Illinois State University faculty, staff, students, and community members gathered on Thursday, September 12, 2019, at 3 p.m. at the Center for the Performing Arts for a landmark announcement: Artist and alumna Wonsook Kim ’75, M.A. ’76, M.F.A. ’78, honorary doctorate of arts ’19, and her husband, Thomas Clement, have made a $12 million gift to Illinois State in support of the College of Fine Arts and the School of Art. In recognition of the couple’s remarkable generosity, Illinois State University President Larry H. Dietz announced the College of Fine Arts and the School of Art will forever be known as the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and the Wonsook Kim School of Art.
“With their $12 million gift, Wonsook and Thomas are providing for current students and investing in the future of Illinois State,” said President Dietz. “We are proud to call Wonsook an alumna and grateful for the ways that she and Thomas are lifting up Illinois State through their generosity.”
Fervent supporters of Illinois State, Kim and Clement, a medical device inventor who was adopted from a Korean orphanage after the Korean War, are now enriching the University with their historic gift. The couple established three named professorships in honor of the faculty who shaped Kim’s artistic journey: Harold Boyd, Harold Gregor, and Ken Holder. The gift will also support strategic initiatives of the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and Wonsook Kim School of Art including, but not limited to:
- Updates to technology and supplies
- Visiting artists and professors
- Student scholarships
- International engagement and collaboration
- Artist residencies and lecture series
- Work at archaeological conservation sites
- Theatre and dance programs
- University Galleries programming
Support will also be directed to enhance facilities in the college. The gift will provide for updates to studio spaces, practice rooms, and flexible learning spaces for students. Kim and Clement’s contributions will also provide for 20 state-of-the-art graduate student studio spaces.
Born in 1953 in Busan, Korea, Kim moved to the United States in 1972 to study at Illinois State University. Kim chose the Midwest school because it was the only one to offer her a full-ride scholarship. As a student at Illinois State, Kim studied diligently and began developing her art. Earlier fascinations with drawing the Korean folk stories told to Kim by her grandmothers led to explorations in printmaking, which Kim’s instructor, Professor Emeritus Harold Boyd, encouraged.
Kim left Illinois State in 1978 with three degrees—a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts, and a Master of Fine Arts. The Elizabeth Stein Scholarship Award afforded Kim the ability to live and work in New York after graduating, where she eventually established a name for herself as an artist. Years later, Kim and her art are now internationally recognized. She was honored as Artist of the Year by the United Nations in 1995 and during her career, has produced 64 solo exhibitions around the world.
Kim was inducted into the College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2010. At Founders Day 2019, Illinois State recognized Kim’s contributions to the art world when she was awarded an honorary doctorate of arts.
Jean Miller, dean of the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, said, “The college and the school are honored to bear Wonsook Kim’s name.” She notes that funding from Kim and Clement will boost the college’s reputation, which will help attract prospective students, faculty, and staff.
The $12 million gift comes near the end of the already successful Redbirds Rising campaign. In June, the University surpassed its $150 million comprehensive campaign goal and has currently raised more than $162 million. Fundraising efforts will continue through June 30, 2020.
“A gift of this magnitude is a historic first for Illinois State and the University is on the rise,” said Vice President for University Advancement Pat Vickerman. “Wonsook and Thomas share the University’s vision for scholarship, leadership, and innovation, and their investment is allowing us to boldly dream about the future of fine arts education at Illinois State.”
Despite her undeniable success, Kim wants her gift to be less about her own career dreams and more of a celebration of America as a land of opportunity. And above all, Kim remains focused on art, the lens through which she sees the world.
“I will stay in my studio and continue to paint this interesting and mysterious life,” said Kim at Thursday’s announcement event. “However, you now have a new name with a progressive and hopeful meaning, and money to dream big, for new programs and ideas to pursue. I hope the name, Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, represents the opportunities I had, endless possibilities, allowing me to achieve higher goals than I ever dreamed. Thank you for being part of my dream.”
To follow updates within the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and Wonsook Kim School of Art, visit WonsookKimFineArts.IllinoisState.edu. Wonsook Kim will also be profiled in the October and November issues of Illinois State University’s alumni magazine. To join in supporting Illinois State University, visit RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu.