New York artist and philanthropist Jane Walentas and her husband David recently made a $5 million gift to create the Walentas Visionary Women Scholarships program at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art & Design, the nation’s first and only visual art and design school for undergraduate women. The scholarships will be part of Moore’s Visionary Woman Honors Program, which provides financial support and mentorship to a broad array of students.
The Walentases’ endowment gift will fund scholarships each year to 10 non-Pennsylvania residents accepted to Moore who display exceptional artistic and academic promise. Each scholarship will be automatically renewed for up to four years of full-time enrollment with the upkeep of the student’s GPA.
The announcement comes roughly two months after Indiana University’s Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art announced a $4 million estate gift from philanthropist Dr. Jane Fortune towards the advancement of women artists. Prior to her passing in 2018, Fortune’s philanthropic mission was boosting gender equity in an art world where only two works by women have ever broken into the top 100 auction sales for paintings.
Moore College’s Visionary Woman Honors Program focuses in on a key driver behind these inequities: barriers to access at the undergraduate level. While we’ve reported on how some foundations give grants to aid established women artists, it’s important to start earlier. But universities haven’t done enough to nurture women with an interest in art and design, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds. The Walentas’ gift, the largest in Moore’s 170-year history, aims to recruit and support promising female students while elevating the school’s stature.
“Moore, being a small, all-women’s college of art and design, is still relatively unknown outside the Philadelphia area and I felt strongly about bringing talented students from other regions to this extraordinary college,” said Jane, a 1966 graduate of the college. “Moore was important to my past. I am privileged to be making a contribution that will help Moore continue to attract and educate the country’s brightest and most gifted young women artists.”
Education, the Arts, and a Carousel
Real estate developer David Walentas graduated from the University of Virginia and founded Two Trees Management, which is best known for transforming Brooklyn neighborhoods Dumbo and Williamsburg. Forbes has pegged David’s net worth at $2.5 billion.
Jane is the Executive Director of the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, which awards rent-free non-living studio space to 17 visual artists for year-long residencies in Dumbo. Since its founding, over 400 artists have participated in the program. Jane also received a Master of Fine Arts degree from NYU and worked as an art director in cosmetic advertising for Elizabeth Arden, Avon, and Estee Lauder. She recently made news for completing a 25-year restoration of a 1922 carousel. The renamed Jane’s Carousel is located in Brooklyn Bridge Park and open year-round.
The Walentas family moves their philanthropy through the Walentas Foundation, Ltd. Areas of interest include arts, education, youth, and civic development, with a geographic focus on Brooklyn’s Dumbo and Williamsburg neighborhoods. In 2013, foundation, with support from Two Trees, established the Neighborhood School Grants program to enrich students’ learning experiences through programming that may not be supported by a school’s existing budget. Since the program’s inception, it has distributed more than $1,650,000 to support Brooklyn’s Districts 13, 14, and 15.
Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane said she “absolutely loved” her time at Moore. “I loved being in the city. The school was small and nurturing. It served me well in many ways.” That said, it was her husband, Jane said, who took the lead on the gift. “He pushed it,” she said. “He said, ‘We have the money. It’s an important thing to do for Moore.’ He believed, and I agree, it will make a difference at Moore.”
To Jane’s point, while $5 million may not sound like a lot of money in today’s cash-flush higher ed landscape, it’s important to keep the figure in perspective for a school that had about 373 undergraduate students in 2018. “Relative to the history of fund-raising [at Moore], this is quite a momentous occurrence,” said Moore president Cecelia Fitzgibbon. “It’s larger even than the funds that founded Moore.”
The Walentases’ gift came about a year after the Art Institute of Philadelphia, which enrolled around 1,200 students, closed its doors. The decision was made for a “number of reasons,” said Anne Dean, a spokesperson for the institute’s nonprofit parent company, Dream Center Education Holdings, including a shift in the demand for online programs and in student populations at the campuses, which resulted in “declining, unsustainable enrollment levels for campus-based programs in these markets.”
Jane is a longtime member of Moore’s Board of Trustees. She and David established the Jane Walentas ’66 Endowed Scholarship and International Travel Fellowship at Moore, as well as the Jane and David Walentas Endowed Fellowship. Jane also played an integral role in the 2005 launch of Moore’s Visionary Woman Scholarship Program, which pairs a $22,000 annual scholarship ($19,000 annually for transfer students) with four years of training. Since its inception, the program has provided scholarships to 150 Moore students, including 42 in 2019.
Students accepted into the program can pursue either a Leadership Path or an Academic Path for their four years of training. The former provides students with experiential learning and networking opportunities, leadership development workshops, and volunteer positions, internships, and freelance work. The latter provides opportunities to work with faculty, conduct independent and collaborative research, and meet visiting artists and scholars.
The program, which acknowledges that few graduates will make a living as a full-time artist, mirrors donors’ efforts to nudge art students towards careers in art conservation and cultivating a pipeline of diverse museum leaders. Moore’s program stands apart from these initiatives because it’s focused solely on undergraduate women. Similarly, while Creative Capital provides collaborative workshops and the Clark Hulings Fund upskills participants in fields like financial planning, contracts, and marketing, these efforts typically focus on professional working artists, not undergraduates.
By attracting promising students from outside of the Philadelphia area and those who might not attend Moore—or any art school, for that matter—the Walentas’ gift to Moore College finds the couple joining a growing chorus of higher ed funders reducing barriers to entry by tackling issues like accessibility and affordability.
“We both believe in education,” Jane said, “and David is a big believer in giving back because of his opportunities as a result of his scholarships at UVA, so it’s very exciting to be able to help students who can’t otherwise go to school.”