VISUAL ARTS

Overview

You would be hard pressed to find a more diverse pool of individual donors to higher education than the visual arts crowd. They support art schools for many different reasons including a love of art or a commitment to the institution or the community at large.  

Here at IP, we have reviewed major visual arts gifts from individual donors over the past three years and are analyzing new gifts nearly every week. This guide explores who's making the gifts, what schools are getting the money, and what strings are attached to spending.

Who’s Giving?

Over the past few years, individual donors are almost evenly split between alumni and non-alumni, with a handful of big donors giving simply out of love of the arts and/or gratitude for their success. Others give in an effort to reduce the financial burdens of art students.

Peter and Merle Mullin gave the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena $15 million for the construction of a new visual arts building that will focus on undergraduate work in environmental, product, and transportation design, while also providing some space for graduate studies. Neither Peter nor Merle Mullin are former students of the college, but Peter is a trustee. The gift, he said, s “an expression of gratitude to a great city that provided me with great opportunity.”

Another $15 million donor is George Shinn, whose 2017 gift to Lipscomb University will rename its College of Entertainment & the Arts. The college offers undergraduate degrees in cinematic arts, fashion and design, music, theater and dance, and visual arts as well as a graduate cinematic arts program. The impetus for the gift, the largest in the Nashville institution’s history and from a non-alumni donor, is almost certainly Christianity, unusual in this giving space. The college’s mission is “to be a Christ-centered, innovative arts community…that seeks to train the next generation of believer artists.”

At an event celebrating the gift, Shinn said he gave out of a love for storytelling. “Throughout the Bible, Jesus uses stories,” he said. He said that his contribution would make it possible for students to “sing out stories of faith, changing people lives…right here from this wonderful university.”

Another huge gift is the combined $70 million bestowed upon the University of Southern California by Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young, co-founders of Beats Electronics. The money establish the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for the Arts, Technology, and Business Innovation. Combining arts, technology, and business programs is a weighty undertaking, but as USC puts it, the Academy will focus on “invention and conceptual thinking.”

Another $15 million donor is George Shinn, whose 2017 gift to Lipscomb University will rename its College of Entertainment & the Arts. The college offers undergraduate degrees in cinematic arts, fashion and design, music, theater and dance, and visual arts as well as a graduate cinematic arts program. The impetus for the gift, the largest in the Nashville institution’s history and from a non-alumni donor, is almost certainly Christianity, unusual in this giving space. The college’s mission is “to be a Christ-centered, innovative arts community…that seeks to train the next generation of believer artists.”

At an event celebrating the gift, Shinn said he gave out of a love for storytelling. “Throughout the Bible, Jesus uses stories,” he said. He said that his contribution would make it possible for students to “sing out stories of faith, changing people lives…right here from this wonderful university.”

Another huge gift is the combined $70 million bestowed on the University of Southern California by Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young, co-founders of Beats Electronics. The money will establish the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for the Arts, Technology, and Business Innovation. Combining arts, technology, and business is a weighty undertaking the Academy will approach with "invention and conceptual thinking."

The gift drew some criticism in the press when at least one opinion writer questioned why Young, an African American rapper known as Dr. Dre, did not give his half of the money to a black college or university. The editorial argued that such institutions are far needier than USC, which had a $3.5 billion endowment when the two men's contribution was announced. And USC is currently in the midst of a campaign to raise an eye-popping $10 billion.

The USC Academy accepts less than 30 students annually and focuses its core curricula on in-depth learning in engineering and computer science, visual arts and design, audio arts and design, and business and venture management. The Academy also has curricular emphasis in Visual Design, Audio Design, Venture Management, and Technology. USC plans to expand these areas of emphasis as the Academy grows.

Neither Iovine nor Young attended USC, but Iovine’s daughter is an alumna.

Who’s Getting?

Universities attract more individual donors than colleges at a rate of about two to one. But looking at the dollar amounts awarded, the contrast sharpens in favor of universities, which garner more donor dollars at a rate of about five to one compared with colleges.

Major Universities

Universities like Cornell, the University of Chicago, Rutgers and Washington State University brought in the most individual donor dollars for their respective visual arts programs. Smaller universities also received some individual donor attention, though much less so.

