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Alumnus gift opens McNay’s doors to students, faculty and staff

Alumnus gift opens McNay’s doors to students, faculty and staff

Alumnus Walter Downing ’86 and wife Sharon Downing’s gift will fund Roadrunner admission to the McNay.

MAY 27, 2021 — UTSA alumnus Walter Downing ’86 and his wife, Sharon Downing, recently made a significant gift to the McNay Art Museum that directly benefits the UTSA community. Through the gift, UTSA students, faculty and staff can now enjoy unlimited free general admission to the museum, plus 50% off annual memberships. Membership benefits include retail discounts, exclusive virtual content, tours with curators, conversations with artists and more.

“Sharon and I decided to support the McNay and UTSA initiative because we love the museum and saw this as an opportunity to share it with others,” Walter Downing said. “We also remember that in our early years as students and then as a young married couple, we did not have a lot of discretionary money to spend on things like museum entry fees. We appreciate those who helped us get to where we are and think the best way to show our appreciation is by doing the same for others.”

From paintings and sculptures to events and innovative exhibitions, the McNay offers a unique art museum experience filled with moments of surprise, inspiration, and beauty throughout a large 25-acre campus. 

“We love the museum and saw this as an opportunity to share it with others.”

Throughout history, the visual arts have played a significant role in the lives of all people, resulting in new perspectives of the world and inspiration in daily life. Engaging with art has been scientifically shown to boost critical thinking, increase tolerance and empathy, and improve test scores and academic performance.

Understanding the importance of the arts in higher education, UTSA students, faculty and staff have engaged with the McNay Art Museum for over three decades. In 1991, McNay museum docent Liz Chiego invited a professor to aid in docent training, and in 1994 and 1995 the McNay provided a lecture series for UTSA students. The museum also offers internships exclusively to students at the university.

UTSA has also worked closely with the McNay on many of its exhibitions, including Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today which showcased the history of LGBTQ+ communities in San Antonio and South Texas. UTSA Special Collections sustains the university’s teaching, research, and outreach mission by acquiring, preserving and digitizing primary resources with significance to the region. This tandem exhibition features artwork by Susan Riley and is organized by Melissa Gohlke, UTSA Libraries assistant archivist, and Katie Rojas, manuscripts archivist for UTSA Libraries.

In 2018, the McNay also partnered with UTSA Libraries Special Collections to present a unique exhibition in celebration of the 50th anniversary of HemisFair ’68 and of San Antonio’s Tricentennial. The exhibition highlighted artists and designers who contributed to the fair. HemisFair ’68: San Antonio’s World’s Fair featured small selections of artwork, architectural drawings, conceptual site plans, costume and graphic designs, ephemera, souvenirs and audiovisual materials, including film and sound recordings that documented the early planning for HemisFair ’68.

On the eve of International Women’s Day in 2018, Los Angeles–based artist, activist, and educator Judy Baca spoke about her work and commitment to equity for all people in a presentation entitled Resistance and Affirmation. A natural leader, Baca has claimed space for women of color in both the feminist movement and the Chicano art movement since the 1970s. A collaboration of the McNay and UTSA, this lecture was part of the Louis A. and Frances B. Wagner Lecture Series and the Mellon Undergraduate Humanities Pathways Program.

Most recently, Jackie Cuevas, associate professor of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality studies at UTSA and director of the Women’s Studies Institute, and staff member Raitza Garcia sat on the Limitless! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art exhibition community committee. The McNay’s head of education Kate Carey and her colleague Lauren Thompson recently gave a presentation on the exhibition to UTSA’s modern art history classes led by professors Teresa Eckmann and Edith Toth. Additionally, the McNay’s curator of modern art and prints and drawings Lyle Williams conducted a virtual presentation for UTSA art students. Notably, UTSA students and graduates make up about 20% of the McNay Art Museum's staff.

Beyond the educational benefits, this partnership provides students, faculty and staff an opportunity to participate in entertaining activities and further engage with members of the San Antonio community.

Jordan Allen

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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