Artistic Endeavor

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While it may be said that the basis of a strong marriage begins with friendship, Rusty and Mary Tally are proof that a little timing helps, too.

Over a conversation at their home in The Milago, with their adopted golden retriever Jack resting patiently nearby, they were modest in talking about their impressive impact on the arts in Austin, and forthright in their belief that the arts can help heal the heart.

They met in 2001 (and remained purely friends for the next six years) when Mary was interviewing for a position with the capital campaign while Rusty was serving on the board of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Rusty was with the project for 13 years, while Mary was on staff for six years, both a part of the fundraising team that eventually raised $77 million toward the gorgeous performing arts space that provides stunning views of downtown from its terrace above Lady Bird Lake.

During that time (post-9/11, the stock market downturn and the dot-com bust), Mary observed Rusty in some fairly intense meetings. Despite economic circumstances that were not ideal and the usual brew of competition with other capital campaigns, he handled it all with aplomb. “His inner calm is inspiring to watch–he reminds me of another era where there was high integrity and thoughtful discussion.”

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“We really became best friends before we ever really looked at each other as anything else and what I realized with Mary is that I can sit down and talk to her about anything,” Rusty said, “whether it’s work, or any kind of issue, we give each other lots of room for opinions or discussion. No one gets judgmental or uptight. And if we do get rattled, we just agree to table it for a while or Mary will do something goofy to change the tone.”

They were in complete agreement that instead of having a large wedding, something more intimate and unique would better fit their style. So, on December 1, 2007, three months before the Long Center officially opened its doors to the public, they became the first couple to be married inside (onstage, to be exact). After finally receiving fire marshal approval, they donned hard hats, reflective vests and jeans and said, “I do” before a handful of close friends.

“I saw Joe Long at an event shortly after our ceremony and thanked him for building our wedding chapel,” said Mary. “Being married at the Long Center had tremendous meaning for us–and still does.” Every time the two are at the Long Center for a performance, they share a laugh about standing onstage and saying their vows in reflective vests.

“It was very sweet for us to be married in Dell Concert Hall during the final finish out of its construction.”

Two weeks later, they did throw a party in Southern California (where Mary’s son, Micah, lives) and celebrated with about 40 close friends and Rusty’s sons, Blake and Layne, who live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.

Beyond uniting them as a couple, the world of art also helped Mary get through a challenging time in her life. At the age of 26, she was in the midst of getting a divorce from her first husband when both of her parents passed away within two years of each other. Her mother, who’d been healthy her entire life, was stricken with cancer and died within three months of being diagnosed. Shortly thereafter, her father came down with pneumonia and died at the age of 75. He was brokenhearted after the passing of his wife of 48 years, and Mary was devastated.

“I would literally go home and just stare at the ceiling and think, I can’t do this,” said Mary, adding that she took a semester off from college as a psychology major and landed her first job in fundraising at the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi. “After doing a site visit at a homeless shelter where the museum had a children’s arts outreach program, I thought, this is it: The arts are helping these little children. I saw firsthand that the arts do lift the spirit and heal the heart.” Little did she know that this first job would grow into a 25-year career as a nonprofit arts fundraiser.

For his part, Rusty said that his mother, who was a painter her entire adult life, influenced him, and that his first foray into arts philanthropy came when he served on the board of Austin Lyric Opera for almost 15 years at the invitation of arts doyenne, Jane Sibley. With their deep ties to the arts community, they have worked with and been friends with lesbian and gay Austinites for years, and they both recalled their first interaction as well.

“I’m very sure that my friend [in the Air Force Academy] was gay, but at the time there’s no possible way he could have ever shared that with me,” Rusty, a wealth advisor at UBS Financial Services, said. “It didn’t dawn on me until years later, just because of the things we talked about, but the recent repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a validation that as a nation and as individuals we’ve come a long way.”

Their most recent projects–serving on the boards of the Center for Child Protection, Zach Scott Theatre and the Director’s Advisory Council at UT Performing Arts Center–include Mary’s chairing of EmanciPet’s “Lucky 13” anniversary luncheon on May 14. They enjoy regular outings to the mountains of Aspen (Colorado) for biking, hiking and most importantly, fly-fishing. Mary said the adrenaline rush from Class 4/5 whitewater rafting is not to be missed (Rusty calls her “Davy Crockett”). Locally, they enjoy watching the swarms of Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge and dining at favorite spots like Manuel’s and Uchi.

Looking ahead, Mary is finishing production of a prototype of a purse based on a 1930s vintage bag that belonged to her mother. After researching bags and purses for years, she decided to move forward and design her own version. They plan to donate a portion of the profits to their current philanthropic focus, children and animals.

“I love watching her talk about the development and progress of the bag–plus, this is yet another turn in our life paths that we can share,” Rusty said.

“With all that we do, whether it’s in Austin working or volunteering, or traveling and playing,” said Mary, “we’re both keenly aware of our many blessings and also our responsibility to leave a deep footprint.”


Interview by Christopher Carbone
Photo by Michael Thad Carter
L Style G Style – Storytellers of the Austin LBGT Community.

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