No one can accuse Dan Perry of keeping a low profile.
For years, Perry, who has been named the Journal North/St. Vincent Hospital Foundation Philanthropist of the Year, and his wife, Ashlyn, could be seen around New Mexico and Texas as passengers in what they dubbed the “Leopard Limo.”
The Leopard Limo was no imposter; its spotted exterior was created from a photo taken of a live animal at the San Antonio Zoo. The stretched 2004 Cadillac Deville was originally purchased by Perry, a mineral rights lawyer licensed to practice in New Mexico and Texas, in the pre-Uber and Lyft era so that a driver could squire him and his buddies around at night.
But as its owner settled into married life after tying the knot with Ashlyn in 2007, the Leopard Limo changed its spots and became a fundraising vehicle for philanthropic organizations, which would auction off its use for one evening for up to $5,000.
All told, Perry reckons the Leopard Limo raised $100,000 for Santa Fe-based charities from 2011-17 before he and his wife donated it to the San Antonio Zoo, which auctioned it off for $25,000 at its annual Zoobilation Ball.
Perry was presented with the Philanthropist of the Year Award at an event Thursday night at the Peters Projects galleries.
A graduate of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Princeton University and Southern Methodist University School of Law, Perry divides his time between homes in San Antonio and Santa Fe, and a ranch near Chama. He said he first dipped his toe into philanthropy in the 1990s by serving on the board of San Antonio’s Mission Road Ministries, which helps children and adults with intellectual developmental disabilities. Since then, most of his philanthropy has focused on the arts and has occurred in the past 10 years. “I didn’t have the resources to really get involved until then,” he said.
Perry said he has a soft spot in his heart for Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center because of the excellent care his sister, Susan Perry (formerly Halvorsen), received there before succumbing to colon cancer in October 2017. After getting a colonoscopy at 50 and receiving a clean bill of health, his sister had her cancer misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome for years and it wasn’t identified until it reached Stage Four, Perry said.
Susan Perry, an arts therapist who treated eating disorders, moved to Santa Fe around 2000 and helped introduce her brother to the charms of the City Different. He began spending the majority of his time here in 2010.
Among the numerous Santa Fe-based organizations that have benefited from Perry’s donations of time and money are The Santa Fe Opera, where he served on the board from 2012-17, and The Museum of New Mexico Foundation, where he has been a board member since 2013.
Along with Ashlyn, Perry is co-chair of the foundation’s Centennial Campaign. They are nearing completion of their goal to help raise $12.5 million in cash to build the Vladem Contemporary Art Museum in the Railyard area in partnership with the state of New Mexico. In 2018, Dan and Ashlyn were recognized for their efforts with a New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellent in the Arts.
Perry is also the founder, president and board member of the New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiative, a nonprofit that encourages conservation and stewardship of the state’s fish and wild animals.
On the artistic front, he was recently asked to join The Chinati Foundation, which runs a contemporary museum in Marfa, Texas, founded by Donald Judd, the minimalist artist known for signature box sculptures. Before he died in 1994, Judd transformed the remnants of a former military outpost into his artistic headquarters. His legacy is maintained today through the Judd Foundation led by his children.
Asked how the arts scene in Marfa differs from that in Santa Fe, Perry said Marfa has more outdoor installations to take advantage of the area’s empty spaces than the City Different, a colonial capital with an abundance of galleries and museums, not to mention the Opera.
Now that they are spending more time at their Trout Stalker Ranch near Chama, Dan and Ashlyn have formed the Chama Arts Coalition, which is based in an old parish hall for a Catholic church. They have hired an executive director for the organization with the aim of bringing “positive change through the arts to Chama and northern Rio Arriba County.”
Perry notes that the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad attracts 50,000 visitors from May through October each year for the 64-mile trip between Chama and San Antonito, Colorado. There’s no reason those tourists can’t further enrich the local economy by buying handicrafts and artwork made by locals, he said.
“Right now, our primary focus is on how the arts can promote economic development in Chama,” Perry said. With his formidable fundraising track record, Perry may yet put Chama on the map as a must-see destination for arts aficionados.