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McGee gift to enhance WVU's new art museum

on Fri, 06/05/2009 - 08:00

John and Ruth McGee of Charleston, through the McGee Foundation, have pledged $1 million to the new art museum at West Virginia University.

Their gift is in addition to a collection of acclaimed Shona (Zimbabwean) stone sculptures that will be displayed at the museum, as well as in other buildings on the WVU campus.

WVU’s new art museum will be a new, three-level building adjacent to the former Erickson Alumni Center. Plans call for it to be completed by 2012.

One of the exhibit galleries in the new building will be named for the McGees, said Dean of the College of Creative Arts Bernie Schultz.

“John and Ruth McGee truly are citizens of the world and they understand the power of the arts to communicate a global perspective,” said Dean Schultz.

“They are most gracious and engaging people, and their philanthropic activities, literally, extend across our world. John and Ruth’s exceedingly generous gift is a cornerstone of the Art Museum at West Virginia University, and it is difficult to find the words to express our heartfelt gratitude to them.”

Interim President C. Peter Magrath met the couple shortly after he arrived on campus last summer.

“John and Ruth are a remarkable couple, who have given generously to the arts over a lifetime,” said Magrath. “They have traveled the world, particularly the continent of Africa, and have collected some remarkable Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe. WVU is very fortunate, because of the McGees, to be able to exhibit and house these sculptures on our campus. I thank them on behalf of a grateful University.”

John McGee was born in Charleston, S.C. Following graduation from Davidson College in North Carolina, he served as a captain in the U.S. Army and landed in Normandy. He was decorated with two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars, among several other recognitions.

His lengthy career in newspaper publication began in Charleston, S.C., with the Evening Post Publishing Co. He has since served as president and associate publisher of the State-Record Newspapers in Columbia, SC; president of Clay Communications, Inc., in Charleston, W.Va.; publisher of the Charleston Daily Mail; director of Thomson Newspapers in Toronto, Canada, and the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer; and also as director and board member of The Associated Press in New York.

He has also lectured, through the efforts of the U.S. State Department, in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as well as at the University of Nairobi’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Ruth McGee was born in Columbia, S.C. They have three children, nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

The McGee Foundation was created by John and Ruth to financially further their interests in West Virginia and around the world. Ruth has served as the co-chair of the McGee Foundation with John since its creation in 1993.

The McGees currently reside in Charleston. John has been involved in the community as president of the West Virginia Press Association and was a member of the advisory board for the WVU School of Journalism. He is active in many local organizations promoting community development in the arts.

The McGees are avid art collectors with diverse artistic interests, and through this became interested in the art museum at WVU.

The College of Creative Arts has committed to raising $9 million for the art museum project, which will serve both the community and the region.

The museum will contain approximately 5,300 square feet of exhibition space, including gallery space for the WVU Art Collection and also for changing exhibitions. There will be outdoor sculpture courts, museum offices, conference and education rooms, a lecture and performance hall, lounge, café and museum shop.

The museum will allow students and visitors to engage in visual literacy, develop personal relationships with art, and understand cultural and historical perspectives about the world.

Outreach and community projects will enrich the quality of education for students in grades K through 12 and will foster appreciation of the arts for future generations of students and local residents.

“The generosity of John and Ruth McGee in making a major gift of both works of art and funding for the new art museum at WVU is an important model and particularly noteworthy at this time,” said Joyce Ice, museum director.

“It marks an important step in realizing the mission of the museum to offer a place for learning about the transformative power of art. Exploring the varied artistic traditions of different cultures, past and present, helps us understand ourselves, our communities, and our world.”

The University has contracted with SmithGroup of Detroit to design the new art museum. The architecture firm was founded in 1853 and has an internationally acknowledged reputation for design and engineering excellence. The firm has designed museum, arts centers and educational buildings in the U.S. and abroad, including the Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center in France, which has garnered much acclaim.

The McGee Foundation gift is being made through the WVU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.

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