KU’s Spencer Museum receives $1.35M gift to support unique space for art

photo by: Chris Conde

The Spencer Museum of Art is pictured on the campus of the University of Kansas, Sept. 13, 2018.

KU’s Spencer Museum of Art has received a more than $1 million donation to permanently fund a position that will draw students, scholars and art lovers to a unique art study center on the Lawrence campus.

Museum leaders announced Thursday that the University of Kansas has received a $1.35 million gift from the J.K. & Ingrid Lee Foundation to endow the position of learning engagement coordinator at the Spencer Museum of Art.

The position plays a key role in working with university faculty, area educators, researchers and others who want to use the Ingrid & J.K. Lee Study Center, which is in Spencer, 1301 Mississippi St. The Lee Study Center opened in late 2022 with a mission to allow visitors to have more direct engagement with art. That has meant events like “Textile Tuesdays,” where members of the public get to experience sensitive textiles that they often wouldn’t have a chance to experience.

The 1,300-square-foot space is designed in a way that allows for art objects that often can’t be displayed in galleries due to their size or light sensitivity to be shared with the public. Many of the displays are designed so that visitors can view the art from multiple angles and get much closer than normal to the pieces, a spokeswoman for Spencer said.

The learning engagement coordinator position currently is held by Jennifer Holdman, who has helped more than 70 university and K-12 classes visit the center since its opening. The center has hosted more than 400 works, and currently features 60 objects on long-term display.

Making art available in new ways is a critical part of the Spencer’s mission and also serves the broader university, Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the Spencer Museum of Art, said in a press release.

“These environments are essential to the Spencer’s educational mission, enabling us to create distinct experiences for students of different ages and across areas of study, as well as for the public, to directly engage with works in our collection,” she said. “Making art accessible in this way has a transformational impact and creates pathways for new research methodologies and lifelong learning through the arts.”

The J.K. & Ingrid Lee Foundation also previously gave a $900,000 gift to the Spencer to help establish the study center. The foundation honors J.K. Lee, who joined the KU faculty in 1956 and became a longtime presence and leader in the KU Chemistry Department.


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