Art lover makes largest personal donation in College of DuPage history
Kevin Haynes, designer of the new space for art to honor Cleve Carney, discusses the project. | Hank Beckman~For The Sun
Updated: June 25, 2012 1:15PM
Most of us receive gifts on our birthday.
Cleve Carney celebrated his 73 years on earth by giving away about a million dollars to the College of DuPage.
Thought to be the largest donation in COD history, Carney’s bequest includes about 40 percent of the 600 pieces of contemporary art in his personal collection, in addition to about $700,000 in cash.
The college marked the occasion with a special event in an area to be called the Cleve Carney Art Space, which will become a reality as part of the renovation of the McAninch Arts Center on campus.
“It is Cleve’s wish that you and this community can enjoy art the way he has enjoyed it, as it is presented in this new space and this world-class venue,” Rick Carney said, speaking for his brother.
Illness has left Cleve Carney wheelchair bound, but he greeted well-wishers at a reception at the Culinary and Hospitality Center, after which the crowd of about 200 made their way to the “MAC” for a short preview of the gallery to be dedicated to Carney.
The Cleve Carney Art Space will actually be a new wing of the McAninch Arts Center after the renovation, and will be connected to the main building by the current gallery space in the center.
Cleve Carney grew up in Wheaton before going off to Princeton University. After college, he bought into a lumber business, sold it later at a profit and began a career as an investor.
But philanthropy and support for the arts was his true calling.
Aside from the extensive support he provided to local contemporary artists, Carney served as board president of the DuPage Community Foundation and as a board member of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
He also provided support for the B.R. Hall YMCA, Central DuPage Hospital, Morton Arboretum and the Wheaton Lions Club.
Director of the McAninch Arts Center Stephen Cummins was one of many who spoke of Carney as both a superlative person and an outstanding member of the community.
“This gift to the college is not just a space, his collection is a learning tool about contemporary art that will live on in perpetuity,” Cummins said.
Speaking of Jim Nutt, a prominent local artist whose work hangs in the Art Institute, Cummins noted that he would now be accessible to COD students and other local visitors.
“COD students in the future will be able to say they can either go downtown to see a Jim Nutt piece, or, you know what, we can see one right here,” he said.
Artists that benefited from their association with Carney sang his praises.
“He didn’t just appreciate art on dry, academic terms,” local artist Tony Fitzpatrick said. “He always appreciated it in human terms.”
Sculptor Tom Sromski has known Carney for more than 20 years.
“He’s collected a lot of my work, actually,” Sromski said. “He’s a rare bird in the art world … he’s down to earth.”
Mark White, design architect of the new space, noted Carney’s many accomplishments in life, among them scholar, athlete, being a Princeton man and having the distinction of being one of the Navy’s original “frogmen.”
But art was Carney’s first passion and White smiled as he told the story of visiting Carney’s home for the first time.
“Every surface of that house was covered with art,” he said. “And not just the walls.”