Alumna's Husband Honors San Francisco State University with Transformative Bequest to School of Art

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Thursday, December 12, 2019
Photo of visitors at a reception in the Fine Arts Gallery

Last year, Gwen Allen, the director of the School of Art and Andrew Harris, the dean of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts, had an experience that most academic administrators can only dream of having. In a faculty meeting with their colleagues, Allen and Harris revealed a stunning announcement: The School of Art was the beneficiary of a gift of more than $2 million from the Richard J. Barry Trust. “That meeting was very moving,” said Allen. “At another, more affluent university this might not mean as much, but here it will be absolutely transformational.”

Richard J. Barry passed away in Alexandria, Virginia, on September 14, 2017, at the age of 82. He left the bulk of his estate to the Art Department, the department where his late wife, Michie Barry, earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1973. A small portion of the gift will be allocated for current use, while a large share will be placed in a quasi-endowment with the School of Art projected to receive a significant annual payout in perpetuity.

Once Allen announced the Barry bequest, she held a series of faculty meetings to brainstorm about how the funds would be best spent. “We decided to invest as much as possible in direct support for students: materials and equipment, like cameras for photographers, technology, art supplies and scholarships for students. This way, all of our students, no matter what their financial standing, will have access to the tools that they need to complete the projects the faculty assigns them, and to create and study in the arts,” she said.

“All of our students, no matter what their financial standing, will have access to the tools that they need to complete the projects the faculty assigns them, and to create and study in the arts.” — Gwen Allen, director, School of Art

The School of Art was first established in 1901. According to Mark Johnson, a long-time faculty member, it was one of the first art schools to offer art photography courses in the 1940s, computer art in the 1970s and queer art history in the 1990s. Today, its students continue to push boundaries. Two of the school’s graduate students showed this year in the San Francisco Foundation’s Murphy Award and Cadogan Scholarships show, a prestigious honor shared with Master of Fine Arts students from other top art schools in the region. In 2018, an SF State Master of Fine Arts student won the coveted Murphy Award — a $40,000 prize.

Upgrading facilities and equipment in the School of Art has been an urgent priority for quite a while, and now the Barry trust will make it possible. “This is a game changer,” said Sharon Bliss, Fine Arts Gallery director, who has worked at the school since 2001. “For the faculty, it means we can dream and not just respond to our needs — and then, we can dream with the students as well.”

Other uses for the Barry funds will include curriculum enrichment, such as fees for visiting artists and speakers. “One of the things that makes our school unique is our connection to the culture in the Bay Area,” said Allen. “Being able to introduce our students to practicing artists in the community will be a major asset.” Other funded projects will include support for the College of Liberal & Creative Arts’ Global Museum, Fine Arts Gallery, field trips and the upgrade and expansion of on-campus student artwork display areas.

— Gail Mallimson


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