Spencer Museum of Art

Gift from Simons family enables early completion of Mellon challenge grant

A capstone gift from the Dolph Simons Jr. family, of Lawrence, has fulfilled a $1 million challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.

The Simons’ gift completed the match months ahead of the grant’s September deadline.

The Andrew W. Mellon Academic Programs Initiative will fuel the Spencer museum’s increasing involvement in interdisciplinary exhibitions and educational programs throughout the university.

Nearly 80 KU alumni and friends provided gifts and pledges to meet the 2008 challenge grant. Included among these gifts were $200,000 from the Anschutz Foundation of Denver; $100,000 from John T. Stewart III and his wife, Linda Bliss Stewart, of Lawrence and Wellington; and $100,000 from Lavon Brosseau, of Concordia.

Dolph Simons Jr. said his family has had a long appreciation of everything Helen and Kenneth Spencer did for the university. His parents, Dolph Simons Sr. and Marie Simons, worked closely with Helen Spencer to have the Spencer Museum of Art built at KU.

“The current Simons family members are pleased to continue this long interest by providing funds to help the Spencer meet the match for the Mellon Foundation,” said Simons.

Simons said the university and the community should be highly complimented that the Mellon Foundation selected the Spencer museum for one of its matching grant opportunities.

“As museum director, Saralyn Reece Hardy is doing excellent work, given her vision and enthusiasm in directing the museum,” Simons said. “We’re pleased to be able to play a small role.”

Hardy said she was thrilled and honored by the gift from the Simons family, which completes the challenge grant and elevates the Spencer Museum of Art among distinguished peers across the nation.

“Not only have we met the challenge grant offered by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, but also — thanks to the decisive generosity of the Simons family and our many other donors — we have met this challenge early.”

The Simons family gift is even more meaningful, Hardy said, because it reflects the continuing tradition of support offered to the museum by multiple generations of the Simons family.

In addition to the $1 million challenge grant, in 2008, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided $200,000 to support the program while matching funds were being raised. The Spencer museum used a portion of these funds to recruit Celka Straughn, director of academic programs, to develop the initiative and ensure that projects are relevant to interests of students and faculty.

Straughn said that in many ways, the initiative expands upon the work that the Spencer museum had been doing.

“It’s reciprocal in that students and faculty learn from the museum’s collections and staff, and we’re similarly learning from them, gaining new insights and perspectives on what is relevant and important to them,” she said.

An example, Straughn said, was last fall’s exhibit Media Memes: Images, Technology and Making the News. Michael Williams, associate professor of journalism, curated the exhibit, with assistance from Luke Jordan, lecturer in the School of the Arts, and Straughn. The gallery looked at questions about photography and meaning making, particularly with 21st century journalism. It included displays and hands-on examples of photo editing processes, select cameras and the impact new and portable technology has made on the viewing of photos.

“What is great about including exhibits such as this in a museum is that it provides a space for visible teaching and learning,” Straughn said. “The Spencer is open to the public and free of charge. What we learn and display here will be visible to anyone who comes to the museum.”

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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