Two Record Gifts to Smith Will Fund Major Fine Arts Center Expansion and "Practical Learning" Opportunities
Two of the largest single gifts in Smith College history, one for $14 million and one for $10 million, will fund a major expansion and renovation of the college's Fine Arts Center, a complex which includes the college's Department of Art, the Hillyer Art Library, and the highly acclaimed Museum of Art, which ranks among the finest college or university museums in the country.
The gifts, both from alumnae, will enable Smith to move forward on the most ambitious capital construction project the college has ever undertaken.
Smith President Ruth J. Simmons characterized the unprecedented gifts as "a dramatic and resounding statement of a new level of commitment to the best possible education for women."
The $14 million gift from the Houston-based Brown Foundation, Inc. represents the generosity of Isabel Brown Wilson, a 1953 Smith graduate and a member of the college's board of trustees; her sister, Maconda Brown O'Connor, who received the master's degree in social work from Smith in 1985 and the Ph.D. in 1998; and their cousin, Louisa Stude Sarofim, who graduated from Smith in 1958. It is believed to be the largest gift to date to a "Seven Sibling" (formerly "Seven Sister") college (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley).
Of the Brown Foundation gift, $10 million will support the Fine Arts Center renovation and $4 million will fund internship opportunities for students as well as a chaired professorship in practical learning. The latter will be based both in the undergraduate college and in Smith's School for Social Work.
The $10 million gift, from two alumnae in New York City who wish to remain anonymous, is also designated for the Fine Arts Center. In combination with the $10 million from the Brown Foundation, it will provide $20 million of the $31 million cost estimated for the Fine Arts Center project. The new project will add 52,000 square feet to the current buildings, which opened in 1972 on the site of the original Hillyer, Tryon, and Graham halls.
The first building for the Museum of Art was funded through an endowment of $30,000, given to Smith in 1880 by Winthrop Hillyer, a Northampton businessman who left an additional bequest of $50,000 two years later to augment the art collection. At that time, his bequest was Smith's largest gift to date. The art collection has grown over the years to include more than 24,000 objects, including particularly strong holdings in 19th- and early 20th-century art.
The Hillyer Art Library houses the largest art library collection among the Five Colleges (Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts), with the collections numbering 80,000 printed volumes, 35,000 microform units, and 315 current periodicals.
The college's Department of Art offers majors in art history, studio art, and architecture and counts a number of highly distinguished scholars and artists among its faculty. Art consistently ranks among the top three most popular majors in the college.
The renovation and expansion project, to be conducted by Polshek Partnership, a New York-based architectural firm, is scheduled to begin early in 2000. When completed approximately two years later, it will allow more of the art collection to be displayed and studied in the museum, enhance teaching spaces, and provide student exhibition galleries and study areas in the library.
Most significantly, the library and teaching spaces will accommodate the most up-to-date technologies, especially those computer-based functions essential to the needs of studio art and art history programs in the future. The current art slide and photographic collections will be incorporated into a master catalogue, to become the basis for a high-resolution digitized image computer database accessible to all parts of campus.
Professor Craig Felton, art historian and chair of the Department of Art, described the generous gifts as part of a continuing commitment on the part of Smith alumnae to "putting Smith at the forefront of academic programs everywhere.
"With their help and our own professional commitment to an intellectually sound and creative program, we will assure that Smith students and faculty will be aided by the best instructional and technological advancements available," he said.
Suzannah Fabing, director of the museum, concurred, noting that Smith students and students and teachers from area school systems are spending more time in the museum than ever before, using images to enhance their knowledge of subjects ranging from economics to history to literature.
"The museum's collections are already widely used in teaching throughout the curriculum at Smith," Fabing noted. "The renovations and expansion will help us better serve both the campus and the community. With these two magnificent gifts, we are well on our way."
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