ALUMNI PROFILES — Spring 2008
   

 
Mary Ann (Brauer) Dasgupta founded Sharehouse Charitable Foundation to provide teaching aids, clothing, and money to children all over the world.

Providing Hope for the Poor
Author. Teacher. Actress. Entrepreneur. Mary Ann (Brauer) Dasgupta has worn many hats in her lifetime, but none so important as founder and managing trustee of Sharehouse Charitable Foundation in Kolkata, India. In this role, Dasgupta has combined her interests in early childhood education, art, and creative writing to provide teaching aids, clothing, and money to thousands of children all over the world.

Dasgupta completed her A.B. in education at Washington University in 1957. She moved to India in 1963 after marrying Pranabendu Dasgupta, a Bengali poet and professor of comparative literature. After receiving her M.Ed. from Calcutta University, she worked in the field of education as both a teacher and an administrator. She has written English textbooks, as well as two books of poetry. She has even acted in several Bengali films and a prime-time Bengali television series. Dasgupta also worked in a start-up business, designing and marketing teaching aids, and at Scholastic Books as its first director for Eastern India before founding Sharehouse in 1994.

“[I] decided to devote the rest of my productive years to designing, fabricating, and supplying teaching aids specifically for the children of the poor,” she says.

Sharehouse Charitable Foundation is a small nonprofit organization composed of Dasgupta, a full-time assistant, a part-time accountant, and several volunteers. The local UNICEF office and the West Bengal Department of Social Welfare help keep the foundation operating.

By donating teaching aids and conducting training workshops, Dasgupta wishes to provide a sense of hope for poor children and their parents. Sharehouse donates trunks full of teaching aids to such organizations as the Missionaries of Charity, who have homes for abandoned children all over the world; equipment to Indian orphanages and schools for the poor; stationery supplies and textbooks to needy students in nearby villages; and money to a few students in rural India for high school and college fees.

The training workshops teach participants how to make teaching aids from locally available materials. Dasgupta’s illustrated book, Low-Cost, No-Cost Teaching Aids, is the basis for the workshops.

Sharehouse Charitable Foundation has two annual projects: Project Stationery Support and Project Warm Clothing. “Both involve thousands of students attending expensive, private schools in Kolkata,” Dasgupta says. “At the end of each academic year, they do not throw away their used pencils, crayons, erasers, pencil boxes, school bags, etc. Each school coordinates collecting the used goods and donates them to Sharehouse. Our volunteers sort them out, and we deliver them to village schools in time for the beginning of their next session.

“Our biggest project starts in late autumn when the weather starts to chill,” Dasgupta continues. “This is the seventh year we are collecting good, used, warm clothing and distributing to children who live on the streets of Kolkata, children in orphanages, children attending the government’s below-poverty-line preschools, and children in villages. Last year, we gave warm clothing to more than 10,000 children.”

Sharehouse has three new projects in the works: bicycles for poor, rural high school students who live far from their schools; foot-operated sewing machines for poor teenage girls; and payment of driver’s training course fees and license fees for poor boys. The teenage girls must complete a tailoring course to get a machine, and the boys must complete school to get driver’s training courses.

Summing up her “career path,” Dasgupta says: “I am eternally indebted to Washington University for enlightening my mind and sensibilities, for giving me a truly liberal foundation upon which to build whatever I have been able to do so far. My ‘career path’ has come full circle, thanks to the University.”

For more information, contact Sharehouse Charitable Foundation, c/o Mary Ann Dasgupta, 260 Central Park, Jadavpur, Kolkata, West Bengal, India 700 032.
—Blaire Garwitz


As executive director of the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, Matthew Braun brings free art classes to the community.

Enriching Lives with Art
In 1898, a wealthy young Philadelphian named Samuel Fleisher decided to enrich the lives of the poor using the transformative powers of art. He began offering free art classes to the children of immigrants and factory workers living in South Philadelphia. The program, dubbed the Graphic Sketch Club, soon added classes for adults and eventually grew to occupy two buildings purchased by Fleisher.

Flash forward 110 years: Today, Matthew Braun, B.F.A. ’91, guides Fleisher’s program (now known as the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial) as executive director—with support from an enormous team of faculty, volunteers, benefactors, and community partners. The program offers art instruction to more than 4,000 area residents annually and is recognized as the nation’s oldest tuition-free, community-based art school.

While the school’s scope and budget have changed over the years, its purpose has remained constant. “I was attracted to the Fleisher Art Memorial because I felt so strongly about the values that Sam Fleisher promoted,” Braun says. “His aim was to open doors for people who were least able to seek out art instruction on their own and encourage them to develop their creativity as artists.”

Braun’s own love of art began during his childhood in rural New Jersey. As a high school student, he learned about Washington University’s reputation for allowing art students to pursue academic courses outside a conventional art-centered curriculum. “Then, when I visited in person,” he says, “the University captivated me with its physical beauty—I loved the campus—and its commitment to offering personalized attention to all of its students.”

