$17 Million Contribution Creates Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at UT Dallas

Dr. David E. Daniel and Mrs. Edith O'Donnell

Edith O’Donnell, with UT Dallas President David E. Daniel, has been a longtime patroness of the arts and education. The Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which opened in 2013, will be home to the new institute’s campus offices.

Edith O’Donnell, longtime visionary and patroness of the arts and education, has made a contribution of $17 million to create the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. The purpose of the investment is to elevate art history at UT Dallas to a nationally pre-eminent stature.  

“UT Dallas excels in science and engineering. The moment is right to build a program of the same quality and rigor in art history,” O’Donnell said. “There is a natural affinity between science and the arts. UT Dallas founders Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott and Cecil Green actively supported the arts. Now, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for art history, UTD-style.”

Dr. David E. Daniel, president of UT Dallas, said, “The University extends its sincerest thanks and grateful appreciation to Edith O’Donnell. Her dedication to preserving and expanding the knowledge of art throughout the world inspires the creation of this institute.”

Dr. Rick Brettell

Dr. Richard R. Brettell

Dr. Richard R. Brettell will lead the stand-alone institute as the first Director and Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair. He will also serve as a vice provost, reporting to Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president and provost.

Brettell, a professor of art and aesthetic studies who also holds the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies in the School of Arts and Humanities, said, “Mrs. O’Donnell has made it clear that what interested her about funding art history at UT Dallas was our strength in the sciences, technology and management, thus creating the conditions that could foster a wholly new kind of art history.

“With art historians on campus who study the intersections between art and cartography, art and biology, and art history in the context of big data, UT Dallas has demonstrated a willingness to think about art and about history in new ways,” Brettell said.

O’Donnell said she recognizes that outstanding faculty and students are critical to the institute’s success. Her $17 million lead gift will endow Brettell’s position at the institute, four O’Donnell Distinguished Chairs, 10 O’Donnell Graduate Research Fellowships, and a research and program fund. The institute will provide support for conferences, research travel, and visiting faculty and lecturers.

The institute’s campus offices will be in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, a 155,000-square-foot facility that houses programs in arts and technology, visual arts, emerging media and communications, as well as a 1,200-seat lecture hall.

“The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History will be the first such institute formed in the digital age,” Brettell said. “It will work with the distinguished older institutes” in New York (The Institute of Fine Arts), London (The Courtauld Institute of Art History) and Munich (The Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte) as well as the research institutes at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Clark Art Institute and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and “will add a truly 21st-century dimension to the study of art history.”  

The institute also will strengthen UT Dallas’ ties to area art museums. The Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are working with UT Dallas on a partnership in conservation science. This partnership provides the museums with an opportunity to collaborate with UT Dallas scientists. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they will undertake long-term research projects focused on new scientific techniques and technologies to study artists’ materials. One of the new Edith O’Donnell Chairs will be dedicated to conservation science.

“We are very excited by the opportunity to collaborate with the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and its director, Dr. Rick Brettell, to foster a better understanding of the creativity and history embedded in the visual arts,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

“The 22,000 works of art in our city’s encyclopedic museum will provide a laboratory for scholars from around the world participating in the life of this new institute. The DMA’s emerging strengths in both technology platforms and scientific research of our collections will also prove to be a fitting complement to the compelling vision articulated by Mrs. O’Donnell and by Dr. Brettell.”

Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, said that the gift “represents a major step in advancing Dallas as an international center for the visual arts.

“Cementing existing programs, bringing new art historical talent to Dallas and fostering interdisciplinary research and institutional collaborations, the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History promises to be transformative not only of the arts in Dallas, but also of the field of art historical studies,” he said.

Existing programs that will be affiliated with the institute include the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, the Conservation Science Initiatives in partnership with the DMA and Amon Carter Museum, the DFW Art History Network and the Texas Fund for Curatorial Research.

Other affiliated museums and projects include the Census of French Sculpture in American Collections, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, Gauguin Catalogue Raisonné, James Magee: The Hill, the DMA, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and the Yale Series of Books on the History and Theory of Art Museums.

The institute will open this fall with events and activities to be announced soon.

Paintings from the Dallas Museum of Art are being studied as part of a conservation science effort to preserve colors. 

Art Projects at UT Dallas

UT Dallas has established collaborations with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art on conservation science projects that will become part of the work at the new institute. The projects include:

Ultramarine Disease

Dr. Ken Balkus, professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his team are hoping to solve the mystery behind ultramarine disease with the help of the DMA. The disease causes ultramarine blue areas in Old Master paintings to turn gray or flat. The team’s goals are identifying the phenomenon’s causes and determining whether it can be reversed. Read more

Pigment and Medium Analysis of "Pandanus"

Dr. Amy Walker, associate professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, has been working with DMA curators to determine the potential of secondary ion mass spectrometry as a tool in analyzing Paul Gauguin’s painting materials and techniques. Read more

Kodak Dye Transfer Process

Dr. Jie Zheng, associate professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is helping the Amon Carter Museum of American Art learn more about the evolution of the Kodak Dye Transfer Process, one of the most successful early forms of color photography. Zheng is using his Raman microscopic system to find changes in the chemical makeup of the process over the years. Read more



What They Said 

“One of the goals of Edith O’Donnell in giving the money was to recognize the many links between the visual arts, technology and the sciences, which are, of course, so strong at UTD. We will be an institute, not a department, of art history within a university that’s directed toward science and technology, engineering and management. Our whole idea of art history will be inflected by our place at UTD.”

Dr. Richard R. BrettellVice ProvostEdith O'Donnell DistinguishedDirector, Margaret M. McDermottDistinguished Chair of Art andAesthetic Studies


“Mrs. O’Donnell’s extraordinary gift wisely emphasizes the abiding importance of the visual arts not only in expressing but also in shaping cultural values. Like the building on campus that bears her name, it also challenges us to create an exceptional institute that weds teaching with research.”

Dr. Dennis M. KratzDean of the School ofArts and HumanitiesIgnacy and Celina RockoverProfessor


“This remarkable gift will prove transformative both for UTD and for the art historical community across North Texas, including the DMA.”

Maxwell L. AndersonDirector of the DallasMuseum of Art


Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: A&H