"Dynamic Connections." With Two Big Museum Gifts, the Texas Arts Fundraising Boom Rolls On

The Blanton Museum of art. Faina Gurevich/shutterstock

The Blanton Museum of art. Faina Gurevich/shutterstock

Two big museum gifts—one from a foundation, the other from a family—serve as useful reminders that while places like New York City and Los Angeles may get lots of coverage, donors continue to pour money into Texas-based arts organizations.

The first story finds the Galveston-based Moody Foundation giving a $20 million gift to Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin to “transform the museum’s exterior spaces.” It’s another capital gift from a funder with a long history of supporting brick and mortar projects at arts organizations across the state.

Meanwhile, the Trammell and Margaret Crow family donated the entire collection of the Trammell and Margaret Crow Museum of Asian Art, plus $23 million of support funding, to the University of Texas at Dallas to create the Trammell and Margaret Crow Museum of Asian Art of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Add it all up, and the two gifts encapsulate the breadth of the donor base fueling Texas’ fundraising boom. What’s more, neither funder’s riches can be directly traced to the energy industry, suggesting that the state’s philanthropic ecosystem, like that of its largest city, consists of more than oil wealth.

“Exciting Next Chapter”

Established in 1942, the Moody Foundation is the foundation of William Lewis Moody Jr. and his wife, Libby Shearn Moody. Moody made his fortune by building newspapers, ranches, hotels and the American National Insurance Company, which formed the basis of the foundation’s assets. The Moody Foundation began operating on a larger scale in 1960 when William’s estate was transferred to the foundation and grantmaking spread throughout Texas. The foundation has made more than $1.5 billion in grants throughout the state. Focus areas include physical rehabilitation, historic restoration, children’s issues, environment, social services and arts education.

The foundation’s recent grant to UT Austin seeks to transform the Blanton Museum’s exterior spaces into an “iconic destination” to “facilitate the museum’s vision for innovative outdoor programming, and form a dynamic connection between the university, the city of Austin, and the Texas State Capitol Complex.” The Moody gift, according to UT, is one of the largest ever granted to benefit Austin’s fine arts community, and the largest ever given in support of Austin’s outdoor spaces. 

“The Moody Foundation has a long history with the Blanton, and we are extremely pleased to contribute to such a significant project. As a young visitor growing up in Austin, this museum taught me that art is a vital social force to inspire and unite communities,” said Elle Moody, trustee of the Moody Foundation. “The Blanton continues to make great strides in bringing world-class art experiences to visitors from Central Texas and beyond, and we are honored to support this exciting next chapter.”

This isn’t the foundation’s first foray into the world of public space transformation or arts-related capital giving. In 2017, Moody made a $15 million commitment to Austin’s Waller Creek Conservancy, a partner that’s working on a series of connected green spaces along the creek that runs through Austin. The foundation also committed $20 million to create the Moody Center for the Arts Houston’s Rice University, which opened in 2017. It’s one of many buildings with the Moody name dotting the state, along with Southern Methodist University's Moody Coliseum, Moody Gardens in Galveston, and the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nor is the foundation averse to bailing out a troubled institution or supporting smaller organizations with cold, hard cash. In April of 2017, the foundation offered to pay $12 million toward Dallas’ AT&T Performing Arts Center’s $27 million debt. The center was renamed Moody Performance Hall in acknowledgement of the gift. The foundation also supplemented its bailout with an additional $10 million in funding for small, Dallas-based nonprofit arts groups with annual operating budgets of less than $1 million. 

The “Largest Landlord in the U.S.”

Born in 1914, Fred Trammell Crow was a real estate developer from Dallas whose portfolio of properties included the Dallas Market Center, the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, and the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. In 1986, the Wall Street Journal called Crow the largest landlord in the U.S., beating out a certain developer from Queens.

His Trammel Crow Company went public in 1997; in 2006, it was sold to CB Richard Ellis group for approximately $2.2 billion. According to Commercial Property Executive’s annual rankings, the Trammel Crow Company remains the largest commercial real estate developer in the U.S.

Crow married his wife Margaret in 1942. The couple purchased their first piece of Asian art in the mid-1960s, and their collection grew to approximately 4,000 pieces over the next four decades. In 1998, the Crow family opened the Trammel and Margaret Crow Museum of Asian Art in downtown Dallas with the goal of keeping the collection intact and increasing the American public’s knowledge and appreciation of the arts and cultures of Asia.

The Crows were very much ahead of the curve. Over 20 years later, Asian art is a very hot commodity.

In mid-2017, the Cincinnati Art Museum has announced the largest single monetary gift in its history, an $11.75 million endowment for its collections of art from South Asia, Greater Iran and Afghanistan. Later that year, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife Akiko Yamazaki gave $25 million toward a $90-million “transformation project” of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. And in April of 2018, the Art Institute of Chicago floated the idea that a portion of its $50 million unrestricted gift from Janet and Craig Duchossois could be used to fund a new building devoted to Asian art.

Crow passed away in 2009; Margaret in 2014. Trammell S. Crow, president of the Crow Family Foundation and son of Trammell and Margaret Crow, has overseen the development of the museum during the past 20 years as a point of connection between the U.S. and Asia.

Under the agreement with the Crow family, UT Dallas will continue to operate the Trammell and Margaret Crow Museum of Asian Art in its current space in the downtown Dallas Arts District. The gift will provide for the design and construction of a second museum on the UT Dallas campus, an expansion to exhibit a wider range of the full collection.

“We are excited to see The University of Texas at Dallas bring the museum that our parents built into a new era,” Crow said. “It is our hope that the museum will continue to create global awareness and conversation through the power of the collection and its programs and reach new audiences, both among UT Dallas students and the broader North Texas community.”