For example, the University of North Texas, Denton received $8 million from retail mogul Paul Voertman. The funds are to be divided evenly amongst the College of Music, College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Visual Arts and Design. “I hope that this gift provides students the help they need in an increasingly expensive college environment,” Voertman said.

Colleges

Individual donations for visual arts programs at colleges nationwide may not be as robust as they are at universities, but colleges are far from ignored. Peter and Merle Mullin’s aforementioned $15 million donation to the Art Center College of Design is one of the largest. Other colleges that received big gifts from individuals include Kendall College of Art and Design and the North Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Kendall received $1 million from Dan and Pamella DeVos to establish the Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion. The DeVos’ gift will go toward the support of an annual fashion show, a speaker series, equipment purchases and upgrades, and a number of collaborative fashion-based projects that will pair students with retailers and designers in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. The gift will also allow the Devos School of Fashion to move to a five-story Beaux Arts structure. The building, erected in 1909, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another example of a college arts gift involving a historic building: Dorothy Lemelson gave $1 million to North Pacific Northwest College of Art for renovations and a move to the former federal post office on Portland's North Park Blocks. Lemelson's contribution was made in response to Creativity Works Here, the college's now-concluded $15 million capital campaign, during which she was honorary co-chair. A longtime donor, she was rewarded with the Dorothy Lemelson Innovation Studio at the revamped art college.

What are the Gifts for?

The majority of big individual donor gifts were made to renovate buildings construct new buildings housing visual arts programs. Among the gifts we examined, few are given for curriculum development. Individual donors also like to support projects within a college or university arts school.

One example of a project gift is Mui Ho’s $6 million gift to Cornell University, earmarked to overhaul and expand its Fine Arts Library by enhancing the physical and digital archives and increasing study space. “The physical handling of materials at a real scale and seeing the true color as intended is important, but digital representations will enable broader archiving and distribution of the important work of our alumni and faculty," the donor said. "As technology changes, the way the work is represented will too.”

In another capital project to enhance a campus visual arts facility, Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties, made a $5 million lead gift in a $15 million campaign to expand Washington State University's art museum, which will bear his name. The expansion on the university's Pullman Campus will more than double the museum's size to 10,000 square feet of galleries and and another 6,500 square feet of office and administrative space. “Every person, especially young people, must have the opportunity to experience the arts as part of their lives," . said Schnitzer, a collector and nationally known arts patron. "What better place to help further that goal than our college campuses?”  

How the Gifts Happen

Visual arts donors want to help colleges and universities achieve arts program objectives while also serving their own arts interests. This is one giving space in which both goals can be met smoothly and beautifully achieved to the satisfaction of both institution and donor, though some visual arts gifts may raise questions or criticisms.

Most large visual arts gifts are the result of a concerted effort by an institution's president, dean, or other faculty member. For program- or project-specific fundraising, deans take the lead and pull in the professors in related arts departments for help as needed. When it comes to fundraising for new arts buildings or facility-wide renovations, college and university presidents are usually involved, working closely with art school deans. In both cases, these leaders are supported by fundraising staff and, in some instances, fundraising consultants.

What Strings are Attached?

There are few strings attached to visual arts gifts, with most awarded outright rather than spread over years. As with other gifts in higher education, some contributions pay for facilities and/or areas of study named for the donor such as the Pamela Roland DeVos School of Fashion. Such gifts must be substantial, and in some cases, avoid offending a previous donor. The name change must be approved by the institution's board of directors.

Insights and Tips

Donors in this space tend to give in accordance with their artistic interests. Alumni giving isn’t nearly as dominant in the visual arts as it is in other areas of higher education, such as business schools or scholarships. The alumni who do write large checks for visual arts tend to have been out of school for decades, with the average graduation around 1966.

As for how these million-dollar-plus donors earned their wealth, visual arts draws a diverse group of philanthropists, with retail, real estate, finance, and insurance moguls all making regular appearances.   

What is a little surprising about visual arts giving is the lack of individuals from artistic industries like entertainment and high-end design, with the exception of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s combined $70 million to USC.