A Major Commitment: Behind a Big Campus Arts Give

Large donations to college and university arts museums might not be as common as they are, say, to the Met or LACMA, but gifts to these institutions can sometimes be substantial. 

Take the example of recent arts give at Old Dominion University (ODU). 

The Norfolk, Virginia based school recently announced that a new museum would be built using donations valued at $35 million from local couple Richard and Carolyn Barry. The Barrys will gift their art collection to serve as the museum's initial foundation. The couple will also provide operating support through pledged annual gifts and a permanent endowment from their estates.

This is an enormous win for Old Dominion University, and it's not everyday that a proposed campus museum receives both support for its establishment as well as continued operation in one fell swoop. The Barrys are particularly interested in the Studio Art Glass movement, and the focus of their collection includes more than 100 sculptural objects by such internationally renowned artists as Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra. Their collection also includes works by American modernist painters like Arthur B. Carles and Milton Avery.

Barry had a four decade career at Landmark Media Enterprises and its predecessor, Landmark Communications where he served in various positions, including most recently as vice chairman. Barry helped steer media entities like the Virginian-Pilot and The Weather Channel. Barry retired in 2010, which brings us to the first part of this giving portrait.

When Barry retired, he said that he wanted to expand his work with a handful of civic groups. He and his wife also established the Richard and Carolyn Barry Charitable Trust around that time. So far, the family's giving through this charitable vehicle has been small, but we write often about the uptick in philanthropy that can happen when a donor has the added headspace that retirement can provide. 

The family's relationship which Old Dominion goes back years. During the 1980s, Barry served as rector of ODU's board of visitors. The Barrys have supported ODU before, the site of the Barry Arts Building. Sometimes big gifts can happen years or even decades down the line after an initial relationship, and this gift is a good example of this. 

Carolyn is also a strong factor in the couple's latest gift to ODU and in the family's passion for arts. She's a longtime art collector, and a master docent at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, where she also sits on the board of trustees. The Barry couple helped establish the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass at the museum, which by the way, is only a few miles down the road from Old Dominion.

One might ask how ODU was able to land the Barrys big collection and not the Chrysler Museum. One possible answer comes from ODU President John R. Broderick who notes the new museum is intended to complement the regions' array of arts and culture institutions. These institutions include not only the Chrysler Museum of Art, but also the Hermitage Museum and Gardens and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. 

"The Barrys' gift allows ODU to become one of Hampton Roads' major cultural destinations... Their collection tells a story about the rise of American glass artists to the forefront of the international scene. The new museum will frame this story beautifully, while providing a starting point for other stories yet to be told," Broderick said. 

Nearby campus museums like the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary and the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia are also part of this ecosystem. Ultimately, Barry and Carolyn, as evidenced by their big gift, were convinced that ODU's new museum would be part of this broader arts community. A final lesson, to complete the painting.