Philanthropist Maria Manetti Shrem Gives UC Davis a Historic Arts Windfall

The money will fund several endowments for art and design across the university.

Students bike past university buildings.
A portion of the UC Davis campus will be named after Maria Manetti Shrem in recognition of her gift. Gregory Urquiaga/Courtesy UC Davis

The University of California, Davis is set to receive its largest-ever gift for the arts in the form of a more than $20 million pledge from philanthropist Maria Manetti Shrem. Supporting fine arts, sustainable design and technology, the gift will establish the multidisciplinary Maria Manetti Shrem Arts Renaissance initiative.

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“When Maria says ‘renaissance,’ she really means it,” said UC Davis chancellor Gary S. May in a statement, adding that “her comprehensive support across arts and design will help UC Davis offer even more excellent programs to our students and our community.”

The funds will create eight endowments for arts and design at UC Davis and establish new faculty chairs across its College of Letters and Science and Department of Design. Manetti Shrem’s donation will additionally benefit the school’s artist residency program and support visiting lecturers hosted by its arts program and museum.

Portrait of woman with short hair wearing black top
Maria Manetti Shrem previously helped establish the university’s museum in 2011. J. Henry Fair/Courtesy UC Davis

With this gift, UC Davis hopes to utilize various arts areas to create a “renaissance zeitgeist evolution open to cutting-edge technology,” according to a news release from the university. The institution will name a campus arts district and various arts programs and spaces after Manetti Shrem in recognition of her contribution.

Read more of Observer’s Philanthropy coverage

In addition to a $20 million estate pledge, the arts patron plans to give $800,000 annually to begin funding the Maria Manetti Shrem Arts Renaissance endowments immediately. “I believe the arts should be accessible to all. We need the humanities—they nurture the soul and embody our shared dreams,” she said in a statement.

Who is Maria Manetti Shrem?

Manetti Shrem, who splits her time between San Francisco and her native Florence, Italy, began her career as a fashion distributor introducing brands like Gucci and Fendi into U.S. department stores. She married her husband, the book distributor Jan Shrem, in 2012 after the two fell in love during a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) event hosted at her California home.

The couple have long had close ties to the arts scene at UC Davis. They donated $10 million in 2011 to establish its Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, which opened in 2016 and welcomes around 25,000 student visitors annually. Manetti Shrem’s most recent pledge brings their total giving to the university to more than $43 million.

The duo’s philanthropy has largely focused on supporting cultural institutions across the globe. Gifts have been funneled to the Met Opera in New York, the San Francisco Opera and SFMOMA in addition to the U.K.’s King’s Foundation and Royal Drawing School and Italy’s Museo 990, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Palazzo Strozzi Foundation. Medical research has also been a key focus of theirs, as evidenced by an $18 million donation to the University of California, San Francisco’s neurology clinic; as has supporting Italian language and arts education through programs at the Los Angeles Virtuosi Orchestra and Italian Consulate General in San Francisco.

Much of Manetti Shrem and Jan’s patronage is funded via sales of works from their art collection. The couple last year sold a significant portion of their art holdings at Sotheby’s in an auction that included works by Lucio Fontana and Odilon Redon and saw Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée jouant avec un chat realize a staggering $21 million. Proceeds went to charitable initiatives in the worlds of medical research, education, music and the arts.

“At this stage of my life, the art of living coincides with the art of giving,” said Manetti Shrem. “This gift to UC Davis brings me great joy, as education and the arts have profoundly impacted my life.”

Philanthropist Maria Manetti Shrem Gives UC Davis a Historic Arts Windfall