SMU’s National Center for Arts Research announces $1 million in gifts in 2015

Civic leader Donna Wilhelm's challenge grant helps SMU raise $1 million for art research.

Donna Wilhelm

DALLAS (SMU) – The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at SMU announced that it has successfully met a generous $500,000 challenge grant from Dallas philanthropist and civic leader Donna Wilhelm, raising a total of $1 million in 2015 for research, programs and services.

Donna Wilhelm
Donna Wilhelm

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The Dallas Morning News:
SMU raises $1 million for arts center

The purpose of the challenge grant, given by Wilhelm in February 2015 with a deadline of December 31, 2015, was to generate $500,000 for operating support for the center. Wilhelm’s matching funds will endow a new Wilhelm Research Fellow for NCAR. The center, which was established in 2012 by the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

“The National Center for Arts Research has broken new ground in analyzing and interpreting data about the arts and cultural field in the U.S.,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “NCAR’s thought-provoking research is already helping both new and established arts organizations across the country. The University is grateful to benefactor Donna Wilhelm and the donors who supported the challenge grant for their dedication to the important work of the Center.”

An NCAR advisory board member who has supported the center since its founding, Wilhelm approached NCAR with the offer of the challenge grant. “As a donor, I fund initiatives that serve broad needs and have leveraged impact,” said Wilhelm. “The National Center for Arts Research established at SMU, where scholarly excellence and innovation thrives, met my philanthropic goal.  I also believe in strategic investing.  My challenge grant was structured to sustain operating support for NCAR and establish a Research Fellow endowment.  Thanks to generous and visionary donors, we achieved both.  Donors collaborating were able to empower the unlimited potential of NCAR and foster the health of arts organizations nationwide – I salute this amazing teamwork.”

Numerous individual donors and foundations contributed generously to help NCAR meet the challenge grant. They include Jennifer and Peter Altabef; Belle and Don Berg; Diane and Hal Brierley; Melissa and Trevor Fetter; Ann and Trey Fielder; Carol and Don Glendenning/Locke Lord LLP; Ann and Lee Hobson; T.J. Brown & C.A. Lupton Foundation/Kit Moncrief; Communities Foundation of Texas; M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation; Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation; The Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation; Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation/Perkins-Prothro Foundation; and the Tolleson Family Foundation.

“In a few short years, NCAR has placed Meadows at the epicenter of evidence-based insight into the arts ecosystem with the underlying purpose of helping arts leaders make better decisions,” said Samuel Holland, dean of the Meadows School. “This significant gift from Donna Wilhelm and all those who contributed to meeting the challenge will allow us to sharpen our focus, build scale, and extend the reach of NCAR to places where its work is most needed.”

The operating funding provided by the challenge grant will support the diverse initiatives of NCAR. These include regular editions of the NCAR report on the state of the arts in the U.S.; additional white papers on selected topics; national and regional conferences and presentations; creation of an annual arts vibrancy index report, ranking the U.S. cities with the most thriving arts and culture scenes; ongoing data analysis; and the development of a soon-to-be-released, interactive, online dashboard that will allow arts organizations to find out how their companies are performing compared to similar organizations, what they are doing well and where improvements could be made – and giving them tools and resources to help make those improvements.

The first Wilhelm Research Fellow is Dr. Richard Briesch, a professor of marketing in the SMU Cox School of Business. Briesch holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern, an M.B.A. from Rice and a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon.

“Rick has been working with NCAR since we launched in 2012,” said Zannie Voss, director of NCAR.  “He is one of the most well-respected econometricians in the country and specializes in consumer behavior.”

Voss added, “We are so grateful to Donna Wilhelm and our additional generous donors for endowing the research fellowship and providing critical operating support that will help NCAR continue its dedicated work to help arts and cultural organizations nationwide.”

About Donna Wilhelm

Donna Wilhelm is a noted arts activist and philanthropist with an interest in creative innovation and the universal power of the arts to connect across borders and meet global challenges. In the U.S. and the developing world, she addresses capacity-building for underserved youth, women and girls. In Dallas, she serves as board chair of TACA (The Arts Community Alliance) and as a trustee of Dallas Theater Center and KERA Public Broadcasting. She launched the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund for the performing arts, was an initiating donor of the Master Artist Teaching Fellows program for Big Thought, was a founding donor of KERA’s Art&Seek programming, and is a core supporter of NCAR. In May 2016, Wilhelm will be the honoree at the Meadows School’s annual benefit concert, “Meadows at the Winspear,” featuring the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and Meadows Dance Ensemble at the Winspear Opera House.

About NCAR

In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU launched the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR). The Center, the first of its kind in the nation, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. The vision of NCAR is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community.

With data from the DataArts Cultural Data Profile and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the League of American Orchestras, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the National Center for Arts Research is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S. The goals of the Center are to become the nation’s leading source of expertise on: 1) arts attendance and patronage, 2) understanding how managerial decisions, arts attendance, and patronage affect one another, and 3) the fiscal trends and fiscal stability of the arts in the U.S., and to create an in-depth assessment of the industry that allows arts and cultural leaders to make more informed decisions and improve the health of their organizations. The project’s indices were created in partnership with TRG Arts, Nonprofit Finance Fund and numerous field leaders. NCAR’s dashboard is being created in partnership with IBM. The Center also partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to develop its mission, vision and long-term strategies.

NCAR is led by Dr. Zannie Voss, chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, and Dr. Glenn Voss, endowed professor of marketing at Cox School of Business. Through this leadership, NCAR sources its cross-disciplinary academic expertise in the fields of arts management, marketing and statistics from Meadows and Cox faculty.

For more information, please visit the NCAR website at