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$40 million naming gift to school fuels excellence in arts from Doris Bass and family
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$40 million naming gift to school fuels excellence in arts from Doris Bass and family

The future is exceptionally bright at The University of Texas at Dallas.

At the formal dedication of the Harry W. Bass Jr. School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology UT Dallas president Richard C. Benson envisioned a blazing new era.

“I am confident that we can now be known not just for our excellence in the disciplines associated with STEMM [science, technology, engineering, math and management], but with the addition of the arts — STEAMM.” Benson told the assemblage of about 300 people. “I want to thank the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation for making this possible.”

The foundation’s historic $40 million gift will support programming, research, scholarships and faculty at the unique school, which was created a year ago with the merger of the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications. “It’s a place that combines our traditional humanities and creative arts programs with the cutting-edge technology and innovation that UTD is known for,” Benson said.

Recognized internationally, UT Dallas attracts many foreign students for STEM studies and was just ranked as the top public university in North Texas and the third best in the state by U.S. News & World Report. The university dramatically expanded its arts offerings over the last decade, largely via the benevolence of Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr., including the debut of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology building in 2013 and the creation of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History in 2014. On top of that, Trammell Crow’s heirs donated the entire collection of the Trammell and Margaret Crow Museum of Asian Art to the university in 2019.

In addition to supporting the school, the Bass Foundation’s gift will help fund construction of phase two of the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr.

Athenaeum on 12 acres at UT Dallas’ main campus in Richardson. Phase one, which will house a satellite of the Crow Museum of Asian Art plus study space, is under construction and expected to open next fall. Phase two will feature a performing arts complex and is set to break ground next spring.

The Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation has long focused on supporting education and the arts in the Dallas area, and its board was intrigued by the athenaeum and the unusual blend of disciplines at the school, explained foundation trustee Michael Calhoun. “It’s a school of arts, humanities and technology, and that’s a combination I’d never heard of, and evidently — and Dr. Benson confirmed it earlier — it’s the first one,” Calhoun said.

The generous gift was enabled by the sale of Harry W. Bass Jr.’s world-class collection of early American gold coins in 2022 for a total of $83.66 million. “We’re excited to see where this journey takes us and particularly to see the athenaeum once it opens,” Calhoun said.

Bass, who was not related to the Fort Worth Bass family, was the son of an Oklahoma oilman who prospered in the oil and gas industries and in developing Vail into a ski resort. “Harry was an enthusiast of all things art regardless of the form,” Calhoun said. “He never did anything halfway — [it was] always 110%.”

The Bass School already has “tremendous range” in traditional humanities and the arts, and its goal is to foster collaboration between those disciplines and technology, said school dean Nils Roemer. “For us, it is about fully utilizing the tremendous abilities that we already have, and having them work with each other,” he explained. “We want to find ways for them to pivot into each other and create new things in the middle. I think we have unusual opportunities here to really create new things in ways that maybe other schools can’t.”

He also plans to round out the university’s film and sound programs. “In certain areas we are more on the humanistic side — the study of and less the making of,” he observed. “We have been growing a really stellar program in the study of international movies and have a big enrollment, but we also now want to create the making of movies, documentaries and shorts. We have a great sound program and a really great music program, and I want to create a bigger sound engineering program.”

UT Dallas has added 62 new and tenured-track faculty members this year. In the Bass School, they include American art scholar Erika Doss, Ph.D., as a professor of art history; Hanno Berger, Ph.D., as assistant professor of film studies related to the Holocaust, genocide and human rights; and UT Dallas grad Jack Murray, Ph.D., as assistant professor of game design.

Kyle Edgington, vice president for development and alumni relations, noted that the foundation’s gift also supports its ongoing New Dimensions: The Campaign for UT Dallas, which “aims to raise $750 million for transformative opportunities for students, research and the arts on campus.”

“The naming of the Bass School is a testament to the power of philanthropy and the limitless possibilities that arise when donors like the Bass Foundation align their passions with our University’s mission,” Edgington said.

As UT Dallas Provost Inga Musselman put it, “We are moving, and we are moving fast.”

Photo: Dr. Nils Roemer, dean of the Harry W. Bass Jr. School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology, presented a commemorative gift to Doris Bass, widow of the late Harry W. Bass Jr. and trustee of the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation.(Courtesy UT Dallas)

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