Closeup of paintings.

Stamps of Approval

A landmark gift redefines the ethos of art and design at U-M

Student Sketching
A student sketches in a studio space at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

As a student at U-M, the late Penny W. Stamps (BSDes ’66, TeachCert ’66) could have never guessed that the program that first sparked her love for art and design would one day be named in her honor.

Though active supporters of the School of Art & Design for many years, Penny and husband E. Roe Stamps dramatically increased their support in 2012 with a $32 million gift—the largest donation in the school’s history. “We are enormously proud of the programs we support,” Penny said. “We want to ensure that they continue to benefit students for generations.” Already, their support is creating opportunities for students and faculty alike.

In honor of that support, the Regents voted to rename the school The Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design—the only school to be named during the Victors for Michigan campaign. Dean Gunalan Nadarajan described the gift as “a radical vote of confidence for the current direction of the school and the progress it has made in reinventing art and design education within a university context.”

Launching the school into the top tier of elite design schools in the country, the Stamps have helped orchestrate a new ethos for art and design on campus. The couple has been instrumental in bringing creative thinkers and innovators like Bill T. Jones, Philip Glass, Oliver Stone, Marina Abramovic, Laurie Anderson, Temple Grandin, Maira Kalman, and others to campus share their work. The Roman J. Witt Residency program and the Roman J. Witt Visitors program—both established by the Stamps—also bring high-profile professionals in art and design to the school for residencies to instruct and inspire.

The Stamps’ gift also contributes to the universitywide Stamps Scholars Program, one of the largest and most selective scholarship cohorts across all of U-M’s undergraduate schools, funding approximately 72 students per year. The couple also established a number of Stamps Creative Work Scholarships, merit-based funds that drive top-tier student recruitment at Stamps and provide students with the financial resources they need to excel at their craft. Along with student support, the Stamps have increased the visibility of students’ work by opening gallery spaces near Ann Arbor’s Central Campus.

In December, U-M said goodbye to one of its most dedicated benefactors when Penny passed away following a courageous battle with leukemia. Her boundless creativity and steadfast advocacy for the arts has forged a legacy that will long be remembered. “Now go out there and break the rules,” she told students in her 2018 Stamps School commencement address. “Make the world a better place for your being here. Create fantastic art. Design products which will change the way we look at the world. Dream, engage, imagine.”

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Above: The late Penny Stamps delivers the commencement address for the Stamps School’s class of 2018.  

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