Sizable gifts to help UM build art museum, grow program for women leaders

Members of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the University of Montana received pieces in the William A. Clark collection in July 2018. The art added an estimated $2.1 million in value to the museum’s permanent collection. A new $5 million gift from the Terry and Patt Payne Family will serve as the lead investment in the university’s plans to build a new museum. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The University of Montana on Friday announced two major financial contributions to the school, including a $5 million gift to provide the university’s art collection with a permanent home, and a $1.2 million pledge supporting a new initiative aimed at developing female leaders.

The $5 million gift from the Terry and Patt Payne Family will form the lead investment behind UM’s plans to build a new museum for its vast art collection, which includes roughly 11,000 treasures valued at an estimated $30 million.

The proposed Montana Heritage Pavilion would allow the museum to transfer pieces from storage to a full museum for public display.

“We are enthusiastic to be a catalyst in bringing the art treasures of the University of Montana to the light of day so that they may be displayed for all to enjoy after such a long period of storage,” Terry Payne said in a statement provided by the university.

The university art collection is vast and includes works from Europe and the American West. The list of items grew last summer when several 19th century paintings collected by William A. Clark arrived on campus.

But like many of the pieces held in UM’s permanent collection, the work is rarely seen for lack of space. That’s been an ongoing source of frustration for art enthusiasts, who have long contended that such a rich collection deserves a permanent and fitting home.

“The Permanent Collection holds thousands of works of art from many cultures across time, representing more than 2,000 years of human creativity,” said Rafael Chacón, director of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. “What’s exciting about this particular moment is that, for the first time in close to 125 years, we’re on the threshold of sharing that collection on a large scale.”

While discussions once placed a future museum in downtown Missoula in what was envisioned as an art district, the school plans to build the Montana Heritage Pavilion on campus. The exact location and design haven’t been determined.

“This addition to our campus will become an exciting destination in our community, state and region,” UM President Seth Bodnar said. “It will be a place of gathering, but more importantly, a manifestation of our enduring commitment to the arts and history.”

Also on Friday, the school announced a $1.25 million pledge from Dennis and Gretchen Eck. The gift will support a new program that prepares women to become leaders to effect broad social change.

“We have local, national and global work yet to do to ensure that society more fully benefits from the contributions of women,” said Dennis Eck. “This is not just a women’s issue. This is a societal issue, and the S.E.A. Change Initiative for UM Students is our way of saying that UM will be leaders for creating culture change.”

Statistics show that women make up 51 percent of the nation’s population and earn more than 57 percent of undergraduate degrees. But the numbers don’t translate to greater earnings or the role women play in leadership positions.

According to the university, women represent just 24 percent of Congress, and just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. The S.E.A. Change Initiative for UM Students looks to address the statistics by creating generational change.

“This new program is an emphatic reminder that UM is an institution committed to equity for all,” said Kelly Webster, who leads the UM program. “Real change requires persistent effort, and UM faculty, staff and students have long been generating meaningful change. This gift will allow us to magnify and build upon their efforts.”