Board Member Profile Series: Gar LaSalle
Honored widely in the medical and creative arts communities for his ingenuity and leadership, Artist Trust Board Member Gar LaSalle can be deemed a true renaissance man. A retired ER doctor, he is an adjunct professor of emergency medicine, instructing a course called “The Business and Survival of Medicine” at Cornell University, Columbia University, and the University of Washington.
Gar is currently serving as pre-production director for an adaptation of his first novel, Widow Walk, which was optioned by Seattle’s own Tom Skerritt and his company Heyou Media. To learn more about the project and to get a behind-the-scenes look at the production process, visit heyoumedia.com/widowwalk.
Alongside his scientific pursuits, Gar is also a sculptor and award-winning filmmaker and author. “For me, the physician and the artist are not so different. Although medicine as a discipline is taught as a science, I have always believed that much of what physicians do in patient interactions requires intuition and instinct, the tools that every artist also uses. I believe that physicians who treat patients will benefit from embracing their inner artist as well. To me, the difference between medicine and art is in the degree of ‘play’ we allow ourselves and the degree of measured consistency required by the outcomes.”
Looking back on his childhood, it’s no surprise that Gar possesses a strong affinity for the arts. Raised in a family of opera singers, he grew up watching his lead tenor father perform, which made a glorious impression on him. “As a young boy I loved writing, acting and producing, and enjoyed the physicality of sculpting,” he shared. “My father discouraged me from those pursuits because of the uncertainties that come with a performing arts career – an experience so many people share.”
Gar attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where he pursued studies in science and the arts. “When I entered college, perhaps emulating my father but also listening to his advice, I kept both sides of my brain open to exploration, so I unofficially ‘double majored’ in biology and theater arts, carrying a full academic pre-med load but also acting in or directing every play I could.”
Upon graduation, Gar was met with the decision to continue his education at either Yale School of Drama or at Weill Cornell Medicine, both of which offered him scholarships to attend their graduate programs. Following the advice of a physician whom he respected, Gar chose the path of medicine. After completing his medical internship, he put a hold on his residency training to apply to film schools, which led him to move back to the West Coast.
He relocated to Valencia, California to pursue an MFA in film/video/film-graphics at California Institute of the Arts. With Jules Engel and Alexander MacKendrick as his mentors, Gar made a feature-length film documentary titled Diary of a Moonlighter. “My thesis became the first-ever ‘verite’ film on the new specialty of Emergency Medicine, which later became my primary specialty.”
While working as an ER doctor, Gar continued furthering his creative pursuits, writing screenplays and producing films. He co-founded TeamHealth, the nation’s largest physician management company, and served as its national chief medical officer for 13 years. “At TeamHealth, we made 25 view-from-the-gurney Patient Safety Fables which exposed physicians and nurses to complex and difficult topics that are poorly taught in medical school, such as bedside manner and risk prevention.”
After retiring from his clinical and administrative practice, Gar dusted off his old projects and began writing again. His first novel Widow Walk is a historical fiction based on true events and set in the 19th century Pacific Northwest. He anticipates adding two more books in addition to the three novels of this series in the future.
On what inspired him to write Widow Walk and its sequels, Isthmus and The Fairness of Beasts, Gar explained, “I was fascinated with the historical context and the true events – the massacre that occurred in 1857 when, although few settlers had emigrated to this gorgeous region, the extermination of one culture, that of the Native American aboriginal peoples, by another was already well under way. The story and its backdrop had all of the essential elements of a grand opera – tragedy, trauma, love and adventure, and formidable challenges confronting a strong central character, an ‘everyman’ – in this case, our heroine Emmy Evers – all set in a little known geographical backdrop.”
A major supporter of the arts, Gar gives to organizations like Hugo House, Folio Seattle, Seattle Arts and Lectures, Seattle Opera, and Lyric Opera Northwest. He first discovered Artist Trust in 2015, sharing that what initially attracted him was its mission “to support and nurture artists in every discipline.” Gar and his wife Barbara generously fund the LaSalle Storyteller Award, an unrestricted grant of $10,000 awarded annually to a Washington State artist engaged in storytelling through their artistic discipline. This year’s award will recognize an outstanding literary artist working in fiction. To view the guidelines for the award, click here.
On what he hopes the LaSalle Storyteller Award will help artists accomplish, Gar said, “We as a people are the stories we tell about ourselves as much as we are the stories that are told about us. With this ongoing annual grant, I hope to stimulate writers to push themselves just a little bit harder every time they start a sentence, to understand that a great storyteller is a seducer into and a guide out of the forest in which we live. And if we do this right, the award will act as another catalyst for the firm establishment of this region as a center of literature.”
Learn more about Gar and his upcoming projects on his website.