For much of its history, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation was led by Mrs. Biddle’s daughter, Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and her husband, Duke surgeon and urologist Dr. James H. Semans. Respected civic, artistic, and philanthropic leaders in North Carolina, they were champions for the arts, education, and Duke University. Both were founding trustees, serving on the foundation’s board for nearly 50 years until their retirement in 2004.
With a strong belief in the transformative power of the arts, they guided the foundation’s support for artists, arts education, and arts organizations. Two efforts are emblematic of their leadership. With the foundation’s support, in 1986 the Durham Arts Council established the Emerging Artists Award, a statewide model that continues to this day. One of the couple’s greatest and most enduring legacies remains the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Along with NC Governor Terry Sanford and author John Ehle, they were instrumental in establishing the nation’s first state-supported secondary school and conservatory for the arts. The Biddle Foundation continues to support both the Durham Arts Council and the UNCSA.
Together, Dr. and Mrs. Semans received numerous awards for their arts leadership and support, including the North Carolina Award for their distinguished contribution to the fine arts; the Presidential Award from the NC Association of Arts Councils for fostering the State’s first Emerging Artist Program; and the North Carolina Philanthropy Award, among others.