Deborah & Martin Fishbein: The Art of a Lasting Legacy
Earlier this year, the Santa Fe Community Foundation received a legacy gift worth more than $8.5 million from the estate of the late Deborah and Martin Fishbein — the largest donation in the Foundation’s 42-year history. The gift will support local nonprofits working in arts and culture, animal welfare, and environment through the Foundation’s community grants program and establish two funds for the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Museum of International Folk Art.
In the summer of 1982, Deborah and Martin Fishbein made a significant trip to Santa Fe that marked the beginning of a long and intimate connection to the City Different.
“They fell in love with Santa Fe right away,” remembers Gary Kaplan, brother of the late Deborah Fishbein. “They were inspired by the landscape, diversity of culture, and incredible art scene — they even liked the food.”
The couple bought a home in the Historic Eastside that same year. For decades, the Fishbein’s would spend every summer and winter in Santa Fe following Martin’s academic schedule — visiting galleries, exploring hidden treasures, and building lasting relationships.
Today, Deborah and Martin’s appreciation for Santa Fe and its many offerings lives on through their astounding $8.5 million legacy gift to the Santa Fe Community Foundation.
Deborah and Martin
Although Martin and Deborah were both born and raised in New York City, their paths did not cross until 1959 while attending UCLA at the same time. They were soon married.
Martin became a social scientist known for co-creating the Theory of Reasoned Action, a tool used to predict how humans will behave and one that became instrumental in helping to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.
For much of his career, he worked as a dedicated psychology professor — first at the University of Illinois and later at the Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia, where he taught until his death in 2009.
Where Martin was more laidback and reserved, Deborah, who owned a boutique near their primary residence in Illinois for many years, could only be described as vivacious.
“She couldn’t stand being quiet, not even for a minute,” laughs Gary. “If there was a quiet moment, she’d create activity. She had to be in motion and around people.”
Despite their different temperaments, Martin and Deborah shared an incredible passion for travel and collecting art — an interest that made their time in Santa Fe so dear.
A Shared Love of Art
Having grown up in a large city, the couple enjoyed Santa Fe’s moderate size and proximity to nature while maintaining its prominent status as the second or third largest art market in the country.
“Every Saturday, Marty would grab the New Mexican to find all the estate sales and trace the best route. On Sundays, they would visit the flea market out by the Opera,” says Gary. “They accumulated quite a bit of folk art and had a great Native American pottery collection.”
Following the art scene closely, Deborah and Martin built deep relationships with emerging local artists and were always up-to-date on the latest exhibits at the Institute of American Indian Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, and galleries.
“They especially loved the Alexander Girard collection,” notes Gary. “They were always on the lookout for folk art that Girard would be interested in.”
While Martin passed away before the couple were able to retire in Santa Fe as they had planned, Deborah carried out their wishes and moved to the city permanently in 2018. She died at their Historic Eastside Home in 2020.
A Lasting Legacy
As is often the case, the Fishbein’s legacy gift reflects their lives, passions, and vision for the future. Their historic $8.5 million gift will not only serve Santa Fe now but for generations to come — helping to protect and nurture what they appreciated most about our region.
“Santa Fe meant so much to Deb and Marty and I think they realized they would have more of an impact here as opposed to places like New York City or Philadelphia,” notes Gary. “This is a wonderful way to carry out their wishes and benefit the community here.”
This extraordinary legacy gift is not the “end” of Deborah and Martin’s story, but a powerful way for their love of Santa Fe to live on.
Learn more about legacy giving at the Santa Fe Community Foundation: santafecf.org/donors/give-later