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Friday, June 2, 2023


Blaffer benefactor gives $1 million bequest to art museum

UH’s Blaffer Art Museum recently received the largest gift in its 42-year history, a $1 million bequest from the late Jane Dale Owen, who passed away in 2014.

The longtime benefactor served on Blaffer’s advisory board and executive committee for years. Owen was the granddaughter of Houston art patron and collector Sarah Campbell Blaffer, from whom the museum takes its name.

“Jane Dale Owen was committed to her grandmother’s vision of bringing art to the people of Texas,” Howard said. “She, and her mother, Jane Blaffer Owen, were especially enthused about student arts audiences at UH.”

Owen chaired Blaffer Art Museum’s first fundraising gala, held in conjunction with the 1997 exhibition, “Michael Ray Charles, 1989-1997: An American Artist’s Work,” and worked in the years that followed to grow the event and its supporters. Serving as the gala’s honorary chair in 2004, Owen viewed the annual event’s success as carrying out Sarah Campbell Blaffer’s wish to bring great art to the people of Texas.

Howard, a new Blaffer staff member back in 1997, remembers first meeting Owen in the same year, when the first fundraising event took place.

“She had a very gentle manner, but was very persuasive with her peers, in terms of ensuring that they supported and attended what became the annual Blaffer gala,” Howard said. “She oversaw even the smallest details to ensure that fundraising grew each year.”

Before her death, Owen served on the executive committee of the Moores School of Music and on the film committee at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

In her will, Jane Dale Owen designated several charities as beneficiaries, such as the Blaffer Art Museum, Doctors without Borders, Greater Houston Community Foundation, Planned Parenthood, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Sierra Club Foundation and University of Texas Public School of Health, said Blaffer director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli.

All charities received $1 million in exclusive support of their mission.

The philanthropist and ExxonMobil shareholder was also passionate about saving the environment.

Owen founded Citizens League for Environmental Action Now, which provides articles on a variety of environmental issues and provided funding to such projects as a citizen air sampling project known as the “Bucket Brigate” and Texas Environmental Advocacy Services. She was the only non-scientist member of the Federation of American Scientist.

“These oil companies that have $43 billion per year in profit could relocate (impacted) people. I encourage everyone to get involved and be proactive,” Owen said to The Huffington Post back in 2013. “Our children are our most precious resource. What is more important that protecting future generations?”

Schmuckli said the “truly transformational” donation will go towards creating an endowment in the name of Owen, the income from which will be used to develop exhibitions and public programs.

“The endowment guarantees a certain amount of base funding every year, starting in FY2017. The museum can, from here on out, rely upon to fulfill its mission as a vanguard institution where students, citizens of Houston and visitors from around the world can experience tomorrow’s art history today,” Schmuckli said.

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