Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center receives $7.7 million gift from namesake, longtime arts benefactor

Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center receives $7.7 million gift from namesake, longtime arts benefactor

calendar icon26 Nov 2013    

Mary Riepma Ross
Mary Riepma Ross

Sheldon Museum of Art receives alumna’s personal art collection

Patrons of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center and the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have reason to celebrate this holiday season.

Mary Riepma Ross, who was an attorney in New York City and among the first women to practice law there, donated $7.7 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation through her estate to create a permanent endowment for the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

Ross also donated much of her personal collection of art to the Sheldon Museum of Art, a gift she first announced in 1990.

Ross, who died earlier this year, spent part of her youth in Lincoln during the late 1920s and early 30s while her father served as a church pastor and began her studies at the University of Nebraska. Her appreciation for the arts began early in life with special interest in film, theater and dance. She had supported the university’s film programs since the early 1970s.

In 1990, Ross established a $3.5 million trust at the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the university’s film theater program, which at the time was located at the Sheldon Museum of Art. The funds helped to construct the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center at 313 North 13th Street, which opened in 2003 and is part of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

Her estate gift creates a permanently endowed fund for the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, which will provide annual net income to support facilities, equipment, academic and community outreach programs, host visiting media artists, and more.

Danny Ladely, director of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, said the generous support from Ross over the years has created one of the best programs of its kind in the country and that few other universities or communities have such an excellent facility.

“The university and the Lincoln community at large are blessed by Mary’s first gift that resulted in our state-of-the-art Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center,” Ladely said. “Now, with her second extremely generous estate gift, the future of our program is secured for the foreseeable future, and we’ll be able to continue and expand in ways we could have only dreamed about before.”

The Ross is home to two theaters, a comprehensive film exhibition program, a research library, film and video archives, and classrooms for the Film and New Media Program in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

“The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center has been one of the most valuable resources for students studying and enjoying film on our campus. It is world class,” said Charles O’Connor, endowed dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. “This gift is an investment in the future of our students.”

The art donated by Ross to the Sheldon Museum of Art is by international artists including Milton Avery, George Bellows, Mary Cassatt, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Walt Kuhn, Albert Marquet, Hiram Powers, Maurice Prendergast, Theodore Robinson and Jacques Villon.

Works given over the years by Ross will be presented in an exhibition curated by Norman Geske, director emeritus of the museum and longtime acquaintance to Ross. “Mary Riepma Ross: A Personal Collection” will run from Jan. 31 to May 11, 2014, at the Sheldon, 12th and R streets on the UNL City Campus.

“Over the past several decades, Ms. Ross developed an art collection notable for its strength in American and European figurative subject matter,” said Sheldon Director Jorge Daniel Veneciano. “She was a good friend of the museum, and she collected with the Sheldon in mind. We are honored to receive this gift, a personal touch from Mary to all of us.”

The Ross estate gift also provides support to the university’s current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, which concludes Dec. 31, 2014.

A past president of the New York Women’s Bar Association, Ross died on Feb. 2, 2013, in New York City at the age of 102. Born in Oklahoma City in 1910, she attended the University of Nebraska and graduated from Vassar College in 1932. She received her law degree from Memphis State University. The University of Nebraska awarded her an honorary doctor of law degree in 1973.

In the early 1940s she worked for the United States government in Washington, D.C., chiefly in the Office of Alien Property. She moved to New York in 1946 to work for what is now Rogers & Wells, where she became an expert in wills, trusts and estates. She began a private law practice in 1961.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 77 years. In 2013, donors provided the university with $236.7 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty support and facilities. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.5 billion for the university and concludes Dec. 31, 2014. For more information, visit