Dan Gilbert the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans, and his wife, Jennifer , are giving US$30 million to Cranbrook Academy of Art to expand diversity, equity, access, and inclusion efforts throughout the graduate art school located in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., north of Detroit.
The news comes less than two weeks after the Gilbert Family Foundation and the Rocket Community Fund, a unit of Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage, announced they would collectively give US$500 million to the city of Detroit over 10 years to ensure economic opportunity for its residents. An initial US$15 million will finance the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, which will pay down tax debt for low-income Detroit homeowners.
The Cranbrook gift, also designed to provide financial sustainability to the school and to support diversity, equity, access, and inclusion projects at the Cranbrook Art Museum, was the result of a broad “listening tour” that Jennifer Gilbert , who is chair of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum’s board of governors, began about four years ago when she stepped into her current role, says Dominic DiMarco, president of Cranbrook Educational Community, which oversees the academy, the museum, a PreK-12 college-preparatory school, an institute of science, and historic house museums.
“She picked areas where she felt some financial help would allow the academy to grow, to be sustained, and really, this gift could be a catalyst for change for the long-term sustainability of the program,” DiMarco says.
The gift is the largest the school has received since it was founded in 1904. In a press statement, Gilbert said the couple’s “ultimate goal is to drive lasting financial stability while creating a more diverse and equitable community. We know it’s not a silver bullet, but a step in the right direction.”
The gift directly addresses concerns raised by students around diversity, equity, and inclusion at the school, which resulted in Cranbrook Academy hiring diversity consultants who have since worked with students, the artists-in-residence who serve as the school’s faculty, and with the administration, DiMarco says. The Gilbert gift includes continued funding for the consultants.
“We felt we needed to bring more diverse audiences into Cranbrook—this grant sets aside money to do that,” he says.
Key to achieving a more equitable environment will be the newly established Gilbert Fellows program, which will allow up to 20 students a year to attend the academy without paying tuition, which amounts to about US$40,000 annually.
The fellowships, which will be supported “in perpetuity” from a permanent endowment, will be for students from racial and ethnic groups who have been underrepresented at the school, Cranbrook said.
“This is a way to bring in great talented students that otherwise couldn’t come to Cranbrook,” DiMarco says.
The Gilberts , who are art collectors and big supporters of the arts in the Detroit area, also are seeking to broaden the academics students are exposed to by funding five visiting faculty, representing artists of color, for five years.
“That will bring a great assist to our students—it will make them feel like they are getting the whole picture, that Cranbrook is a diverse community,” he said.
The gift also includes funding to expand the academy’s existing scholarship fund, which provides tuition assistance and general support.
Cranbrook Academy focuses solely on graduate-level fine art, architecture, craft, and design for up to 150 students a year. It has several famous graduates, including architects and designers Charles and Ray Eames , Florence Knoll , and Harry Bertoia , and artists Nick Cave , Sonya Clark , McArthur Binion , Chris Schanck , and Duane Hanson .
Gilbert stepped into her role as chair of the board at a challenging time for the school, which was wrestling with declining enrollment—an issue all graduate arts programs having been facing for some time, DiMarco says.
As with many institutions of higher education, the pandemic dealt a further blow. Cranbrook gave students the opportunity to defer a year, although the school was able to offer in-person instruction, and enrollment fell to about 130.
One way the gift will strengthen the school’s finances is by providing funds to develop, test, and launch entrepreneurial initiatives that can engage the surrounding community—such as summer programs or adult programs—and will generate non-tuition revenue to support the school, DiMarco says.
“What they did, was put money into this gift to allow us to come back to them and say, we have some ideas, and they’ve agreed to fund [them],” he says. “That also will also help the long-term sustainability in the academy.”