Philanthropist Maria Manetti Shrem pledges more than $20 million to fund arts programs at UC Davis

Largest-ever gift to campus arts provides comprehensive support for faculty, students and programming

By Karen Michele Nikos | May 6, 2024

In a testament to Maria Manetti Shrem’s continuing commitment to the arts and education internationally, the “Maria Manetti Shrem Arts Renaissance” will be created at the University of California, Davis, with a pledge of more than $20 million to further the art patron’s longstanding philanthropic partnership with the university.

Funding eight endowments for arts and design, including three new faculty chairs within the College of Letters and Science, Manetti Shrem’s gift is the largest ever to the college and the largest to the arts in UC Davis history. 

The Maria Manetti Shrem Arts District, spanning Hutchison Drive from the historic TB 9 art building to Shields Library, will bear the international art patron’s name in recognition of her support of multiple disciplines and her vision to bolster collaboration among them with a holistic approach to the arts.

Portrait of Maria Manetti Shrem against a white backdrop.
Maria Manetti Shrem (J. Henry Fair/photo)

“At this stage of my life, the art of living coincides with the art of giving. This gift to UC Davis brings me great joy, as education and the arts have profoundly impacted my life,” said Manetti Shrem, a resident of both San Francisco and her native city of Florence, Italy. 

“I believe the arts should be accessible to all. We need the humanities — they nurture the soul and embody our shared dreams,” she added. “They are pivotal to shaping a better world.” 

The UC Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art is named for Manetti Shrem and her husband, Jan Shrem. The couple gave $10 million in 2011 to establish the museum, which opened its doors in 2016. Manetti Shrem’s latest pledge builds upon her continued giving over the past decade and consists of a $20 million estate gift plus an additional $800,000 annually to immediately fund the endowments, providing support in perpetuity.

This brings her total giving to UC Davis to over $43 million, with Manetti Shrem’s philanthropy directly benefiting the university’s more than 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. With about 25,000 student visits to the museum and 10,000 enrollments in art, art history or design classes every year, these numbers are now poised to grow even higher.

“It’s crucial that as many students as possible are exposed to the arts as their primary inspiration to live life to the fullest and achieve their dreams,” Manetti Shrem said. “Dreams are essential; they fuel our existence.” 

Providing for the next generation of artists

Manetti Shrem’s pledge funds various arts areas within the College of Letters and Science to catalyze a “renaissance zeitgeist evolution open to cutting-edge technology.”

This includes faculty positions, to recruit and retain the finest minds in art and design to teach UC Davis students, plus fellowships for graduate students in Art Studio to attract and inspire the next generation of art scholars and professionals. 

“When Maria says ‘renaissance,’ she really means it,” said Chancellor Gary S. May. “Her comprehensive support across arts and design will help UC Davis offer even more excellent programs to our students and our community. We are deeply grateful for her generosity and her partnership as we bring this shared vision to life.”

In addition to the arts district, UC Davis will name existing programs and spaces in her honor, including the Maria Manetti Shrem Art Hall and Maria Manetti Shrem Art Studio Program.

“UC Davis has long been a quiet powerhouse of creativity and home to some of the world’s most influential artists,” said Estella Atekwana, dean of the College of Letters and Science. “With this incredible gift, Maria, our greatest champion, helps us build upon our storied history while securing our future as a leader in the creative arts. We are truly grateful for her confidence in our faculty, students and programs and look forward to our continuing partnership.”

The California Studio: Manetti Shrem Artist Residencies will continue with funding through the gift, enabling the university to attract visiting world-class artists to instruct and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. It also provides for visiting lectures hosted in collaboration among the arts programs and Manetti Shrem Museum. 

In addition to supporting fine arts, Manetti Shrem is bringing her expertise in the design industry to UC Davis via The Maria Manetti Shrem Institute for Sustainable Design, Fashion, and Textile, which will be home to one of the new faculty chairs. The partnership will further bolster the Department of Design’s excellence and emphasis on this work, incorporating advanced technologies and helping establish UC Davis as a global leader in sustainable design.

“My mission is to enrich the student experience, support talented individuals, attract top faculty members and students, and help elevate the arts and their technological evolution such as generative AI at UC Davis to national and international prominence,” Manetti Shrem said.

Manetti Shrem support and honors

Manetti Shrem was a principal force behind integrating merchandise from luxury fashion houses Gucci and Fendi into American department and specialty stores. Among other achievements, she received the 2023 UC Davis Medal, the university’s highest honor. 

“Support for the arts is a key priority at UC Davis, and Maria’s incredible generosity is allowing us to fulfill our philanthropic goals for these programs,” said Shaun B. Keister, vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations. “We are so thankful, both for Maria’s leadership and for her choice of UC Davis as a place to dream big.”

The gift supports UC Davis’ comprehensive fundraising campaign, Expect Greater: From UC Davis, For the World, the largest philanthropic endeavor in university history. Together, donors and UC Davis are advancing work to prepare future leaders, sustain healthier communities, and offer innovative solutions to today’s most urgent challenges.

Beyond UC Davis, Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem support more than 30 foundations among the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom, including, to mention a few: The Metropolitan Opera in New York, the San Francisco Opera, Festival Napa Valley, the King’s Foundation and the Royal Drawing School in the U.K., KQED, Cal Performances, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Palazzo Strozzi Foundation, Museo 900 in Italy, San Francisco Symphony, SF Film, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (de Young and Legion of Honor). 

They have worked to expand Italian language, music and visual arts education in secondary schools by supporting programs such as ArtSmart, the Los Angeles Virtuosi Orchestra, and Italian Consulate General in San Francisco, COMITES and SVIEC. Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem gave the lead gift to the UCSF Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Neurology Clinic. They also support Sutter Health CPMC Cardiology. In Italy, they recently co-founded a school at the Meyer Children’s Hospital in Florence (with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation).

Manetti Shrem is the recipient of several honors, such as Grand Officer of the Order of the Star of Italy and The Keys of the City of Florence; the inaugural “Angels of The Arts Award” from Festival Napa Valley; and the “Spirit of the Opera Award” from SF Opera. The City and County of San Francisco proclaimed June 22 Manetti Shrem Day for Philanthropy.