This story originally appeared in the summer 2012 issue of The Spirit of Washington University.
There are many excellent research and teaching institutions, but only a handful truly bring together the fields of art, architecture, and design. Fewer still include a university art museum. The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis has successfully united all three—art, architecture, and museum. This distinctive model is attracting exceptionally talented students who will help reimagine the built environment and shape 21st-century visual culture.
These students are highly accomplished and idealistic, say Anabeth and John D. Weil, passionate proponents of and participants in the cultural life of St. Louis and the university. "They really do come to Washington University to improve the world," Mr. Weil says. "We can do nothing better than encourage them to do just that."
The Sam Fox School prepares future artists, architects, and designers for critical leadership roles in an increasingly complex world that will require innovative and integrated solutions for social, cultural, and environmental concerns.
To do this well, the Weils believe students and faculty must be given the optimal environment. And to assist them, the Weils are making a lead gift of $12.5 million toward construction of a new facility. They, and the school, envision it to be an iconic symbol of the university's commitment to creativity and technology in the 21st century. It will signal the Sam Fox School's leadership at the forefront of interdisciplinary design and education.
"There is a great excitement about helping with an important building project," Mr. Weil says. "A project that will make the world a little better than when we found it. I think the university's alumni and friends will enjoy becoming involved."
"If the school is to continue this unique collaboration between museum, architecture and art, it needs this new facility," adds Mrs. Weil, who chairs the Art Collections Committee of the Sam Fox School's Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. "Dean Colangelo's leadership has brought these areas together, and it's obviously working. Our programs are ranked among the top in the country."
The new building will support the Sam Fox School's vision for integrated education by creating spaces that facilitate collaborative thinking, cross-disciplinary teaching, and the development of knowledge and solutions through innovative research and creative activity. The facility will accommodate new and expanded degree programs for graduate art and architecture students, and encourage connections both within the school and across the university.
"Anabeth and John Weil have been steady, thoughtful, and generous supporters of Washington University and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts," Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says. "Their ongoing generosity has brought benefit to countless students and faculty, strengthening not only Washington University, but also the arts community in St. Louis. Their support of this important new facility will inspire new and creative programs that will benefit generations to come."
A Civic Mindset
The Weils have more than a little knowledge of how projects develop and take off. Mrs. Weil, as former chief executive of Forest Park—home to the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri History Museum—helped develop and implement the $97 million Forest Park Master Plan. Mr. Weil, a university trustee, is immediate past chair of the Saint Louis Art Museum Board of Commissioners, where he chaired the capital campaign for expansion, now nearing completion.
"The Weils are an extraordinary couple," says Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts. "They have a great energy—an energy that I admire and that shapes their vision for the future of the school and its impact on the university and beyond. Whether it's Anabeth's experience with Forest Park and the areas of landscape design and planning, John’s macro-view of the university through the lens of a trustee, or their passion for collecting art, they are incredibly gracious and willing to share an immense body of knowledge."
The Weils collect post-war German art, and minimalist and conceptual art. They take great pleasure in sharing the stories behind their acquisitions and the artists who created them. Each adds to the other’s comments in repartee that reveals the intimacy and joy art brings to their lives.
"They have a presence," says Dean Colangelo, who frequently seeks the Weils' advice and likes "bouncing around ideas" with them. "They enjoy the process of giving people access. It is what they have done with the Saint Louis Art Museum and are doing now for the Sam Fox School. It is a civic mindset; it’s thinking about the whole community."
This thinking is generational, deeply rooted in the Weil–Steinberg family. "The idea of creating a place accessible to everyone—that was a great passion of my grandmother's and motivated her gift of Steinberg Hall to the university in 1960," Mr. Weil says of Etta Eiseman Steinberg, who made the gift in memory of her husband, Mark C. Steinberg.
An earlier gift, the Mark C. Steinberg Memorial Skating Rink in Forest Park, funded one of the first racially integrated venues in St. Louis where the entire community was welcome, Mr. Weil offers. "My grandmother insisted that it not be an elite place. She felt the same way about art."
Of their engagement with the Sam Fox School, the Weils say they support what they care deeply about and what benefits the community.
"We've learned enormously through our affiliation with the school," Mrs. Weil says. "We're absurdly lucky to do what we love, and doing it together makes it special. It enriches our lives to no end."