless. I don’t know what the next opportunities will be that are brought to me and Nelda Studios. But I’m open to them.
What are the vision and goals of The Buckman Center?
My hope for The Buckman Center is that it will support and fuel creatives from different disciplines all working together. Karl and I want to make sure that they have everything they need at their disposal, at their fingertips, to make their idea a reality. It will provide more than just the basics of what they need in order to go forward with their project or their idea. No limitations at The Buckman Center!
How do these goals/visions align with your visions?
It’s all about inspiration and creative exploration leading to innovation.
I’m of the generation who saw computers go from taking up floors of huge buildings to being what we carry around in our hands. I can only imagine the innovation that will come out of the creative minds of these students, faculty and industry collaborators.
The creative brain is always thinking about the next step. Once they’ve built something, already thinking of what else they can do with it and where else it can be applied. The idea might start with an artistic vision but be applied in other disciplines: science, medicine, architecture. That new idea can touch so many different areas of our lives and reach much farther than initially imagined. Those possibilities are what I find exciting about The Buckman Center and the innovations and artistic expressions that will emerge from it.
What do you hope the Buckman center can provide for creative students?
When we create, we make something that’s unique, something that only you or I or this student can create. Providing a place to create, where inspiration can be sparked and exploration of an idea can happen, is so valuable. It’s where true innovation is born. I hope that’s what The Buckman Center provides for the students at The School of Design and Creative Technologies. Not only are the potential outcomes important, but so are the processes involved. Whether an idea thrives or fails. Either way, there is the excitement of experimentation, the learning from failures and ultimately the sense of accomplishment when you succeed. The experience of taking their idea, making something and seeing where it goes is very, very important.
If we don’t provide these experiences, or we don’t provide the ability to have these experiences, I think we lose as a culture. And we lose as educators.
We have to plant the idea in young people that they are creative. That they can make unique things. They need to know they can do big things and do them in different ways that will be important to the world.
What are your anticipations for the Buckman center overall?
I can’t know what will come out of The Buckman Center. Whatever it is will be new, different and something no one ever thought of or experienced before. I do anticipate it will be exciting and make a positive contribution to the world. The most wonderful and humbling part of those future outcomes is that Karl and I were able to provide a foundational place where new ideas could begin and grow. We’re both grateful for that opportunity.