Dan and Jennifer Gilbert donate $ 30 million to the Cranbrook Academy of Art

Bloomfield Hills – A landmark donation of $ 30 million on Tuesday from billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert and his wife Jennifer to the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the largest donation in the institution’s history, will be used to create scholarships comprehensive studies for underrepresented minority students, thereby attracting more artists of color to campus to teach and strengthen the financial stability of the academy.

The donation, considered the largest ever financial donation to an art program in the United States, will be ‘transformational’ for Cranbrook’s graduate art program, said Dominic DiMarco, president of the Cranbrook Educational Community .

“It’s historic,” DiMarco said. “It’s really a catalyst for moving the academy forward. … It’s this whole idea of ​​increasing the diversity of voices on campus, bringing in kids, great students, really talented artists, who could not study at Cranbrook (in the past) due to our schooling model. “

The Gilberts’ giveaway comes days after another huge Don: a pledge to invest $ 500 million in Detroit neighborhoods over the next 10 years. The billionaire founder of Quicken Loans plans to start with $ 15 million in overdue property taxes.

Jennifer Gilbert, who chairs the board of governors of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, said the giveaway announced on Tuesday responds to what she has heard over the past few years from stakeholders in the community.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” said Gilbert, who joined the Board of Governors in 2011 and has served as its Chairman since 2017. “Our ultimate goal is to foster sustainable financial stability while building community more diverse and more equitable. We know this is not a quick fix, but a step in the right direction. “

To create more diversity, part of the $ 30 million donation will go towards creating 20 full scholarships, called Gilbert Fellows, for students from under-represented racial and ethnic groups. It will also fund visiting faculty artists over the next five years, with a focus on artists of color.

And it will cover the cost of hiring inclusion, diversity and equity consultants “to continue to develop and implement long-term substantive change plans,” according to Cranbrook.

The Cranbrook Academy of Art, considered one of the best graduate art programs in the country which typically has around 150 students each year, is part of Cranbrook’s larger educational community founded in 1904 by George Booth and his wife, Ellen Scripps Booth, on a 319- acre campus in Bloomfield Hills.

The community, designed by famous Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, also includes a museum of contemporary art, a science institute, Cranbrook House & Gardens and a preparatory school for K-12 University.

Informal arts education began in Cranbrook in the 1920s with studios of artists and craftspeople working with Saarinen, who was the first president of the art academy, but it was not until 1932 that the academy was officially sanctioned.

It is inspired by the American Academy of Art in Rome and has 11 departments, including 2D design, 3D design, architecture, ceramics, photography and sculpture. Famous alumni include Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia and Paul Evans. Iconic designers Charles and Ray Eames met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

According to the academy’s website, the tuition and one-year fees are $ 39,240. The cost of a two-year graduate degree would be around $ 78,000.

Renowned visual artist Nick Cave, who graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1988 and is black, remembers the lack of diversity when he was at Cranbrook. He said he had had an “incredible” experience, but was the only minority student in the graduate program.

“So it was a shocking moment for me to come to terms with this,” said Cave, who is from Missouri. “Luckily I had Detroit. Detroit was my savior – (a place) to be able to connect with your people and have a balance. And it was fabulous. I needed both.”

Cave said the importance of scholarships enables “diverse and inclusive makeup” on campus – and that’s important.

“If we’re trying to somehow imagine the world we collectively hope to exist in, it has to look like it,” he said.

The Cranbrook Academy of Art is one of the best graduate art programs in the country.

DiMarco thinks the campus is more diverse now than it was during Cave’s tenure, but “honestly there’s more work to be done in all of these places.”

“Is he late? I’m not sure. But I’m sure that’s the direction we should be going,” DiMarco said.

Graduate programs across the country appear to be struggling to attract diverse groups of students. A 2017 graduate enrollment and degree study sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools and the GRE found that enrollment of under-represented minorities is a problem in many areas. Blacks, for example, made up only 5.3% of total enrollment in arts and humanities graduate programs in 2016.

DiMarco said it was about investing in “under-represented change agents”. He said Saarinen saw the art academy as a “creative utopia” and believed that the best way for artists to learn was from each other.

“We still believe in this vision and nurturing a diverse and inclusive community is essential to its pursuit,” said DiMarco, who is preparing to retire in June.

In addition to bolstering the academy’s diversity and inclusion efforts, Cranbrook officials also plan to use a portion of the Gilberts’ donation for new initiatives to create alternative sources of income to ensure financial sustainability. and reduce reliance on tuition fees for funding.

DiMarco said the campus essentially closes once students leave for the summer, but those spaces could be used for other programs.

“We have this beautiful campus and these beautiful spaces that we could use for art programs, third year programs, doctoral programs, adult programs,” said DiMarco. “… Everything we do in this space may not work, but having the resources to try some of these things is going to really help us.”

Cave, who went to Cranbrook with a scholarship after a former professor told him he should go, said he was just grateful for what the Gilberts’ gift will do for the academy and for the artists. colored.

“Being surrounded by Saarinen and connected to Knoll is about design, it’s about art,” Cave said. “Being able to access it changes my life. I know it was for me.”

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