Hannah Adams, Fordham University biology major, interviewed philanthropist Gladys Miller-Rosenstein in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org
Gladys Miller-Rosenstein is an exceptional woman. In between her busy schedule, this week she was gracious enough to take a few moments with me to reflect on her time spent developing the Puffin Foundation. The foundation was started in 1983 by Perry Rosenstein, the late husband of Gladys. While it has grown significantly over the years, the foundation remains true to its mission: “to join with other concerned groups and individuals to ensure that the arts not merely survive, but flourish at all levels of our society”.
After retiring from teaching first grade for twenty-five years, Gladys joined the Puffin Foundation full time working heavily to develop the foundation’s grant program. Each year the foundation funds artists and art organizations who would be otherwise unable to receive grants. When reflecting on the foundation’s early years, I asked Gladys about how the grant process began. She explained that in the first year, she and Perry put advertisements for grants in the local paper with social issues they were interested in. During this first year, 18 grants were provided. Nowadays, hundreds of artists are provided grants yearly ultimately “giving people who have important things to say an opportunity to say them” as Gladys explained.
In addition to her work developing the grant program, Gladys helped establish the Puffin Cultural Forum and serves as its executive director. The forum is a gallery and performance space where art shows, musical performances, film screenings, interviews, and discussions on social issues/movements for all ages can occur. During our conversation, I asked Gladys if she was an artist herself. While she said no, she explained that the focus on arts was largely driven by Perry who believed that art speaks to people and through art we reach people with important themes. In addition to providing grants and hosting events at the cultural forum, Gladys explained that the foundation also works to support the arts in education. Having been involved in school band programs beginning in fourth grade and continuing until college, I was so grateful to hear how the foundation is supporting access to arts in education.
As I mentioned earlier, Gladys taught first-grade for twenty-five years prior to working full time at the Puffin foundation. When asked about her experiences teaching, she exclaimed with such joy “the first-graders are magical. It is like working with a beautiful bud opening up”. Given that Gladys was a teacher for so long, I was curious to learn how her experiences have impacted her work with the Puffin Foundation. She explained that it opened up other avenues for the foundation to work with. She brought a different view to the foundation which has allowed for the development of after-school programs like Superstrides and activities including bird watching, hiking, and photography at the Teaneck Conservancy.
Ultimately, Gladys’s work for the Puffin Foundation has enabled it to become what it is today. When meeting with her, her passion for the organization and the people it serves is so clearly evident. In regard to the future of the foundation, she hopes that it will continue to expand its services, enlarging the programs at the forum and parks like the Teaneck Conservancy. She mentioned that the concerns regarding conservation/environmental practices, labor issues, art, and the economy are significant in today’s society and can be expressed through art so long as people have the access to do so. Overall, Gladys is a remarkable woman whose commitment to the mission of the Puffin Foundation is inspiring and makes me hopeful for a future where outlets such as the Cultural Forum and the Teaneck Conservancy will exist throughout the country.