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Dallas Museum of Art mourns the death of philanthropist Edith O'Donnell
Mrs. O’Donnell’s 70-year history of support for the DMA began in 1952. Photo: Courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art.

DALLAS, TX.- The Dallas Museum of Art announced the passing of Mrs. Edith O’Donnell, a visionary philanthropist whose support of the DMA over an extraordinary seven decades increased access to the Museum through free general admission and propelled the Museum into the digital era. Mrs. O’Donnell’s commitment to the DMA personally, with her husband, Peter, and through the O’Donnell Foundation they founded, positioned the Museum as a leader at the intersection of arts, education, and technology.

Mrs. O’Donnell’s 70-year history of support for the DMA began in 1952, when she became a volunteer for the Museum. Mrs. O’Donnell volunteered as a DMA docent for 10 years and participated on a number of Museum committees from the late 1970s through the 2000s. She served as a DMA trustee from 1989 and was a member of the Board’s Education Committee for 17 years, acting as Chair of the committee in 1992.

In 2013 Edith and Peter O’Donnell personally and through the O’Donnell Foundation made a multiyear gift of $9 million to reestablish the DMA’s free general admission policy and to support the digitization of the Museum’s entire collection. This donation enabled the DMA to become one of the world’s most open museums to both visitors in the city and web users around the globe. Since the Museum’s return to free general admission in 2013, the DMA has welcomed more than 5 million visitors. The four-year effort to digitize the Museum’s entire collection, which began in 2014, increased the number of artworks published in the DMA’s online collection database from 7,000 to over 25,000 objects. The visionary investment in the online collection database has proven to be an invaluable asset through the challenges of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the Museum close for five months. With this tremendous resource, the DMA was able to pivot quickly to the digital sphere to sustain and grow its engagement with audiences worldwide. The DMA’s online database provides a wealth of knowledge on the Museum’s collection for students, scholars, and digital guests. In addition to images and label information for every object, thousands of objects have a description, multimedia recordings, and/or additional web resources.

This year, the DMA received another gift of $1.42 million from the O’Donnell Foundation to support expanding digital transformation initiatives, including a comprehensive redevelopment of the Museum’s website, infrastructure and systems upgrades, and the development of a constituent relationship management solution. By addressing these most critical needs, the 2020 grant will have a lasting impact on the DMA for years to come.

From 1996 to 2018, the DMA hosted an annual Young Masters exhibition, which featured select works created by Advanced Placement® Art History, Music Theory, and Studio Art students participating in the O’Donnell Foundation’s AP Fine Arts Incentive Program. Mrs. O’Donnell created the program in 1994 to support high school students’ interest and success in rigorous college-level arts courses. In the 24-year history of the program, more than 20,500 arts and music students have benefited from the O’Donnell Foundation’s AP incentive programs.

Mrs. O’Donnell made a $17 million gift to The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) to establish the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. The O’Donnell Institute is housed jointly in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building on the UTD campus and in a unique research center at the DMA, where faculty and students have offices, workspace, and access to the DMA’s collection and Mayer Library. Inaugurated in 2014, the O’Donnell Institute partners with the Dallas Museum of Art to present programs, mentor students, and co-curate an exhibition case located next to the research center at the DMA. The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History stands as a remarkable demonstration of Mrs. O’Donnell’s lifetime of strategic philanthropy in support of her firm belief in and dedication to arts education for life.  

“Edith O’Donnell was unwavering in her support, and her lifetime of supreme generosity to her beloved DMA always came from her warm and enormous heart. From her first encounter with the Museum as a volunteer and docent, she remained passionate about giving all that she could to her community, especially to the youngest members of our city, the children, providing generations of Texans with the opportunity and access to enjoy, understand, and create art. Her warm and spirited philanthropy will have a lasting effect on our institution and on all citizens of Dallas,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director.

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