At the University, Braun concentrated in sculpture and was particularly influenced by Ron Leax, the Halsey C. Ives Professor of Art, now a 21-year veteran of the College of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “Ron was wonderful at asking questions that provoked me to think not only about what I created, but why,” Braun says.

After graduation, Braun was selected as a resident artist at P.S.1, an affiliate of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, then attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London on a Fulbright Scholarship. In 1997, he joined The History Center in Ithaca, New York, as curator before serving as its executive director from 2000–2007. During his tenure there, Braun created inventive programs that garnered much-needed recognition and new audiences for the center’s collections.

Braun’s efforts at The History Center earned him the American Association of Museums’ 2005 Nancy Hanks Memorial Award and selection as a participant in the renowned Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2006.

Braun was appointed executive director at the Fleisher Art Memorial in January 2007, and the school continues to grow under his leadership. In addition to offering in-house art classes, Fleisher administers a Community Partnerships in the Arts program that provides arts education through area public schools and community organizations.

In November 2007, Fleisher received a prestigious Wallace Foundation Excellence Award. According to Braun, the $320,000 award “represents an enormous opportunity to introduce the arts to even more people who wouldn’t otherwise have access.”

In his home life, Braun makes sure that his two favorite young artists—daughters Dorothy, 7, and Meira, 4—receive plenty of exposure to the arts and culture in their new hometown. He is helped in this endeavor by his wife, fellow College of Art graduate Nancy Hartog, B.F.A. ’90.

To Braun, watching young students create art is the most rewarding part of his work at the Fleisher Art Memorial. “Samuel Fleisher knew, over 100 years ago, that art could help people develop a capacity for vivid, personal experience and open up the larger world to them,” he says. “These are the same values that inspire me today.”

To learn more about the Fleisher Art Memorial, visit fleisher.org.
—Lisa Cary


After her own bypass surgery, Kathy (Goldstein) Kastan made it her mission to help other women suffering from the repercussions of heart disease.

Saving Women One Heart at a Time
Heart disease is the leading killer of women, but most women do not think they are at risk. “Awareness [of heart disease] is at an all-time high, at 57 percent,” says Kathy (Goldstein) Kastan, A.B. ’81, M.A. ’84, M.S.W. ’84, “but only 13 percent ­ … think it can happen to them.”

Kastan’s mother had juvenile-onset diabetes and died of a massive heart attack at the age of 61, but Kastan did not realize that she was also at risk of developing heart disease because of this. She was a psychotherapist in Baltimore, raising her sons with her husband, Michael Kastan, M.D./Ph.D. ’84. An avid athlete, she took great care of herself. Then, her husband joined Memphis’ St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. While Kastan prepared to move, her mother died; the day of the funeral, Kastan’s grandmother fell, sustaining injuries. “Trying to close my practice, find a new house, and sell the old house [with all that going on] was horrific,” she says.

While biking one day, she experienced severe shortness of breath and other serious symptoms. The cardiologist she consulted assured her nothing was wrong. When her problems persisted, Kastan got a second opinion; however, only after she collapsed did the doctor discover heart blockage. After eight more months of complications and treatments that failed, she underwent bypass surgery in February 2002.

Then, Kastan sought out WomenHeart, a national advocacy organization for women with heart disease (womenheart.org). “I felt this immediate connection, this sense of relief,” she says. “I wasn’t alone anymore.” WomenHeart also accelerated her physical recovery, through a referral to Sharonne Hayes, associate professor of medicine and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Heart Center. “As soon as I went to see her, she put me on a medication regimen that worked, and I started to feel better,” Kastan says. “Within a few months, I got my life back.”

Recognizing Kastan’s potential as an advocate, Hayes encouraged her to attend WomenHeart’s Science and Leadership Program for Women with Heart Disease. Kastan did and returned to Memphis “pumped up and passionate,” speaking at community centers, schools, synagogues, and churches. She volunteered with the Memphis American Heart Association and joined its board. “In May of 2003, I was asked to join the board of WomenHeart, and then I was selected president,” she says.

WomenHeart has given her a national platform that can save lives by increasing awareness about the issues of heart disease in women. In April 2007, Kastan published From the Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Living Well with Heart Disease, a book to help women navigate the psycho-social impacts of their illness. “There are books about prevention and reversing heart disease, but [none] that tell people how to manage the … repercussions,” Kastan says.

Kastan’s second term as WomenHeart’s president ended in December 2007, but she’s serving on the board as past president through 2008. She plans to remain involved, giving speeches and leading workshops locally and nationally. “I’m also considering opening a psychotherapy practice that treats heart patients and their families,” she says.

Washington University is also a big part of Kastan’s life. Her parents, Phillip J. Goldstein (A.B. ’56), an obstetrician/gynecologist, and the late Nancy Brand Goldstein, met at Washington University. Washington University is also where she met her husband. “Now my son, Benjamin (Arts & Sciences Class of ’08), is there getting an education that is preparing him for the rest of his life,” she says. “Washington U. is a part of us!”
—Beth Herstein, A.B. ’83