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$10 Million Gift will Help Build New UC Davis Art Museum

For years, most of the UC Davis art collection has languished in storage because of limited space at the university’s current museum.


Now, a $10 million gift from a prominent Napa Valley vintner will provide the vital funding needed to bring the university’s 5,000 collected works – including seminal works of Northern California art from the latter half of the 20th century – to the fore.


The university will announce today that Clos Pegase winery owner Jan Shrem and friend Maria Manetti Farrow have provided the $10 million to build a new art museum. Theirs is the largest gift ever received by the UC Davis College of Letters and Science.


The new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Farrow Museum of Art, along with the expansion of the Crocker Art Museum, will help establish the Sacramento region as a visual art destination, two museum directors told The Bee.


Once built, the new museum will have 40,000 square feet of space. The current museum space at the Richard L. Nelson Gallery of Art is 1,500 square feet.


“The impact of this gift is enormous,” said Nelson Gallery director Renny Pritikin. “It’s long-awaited and a glorious moment for the history of arts at UC Davis.”


The gift will go toward a $30 million design and construction price tag. The $10 million will be added to a $2 million gift given to the museum project in 2010 by Margrit Mondavi. Mondavi was instrumental in spurring Shrem to give to the UC Davis museum project, said Jessie Ann Owens, dean of humanities, arts and cultural studies.


The university will commit $15 million from tax-exempt bond financing to the project, leaving about $3 million to be raised privately, Owens said. The university plans to raise an additional $5 million to $20 million for an endowment fund for operating expenses.


The remaining $3 million will not be a fundraising challenge, Pritikin said. “Like dominoes, everything will start falling into place,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we feel we have momentum.”


The museum, slated to open in 2015, will rise on a 1.6-acre site directly southeast of the Mondavi Center for the Arts building. When open, the building will complete an ambitious quad on the campus, surrounded by the Mondavi Center, the Gallagher Hall Graduate School of Management and the Buehler Alumni and Visitor Center. The Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science is just a short walk to the south.


“We think this is going to be a model museum for the 21st century,” Pritikin said.


The building project enters the design phase in January, with groundbreaking expected in April 2013.


The new museum is envisioned as a teaching and exhibiting museum modeled after such spaces as the highly regarded Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Pritikin said.


“They generate shows, they have a collection, and they have artists in residence,” he said. “That is what we want to be.”


A key role of the new museum will be to exhibit UC Davis’ collection, including masterworks by artists Robert Arneson, Wayne Thiebaud, and Manuel Neri as well as UC Davis alumni Deborah Butterfield and Bruce Nauman.


On any given day, the Nelson Gallery of Art can show only about 1 percent of the university’s collection, Pritikin said. The new museum will allow nearly 10 percent of the collection to be displayed, he said, including Arneson’s “The Palace at 9 a.m.” That work is a 15-foot-by-15-foot ceramic depiction of Arneson’s former Davis residence at the corner of L and Alice streets.


“We displayed that here in 2007, and it hasn’t been seen since,” he said. “We’d love to have that up permanently.”


Pritikin said the museum will have an audience attraction “ripple effect” when combined with the offerings at the recently expanded Crocker Museum of Art in Sacramento.


“This bodes well for the future of art in the region,” said Lial Jones, executive director of the Crocker. “If you think of the arts as being transformative for communities – that good art communities bring in a creative class … that brings with it a lot of economic prosperity.”


Shrem declined to comment for this story. The pair’s gift to UC Davis is not the first time he and Manetti Farrow have made philanthropic news. They recently announced a $3 million gift to the San Francisco Opera.

Published in Sacramento Bee.

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