By Mary Thurwachter
When it comes to backing projects, philanthropist Margaret Blume subscribes to marine conservationist Jacques Cousteau’s theory: “People protect what they love.”
Like Cousteau, Blume loves the ocean and marine life. She spent $500,000 in 2015 to finance the Rapa Nui Reef, an underwater garden east of the Deerfield Beach pier.
Another passion for Blume is education and reading. Her $2 million donation made it possible for the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County to move into a new 12,000-square-foot training and outreach center in Boynton Beach in 2013.
Earlier this year, Blume was the major donor for the “Windows on the Floating World: Tropical Wetland Garden” at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. “Windows” showcases a series of see-through walkways and permanent and changing aquatic plant displays.
Blume’s current project reflects her love of art and culture. She is donating almost $1 million for an interior renovation of the Cornell Art Museum at Old School Square. The remodeling will better showcase the innovative, contemporary art that defines exhibits and honors the historic character of the 1913 building.
“I want to enhance the use of this historic schoolhouse for the display and enjoyment of art,” Blume said. “With the Cornell Museum, less is more. It’s a little gem that is perfect for a short, but lovely cultural experience in the heart of Delray Beach.”
Blume learned of the need for a renovation through her neighbor, artist and friend Brenda Zappitell, who is on the board of directors for Old School Square. While she doesn’t consider herself an artist, Blume admits she “dabbles” in abstract painting and has taken classes with Zappitell.
The renovation will modify front and rear entrances to create a more welcoming appearance and to allow more space for exhibit load-in and load-out; maximize exhibit space with movable walls to allow for more configurations within each gallery; upgrade gallery lighting; add sleek, new window coverings; and redesign the museum store with new cabinets and fixtures.
At the Cornell Museum, which exhibits nationally and internationally recognized contemporary artists who create innovative and provocative works of art, Blume said she liked what she found, and not just the artwork.
“There is a spirit here,” she said. “Everyone is excited and full of hopes and dreams. That makes all the difference. It’s edgy and new here at this lovely gateway to Delray.”
When considering projects, Blume said, “I want something local I can watch. You need to be involved, not give money and walk away.”
What’s in it for her?
“It’s really fun for me,” she said. “How lucky I am to be like a fairy godmother and then to see the gift and how it helps people. This gift will benefit in a quieter way than some of my others.”
Blume, 60, grew up in Los Angeles. She has a degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and worked for a decade for her father, a real estate entrepreneur. She became a general contractor.
Blume has lived in South Florida since 1991, when her husband’s job brought them here. “I came kicking and screaming,” she admits, but she has since fallen in love with the area and is especially taken with the clouds and the sky view. “The sky was never as crystal clear in California.”
Recently, Blume said she has become enchanted by moonrises, as well.
She and her husband, Robert, a retired physician, live in Boynton Beach. They have two grown children and the family enjoys traveling, something Blume has done extensively, even as a child.
“Every year as a family we would go to Europe and my sister and I would share a suitcase,” she said. “We would get a VW bug and drive all over. I felt like I was in a fairy tale with all the castles and museums.”
Blume believes in living in the moment, and, despite all her philanthropic endeavors, she wants to be remembered by her children for having lived a full and happy life.
“Remember me on a snowmobile in the Grand Tetons going thrillingly fast and being as happy as anyone,” she said.
The Cornell Art Museum, 51 N Swinton Ave., Delray Beach, is closed until October for the renovation. The museum’s summer events continue and are relocated to the Crest Theatre galleries. Next up: Art Walks, from 6-9 p.m. on Aug. 4 and Sept. 1. Admission is free. Phone 243-7922 or visit www.OldSchoolSquare.org.