Gifts to the arts top $200 million; new space planned

The Art and Art History Department has run out of space.

In 2006, the Film and Media Studies Program moved to the department in the now-cramped Cummings Art Building. A production studio, editing rooms and screening rooms had to be left behind in the Communication Department at McClatchy Hall.

Meanwhile, student interest in studio art courses has boomed, resulting in further pressures on the Cummings building's square footage. Four faculty members are making do with provisional offices in the lobby, and they can consider themselves lucky; many others don't have offices in the building.

"Great sparks happen when people come together in one place," said Kristine Samuelson, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. "That happens far less because of our current space situation."

Thankfully, it's a problem money can, and will, solve. Longtime Stanford supporters Deedee and Burt McMurtry, former chairman of the Board of Trustees, are giving $30 million toward construction of a new building for the department at the site of a defunct anatomy lab next to the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. The building will be named in their honor. (The Hoover Institution will take over the Cummings Art Building.)

In addition, four other current and former trustees recently have given significant donations as part of an effort to build up the arts at Stanford. So far, gifts and pledges to the arts have exceeded $200 million during The Stanford Challenge. The total, which includes matching funds, is the most Stanford has ever raised for the arts as part of a campaign, said Martin Shell, vice president for development.

The Stanford Challenge is a five-year, university-wide campaign that includes major initiatives on the environment, human health, international affairs, K-12 education, and graduate and undergraduate education. The Arts Initiative, a component of The Stanford Challenge, aims to foster a systematic "culture of creativity" at Stanford. The enterprise intends to link the arts to virtually every field of study, including engineering, sciences, social sciences, law and medicine.

Another major gift comes from McMurtry's successor as chair of the university's board, Leslie Parker Hume, MA '71, PhD '79, and her husband, George Hume, JD/MBA '75, a former Stanford trustee. Their gift will establish five graduate fellowships in the arts and humanities, create new arts courses, bring visiting artists to campus and enable more undergraduates to attend off-campus performances and exhibitions. A significant portion will support the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA), which fosters new interdisciplinary curricula, programs, research and artist residencies.

"There is an enormous amount of artistic energy at Stanford," Leslie Hume said. "We want to involve a wider range of students, whether they are being introduced to the arts as audience members or developing their own creative powers."

This is the goal of gifts from two other couples: Steven Denning and Roberta Bowman Denning, and Vicki and Roger Sant.

The Dennings are giving $13 million, augmented by university funds for a total of nearly $20 million. Steven Denning, MBA '78, is a trustee, and Roberta Bowman Denning, '75, MBA '78, chairs the advisory council for the Arts Initiative. Their gift will endow SICA's directorship, provide endowed funds for SICA programming and establish MFA fellowships for graduate students in the fine arts. It also will establish an endowed professorship focusing on the arts, science and technology.

The Sants are providing $2.5 million, matched by Hewlett Foundation funds, to establish a $5 million endowed professorship for the chair of the Art and Art History Department. Vicki Sant, '61, served on Stanford's Board of Trustees until last fall. She currently is president of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Additional gifts to the arts at Stanford have come from alumni and other donors, including Carmen Christensen, for MFA fellowships; C. Diane Christensen, for MFA fellowships and the Cantor Arts Center; Karen Christensen, for a curatorship at the Cantor Arts Center; Brit and Alexander D'Arbeloff, to the Plattner Institute of Design; Susan and John Diekman, to the Cantor Arts Center; Phyllis and William Draper, to the Creative Writing Program; the estate of Marjorie Lewisohn, to the Cantor Arts Center; Wendy Munger and Leonard Gumport, for visiting artists and scholars; Jay Roach and Susanna Hoffs, to the Film and Media Studies Program; and Sharon and Jay Rockefeller, for general support of the Arts Initiative.

The $200 million total also includes a $35 million donation from German business leader Hasso Plattner, announced in 2005, toward the creation of the university's Plattner Institute of Design; a $50 million gift from Helen and Peter Bing, '55, announced in 2006, toward a new campus concert hall; and a $10 million gift from Ruth, '47, and Bob Halperin to support the Cantor Arts Center.

"With more funding, I think the public will begin to see more artistic achievements coming from Stanford alongside the technical achievements they've come to expect," Burt McMurtry said.

Under one roof

Planning for the new arts building has just begun, but it is expected to reunite the faculty and raise the profile of the arts on campus.

"It's a transformative gift, not only for our department, but for the arts at Stanford," Samuelson said. "The McMurtrys are moving the Arts Initiative forward to a new level."

Stanford has been adding faculty whose work blends sound, electronics and video. Art history remains an essential part of the curriculum, as does training in traditional art forms, but the boundaries between forms are being blurred, Samuelson said.

By housing the entire department under one roof, the building will promote the cross-pollination that characterizes contemporary art, she said. Its location also will make it easier to collaborate with the Cantor Arts Center.

The arts, however, face a special challenge. According to Deedee McMurtry, a veteran member of the university's Panel on Outdoor Art and a board member for San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, "A lot of people feel: 'If we're going to give a lot of money, it should be for something solid and substantial. The arts are too fuzzy.'" That view, she said, underestimates the value of fuzziness, especially at a place like Stanford.

Samuelson agreed: "As the arts flourish at Stanford, I think they will ignite all kinds of exciting collaborations and conversations. It's hard to predict precisely what those new connections will look like, but the entire campus will benefit.

"A lot of our students have lived in a world where everything is sharply defined, because they've been on a tightly structured academic track to get into college," she said. "Art is exploratory. It doesn't have any right or wrong. It doesn't have any borders."

In other words, it gives people more space.