Foundation Started by Business Leader and Vermont Resident Honors Artistic Legacies of Late Wife and Daughter
HINESBURG, V.T. — January 31, 2024 — The Olivia & Leslie Foundation, in partnership with Shelburne Museum, has launched a visual arts education program at the Hinesburg Community School aimed at teaching Kindergarten and First Grade students critical thinking and cognitive skills while developing their social and emotional core.
The Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM)-based program integrates mathematical concepts such as spatial relationships, geometry, and symmetry into a carefully designed arts program that enables young children to build creative confidence. The Olivia and Leslie Arts + Math Program kicked off this month and will be offered after school twice a week.
Artwork from Shelburne Museum’s collection features prominently in the curriculum, and the program will culminate with a student art exhibition at Shelburne Museum in May.
Suzan Locke, PK-4 Co-Principal at Hinesburg Community School, said parents and students are excited about the program.
“It gives children an opportunity to use their imaginations to explore different mediums. The program is hands-on, and I like that our young students will experience seeing the skills and concepts they are learning in math and art applied across curriculums,” she said.
The driving force behind the initiative is Chris Kuenne, Founder of the Olivia & Leslie Foundation and an entrepreneur with deep roots to the area, and a Shelburne Museum Trustee. Kuenne founded the global marketing firm Rosetta, which was the largest privately held digital marketing company before it was sold to Publicis Groupe for a record amount. Kuenne is now Chairman & CEO of Rosemark.
The Foundation honors the creative legacies of Kuenne’s daughter, Olivia, who died in an accident in 1997 at the age of five, and his late wife, Leslie, who died of ovarian cancer in 2019.
“Olivia and Leslie taught all those around them the creative power of art to inspire, teach, and invoke our deepest humanity,” Kuenne said. “Our goal is to foster creativity among young students. Our longer-term goal is to catalyze changes in the way we all think about art and its role in developing creative problem-solving in our next generation.”
Exposing young people to art can nurture their creativity and resilience in ways that can positively impact them now and later in life, said Thomas Denenberg, Ph.D., the John Wilmerding Director of Shelburne Museum.
“The earlier we expose our children to art, the more we are helping them develop problem-solving skills and building their creative confidence,” Dr. Denenberg said. “Students seeing their work exhibited is a tremendous affirmation of the creative process. Some of my favorite moments in our work with young people is when they see the fruits of their labor on the museum wall.”
The after-school program was developed by Maker Prep, a Princeton, New Jersey, based firm devoted to supporting computer science and arts education, in consultation with the Olivia & Leslie Foundation. The curriculum will continually evolve, based on analysis and research of its impact on students.
Ronah Harris, Ed.D., CEO at Maker Prep, described watching students excited about their projects, with many of them showing great skill, excitement, and thoughtfulness as they cut, accurately measured, and worked with materials.
“There is a natural integration of skills, ideas, and competencies,” Dr. Harris said.
To Kuenne and his three sons, Peter, William, and Matthew, the goals of the Foundation are ambitious yet also deeply personal. The Foundation’s mission stems from Olivia’s love of drawing and painting.
At the funeral reception for Olivia, Kuenne said “hundreds of pieces of her art were displayed. After the reception, all the moms and dads went home and dug through basements and closets to retrieve and celebrate their own kids’ artwork.” He added that Olivia’s art showed a “prolific creative energy, and people said she created a lifetime of art in her short 5 ½ years.” Leslie Kuenne was a genetic counselor, a gifted painter, sketch artist, and award-winning gardener and nature photographer.
Kuenne thanked the administration, faculty, parents, and students in Hinesburg for embracing the program.
“I’m inspired by the creativity of young people and appreciate that the Hinesburg community recognizes that art is essential to education — and to all of us,” Kuenne said.
The Olivia and Leslie Arts + Math Program will also be provided to students at Johnson Park Elementary School in Princeton, New Jersey, where Kuenne also has a home.
About the Olivia & Leslie Rainbow Foundation:
The Olivia and Leslie Rainbow Foundation was founded by Chris Kuenne and his sons, Peter, William, and Matthew, to memorialize his daughter and their sister, Olivia, who died in 1997 in an accident at the age of five, and his late wife and their mother, Leslie, who died of ovarian cancer in 2019. The Foundation is committed to creating and funding proven STEAM initiatives that ignite the imagination of young children, provide a safe space for creative expression and problem solving, and to teach critical thinking and cognitive skills.
About Shelburne Museum:
Founded in 1947 by trailblazing folk art collector Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960), Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, is the largest art and history museum in northern New England and Vermont’s foremost public resource for visual art and material culture. The Museum’s 45-acre campus is comprised of 39 buildings including the Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education and Webb Gallery featuring important American paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Grandma Moses, John Singleton Copley and many more. For more information, please visit shelburnemuseum.org