The prize, which includes a $50,000 cash award, recognizes an inspiring encore career leader, age 50 or older, who is addressing a major social need in Maricopa County. With seed money from the sale of Quadna, an engineering and mechanical expertise firm that Perlich founded and ran for thirty-five years, Perlich, 64, and his wife, Linda, established Act One, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that underserved students receive arts education and exposure to the performing arts. Launched in 2011, Act One expects to serve more than a hundred thousand students with arts-enriched field trips by the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Despite evidence that high-quality arts experiences have a significant impact on a child's academic performance, social skills, and self-esteem, school budget cuts in many districts have resulted in the elimination of arts-related field trips, particularly in high-poverty Title 1 schools. Act One seeks to address this disparity by supplying arts education curricula and underwriting the cost of field trips. The organization also manages Culture Pass, a statewide program that provides library cardholders with free tickets to arts events.
"Russ Perlich is truly an encore career exemplar," said Susan Pepin, president and CEO of the Piper Trust. "One of the most humble people I've ever met, Russ is dedicated to providing an arts-enriched education to underserved children — just as he had throughout his youth in Minnesota public schools. Meaningful arts experiences positively impact the academic performances of children. Those experiences can also strengthen arts and culture in our community by inspiring budding artists and developing our future arts leaders."
"I am flattered and honored beyond words," said Perlich. "My father taught me: Do what you need to do, so that someday, you can do what you want to do. This is what I want to do."