DMA Insight

Foundation for the Arts

In 1956, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts mounted a traveling exhibition entitled Sport in Art, which had been put together by Sports Illustrated and sponsored by the United States Information Agency for display in Sydney, Australia, during the 1956 Olympics. Each of the works in the exhibition depicted a different sporting event, such as bullfighting by Francisco de Goya, boxing by George Bellows, boating by Maurice Vlaminck, and dressage by Sir Alfred Munnings. Four works proved to be problematic to a small but vociferous segment of the Dallas audience: Fisherman by William Zorach, The Park, Winter by Leon Kroll, Skaters by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and National Pastime by Ben Shahn. Some Dallasites suspected these artists of Communist sympathies and demanded that their paintings be removed from the show. The DMFA held its ground and refused to remove the paintings; however, these events, and similar outcries during other 1950s exhibitions featuring artists with leftist leanings, led some Dallas art lovers to consider the creation of a new museum to display modernist art. This would be a place where art could be exhibited and appreciated for its own sake without the interference of political control. The new museum was the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, formed in 1957.

It soon became apparent that supporters of the arts in Dallas could not subsidize two museums of such magnitude. In 1963, the Museum for Contemporary Arts and the Dallas Art Association, the operating group of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, reluctantly agreed to merge. The memories of the controversies of the 1950s still burned strongly in the minds of those affiliated with the DMCA. Jo Cleaver Doremus, a former president of the Museum League, recalls the contention surrounding a particular painting she owned at the time—a nude by David McManaway. "When the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts got ready to merge with the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, I knew the DMFA would never hang it. I had given it to the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, but I stipulated that if the museum ceased to exist or merged, it was to come back to me. And, you know, the Foundation for the Arts solved that problem." The Foundation for the Arts was formed for the purpose of holding title to the works acquired by the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, thereby avoiding ownership of the collection by an entity that would be subject to the vagaries of public opinion. This reflected the original intent of the DMCA to serve the people of Dallas but operate independently of the city. Betty Blake, DMCA Board President at the time of the merger, remembers, "All of us felt very strongly that we didn't want to give anything to the city of Dallas. When we started the merger, we said, 'We will merge under one condition, that we give you the collection, but it [belongs to] the Foundation for the Arts.' And it's entirely separate from the collection that the Dallas Museum has. And that's how it happened that everybody leaves [art] to the foundation."

Although the Foundation for the Arts was initially created to hold title to the DMCA's collection, between 1965 and 1974 its collections expanded substantially through gifts to the foundation. Then, in 1975, at the suggestion of Foundation for the Arts trustee Frederick Mayer, Mrs. John B. O'Hara (the daughter of one Dr. Pepper founder and the widow of another) left the foundation a substantial bequest in the form of Dr. Pepper stock for the purpose of acquiring 18th- and 19th-century works for the benefit of the Museum. This bequest, wisely invested, has multiplied many times over and has generated enough income to purchase a great number of masterworks. Directors and curators have been able to make their individual and unique marks on the Dallas Museum's collections by acquisitions made through the O'Hara funds.

The initial Board of Trustees for the foundation consisted of representatives from both of the merged institutions: Margaret McDermott, Juanita Bromberg (who served as the president of the foundation for many years), Betty Marcus, Frederick Mayer, James H. Clark, John O'Boyle, and George Lee.

Adapted from

George Lee, “The Foundation for the Arts,” in Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 22.