For This Estate, Here's What Comes After the Shiny New Arts Building Opens Its Doors

Who needs New York when you have College Station, Texas? Or L.A. when you have Stillwater, Oklahoma? Or Chicago when you have Syracuse, New York?

Indeed, scan recent IP arts headlines and you'll see donors bypassing big cities entirely and instead using their deep pockets to transform small towns and cities into formidable arts destinations or centers of learning. We call it the Alice Walton Effect.

Take the news out of upstate New York, for example.

The estate of Dorothea Ilgen Shaffer, a longtime donor who passed away in 2012 at the age of 101 and graduated from Syracuse University's School of Art in 1933, donated $19.8 million to the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

The bequest is the school's largest single gift ever. The money will:

  • Help support various elements of the VPA, including the School of Art, School of Design, and Department of Transmedia
  • Establish a scholarship for industrial and interaction-design majors
  • Build on the Shaffers' existing support of " talent-based scholarships, awards for graduate students pursuing master of fine arts degrees, professorships in art and art history, and visiting artists and scholars."

We call your attention to the word "existing." The estate's recent gift certainly didn't appear out of nowhere. Shaffer worked as a public school art teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded Ilco, a commercial interior-design firm. She and her lawyer-husband, Maurice, who passed away in 1997, were longtime donors to Syracuse University.

In fact, the couple's support for the university dates back to the late 1980s, when they provided the lead gift of $3.25 million for the construction of VPA’s Dorothea Ilgen Shaffer Art Building.

In that way, the Shaffers were far ahead of the curve. While the previously linked gifts are earmarked for the establishment of brand new arts-related destinations, Syracuse has enjoyed a similar on-campus nexus point since 1990.

And so, rather than reinvent the wheel—or, more applicably, rebuild or even renovate an existing building—Shaffer's estate decided to instead strengthen existing program offerings and launch a new scholarship. And given Shaffer and her estate's long history of support to Syracuse University, nothing seems to indicate they'll be turning off the funding spigot anytime soon.

Meanwhile, in somewhat related news, check out our take on a $4 million gift from the estate of Glenn Korff to help bring top Broadway shows to the University of Nebraska's Lied Center for Performing Arts.