Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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"You don't have to mention all these things," says Bita Daryabari, the 46-year-old Silicon Valley-based philanthropist, entrepreneur and champion of Iranian arts. "All these things," which indeed are worth mention, include, but aren't limited to her $6.5 million endowment in Persian Letters to Stanford University and its annual Bita Prize in Literature; an all-girls school in Kabul she founded with human rights activist Sakeena Yacoobi, to whom she was introduced by Laurene Powell Jobs; her support of "Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran" at The British Museum in London and the exhibition of the "Cyrus Cylinder," the 6th century B.C. artifact widely regarded as the first charter of human rights, at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; her Unique Zan Foundation, which is dedicated to educating women and children in Western Asia; her $2 million endowment to the Shahnama Project at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England; the Daryabari Iranian Community Center she opened in April in San Jose, California; and her honor from the World Affairs Council this spring. "Bita is self-effacing," says Dr. Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University. She is also determined, as he learned 12 years ago when, over lunch, Daryabari pointedly asked why courses on Iranian culture were scarce at Stanford. "I told her our endowment is limited and she said, 'I'll contribute,'" Dr. Milani says. "She's dedicated intellectually. She's dedicated emotionally. And she's willing to invest financially. It really is that kind of sequence. It isn't, just in her case, a willingness to part with money." Daryabari is among the Valley's tech elite (her first husband was an early executive at Google; she has since remarried), but she doesn't live in a bubble. Growing up in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution, she heard bombs nightly, so she looked to art as her escape. In first grade, she memorized poems by Hafez, and later she studied oil painting. "Iran is a country of literature, poetry and arts," Daryabari says. "It's part of the curriculum; it's part of your life." These days, the mother of three is more focused on collecting than creating. "After all, I was never very good," she says with a laugh. A Frida Kahlo self-portrait, Woman Sitting in an Armchair is displayed next to Pablo Picasso's Buste de Femme en Costume Violet—"because they were lovers," she says—at her well-appointed home in Atherton. Heech Lovers, a favorite in her garden, helps her maintain perspective. "'Heech' means 'nothing' in Farsi. It reminds me that all these things will stay and I will go, so I shouldn't think about materialistic stuff," Daryabari says. "I'm enjoying it now, but that's it." She also is an enthusiastic cheerleader for young, rising Iranian talent. "Bita is helping bring an audience to the next generation of artists," says Ala Ebtekar, a 36-year-old painter based in San Francisco. "She's supporting things that actually get done. It's not like an initiative where you see results 10 years down the line. You actually see things moving." Perhaps that's because Daryabari keenly understands that, in some cases, she's most effective as a supporting player. "You have to give the artist the freedom to do what they want to do," she says. "That's the only way they'll flourish." 104 CULTURED PORTRAIT BY DANIEL HENNESSY Emotional Attachment Entrepreneur and collector Bita Daryabari is championing a new wave of young Iranian artists, and cultivating an audience of supporters from Stanford to London. BY EMILY HOLT "Iran is a country of literature, poetry and arts. It's part of the curriculum. It's part of your life." —Bita Daryabari Caption to come.

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