Smart Museum receives $5 million gift and establishes Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry

Staff Writer

The Smart Museum of Art this week announced the creation of the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, which is named for Joan and Robert Feitler, University of Chicago alums, in recognition of a $5 million gift and decades of service to U. of C. and the arts.

The Feitler family’s gift “joins a $5 million bequest from Paul and Miriam Kirkley (which established an acquisitions endowment in 1999) as one of the largest gifts in the Smart Museum’s history,” said the Smart Museum in a written statement.

The Feitler Center will provide a resource for U. of C. students, artists, and faculty and will be a space for scholars and community members to engage in research, learning, and conversations based upon the study and experience of original works of arts. The Center will be housed at the Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., and will be led by newly appointed director Issa Lampe, who began her new role this week.

A goal of the Center is to introduce every student in the College to the practice of examining original works of art through an expanded program of curricular visits to the Smart Museum’s study room, “which accommodated 130 University class visits and over 2,000 students in the 2016–2017 academic year,” according to the Smart Museum.

Expansion of programming will provide additional opportunities for faculty-curated exhibitions at the Smart Museum that are created around the curriculum and student-curated exhibitions.

“We are grateful for Joan and Bob’s inspiring generosity and decades of leadership,” says Alison Gass, Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum, in a written statement. “The arts play a distinct role in fulfilling the University of Chicago’s commitment to open discourse and rigorous inquiry as informed by a diversity of ideas, identities, and experiences. The new Feitler Center will serve as a place for thinkers to come together to advance new understandings through an exchange of diverse perspectives and ideas via the lens of art objects and artistic practices.”

The Feitlers were vital in establishing the Smart Museum in memory of Joan’s uncle’s David and Alfred Smart. The Smart brothers built a publishing business in Chicago and launched magazines including Esquire, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Coronet, and Verve. The pair also produced education films through Coronet Films.

“It is a wonderful place, and as the Smart begins a new chapter under Ali’s leadership, Joan and I thought there could be no better way to inspire a new generation of students and scholars than to create a lasting home for active learning and study through the visual arts,” said Bob Feitler in a written statement.

Joan Feitler is the former chair of the U. of C. Women’s Board, and Bob Feitler is emeritus Chair of the Smart Museum’s Board of Governors he led the board from 2007 to 2012 and was Emeritus Trustee of the University of Chicago. The Feitlers in 2011, received the University of Chicago Medal. The award recognizes distinguished service of the highest order to the university.

“I’m thrilled to join the Smart Museum and look forward to building upon its forty-year legacy in the world of academic museums. The Smart has the distinction of being among the first generation of academic museums to receive a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the 1990s (now endowed). This generous gift from the Feitler family will enable us to develop additional programs to support the teaching and learning of faculty and students at the University of Chicago,” said Lampe in a written statement.