Tony Petullo with students.

Anthony (Tony) J. Petullo and his wife Bev have announced a gift of $3.25 million to support Krannert Art Museum (KAM) and the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As an alumnus of the U of I Gies College of Business, Petullo’s contribution to the arts is a portion of a larger $5.75 million gift to the U of I, which also includes support for Gies faculty and students.

As a long-time supporter of the arts and of KAM, Petullo’s gift builds upon his legacy of giving with a holistic approach to the needs of museums and developing artists. Of this wide-ranging gift, $1.5 million was committed to KAM to create the Anthony J. Petullo Art Acquisition and Conservation Endowment Fund. This fund will support the acquisition of American and European paintings, drawings, prints, and photography and the conservation of works held in the museum’s permanent collection. Another $1.75 million of Petullo’s gift is dedicated to the newly created Anthony J. Petullo School of Art and Design Scholarship and Fellowship Endowment Fund, which will equally support undergraduate and graduate student scholarships and fellowships in the School of Art and Design.

“This is a huge game-changer for us because it supports both art acquisition as well as conservation and preservation of the collections,” said Jon L. Seydl, Director of Krannert Art Museum. “Tony himself is deeply experienced with supporting museums so this is a really enlightened approach. He was willing to support these needs with a great deal of flexibility.”

The endowment serves as the first large acquisition fund specifically earmarked to include contemporary art at KAM, which also has 12 works of folk art donated from Petullo’s collection. In 1994, KAM featured the Anthony Petullo Collection of Self-Taught and Outsider Art Exhibition, highlighting Petullo’s passion for works by self-taught artists learning and creating “outside” the traditions of fine arts training institutions and drawing inspiration from unconventional places. Since then, Petullo has also donated large portions from the Anthony Petullo Art Collection to the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin, where he resides.

Conservation of works of art both for preservation and for exhibition are key components of this fund as well.

Without sufficient dedicated funds, “we’re often very reactive with conservation,” explained Seydl. “We have significant works in the collection that need treatment before we can present them, so this endowment allows a wide diversity of works to come out of storage.”

Petullo’s conservation support will allow KAM more flexibility in curation, broadening the selection of artworks that can be shared in exhibitions.

“Tony experienced how creating and experiencing art changed him as a person, and he shares that story with everyone he can,” stated Kevin Hamilton, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts and professor in the School of Art and Design. “He is also, of course, passionate about ensuring that others can experience that transformation as students and museum patrons.”

After graduating from the Gies College of Business with a bachelor’s in marketing in 1961, Tony Petullo spent three years as a US Navy officer and five years with Mobil Corporation. He founded Olsten Staffing Services, a successful temporary help firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and following the sale of Olsten Staffing Services in 2000, he became president of the Anthony Petullo Foundation. During the 1970s, he developed a keen interest in works by self-taught and outsider artists from Europe and the Americas. Since then, he has become a recognized authority on self-taught art and has written three books on the subject.

“I have been a very lucky and happy man, and the University of Illinois had a lot to do with that. I had some amazing teachers and mentors during my time there,” said Petullo. “For me, philanthropy is about the relationships I’m able to build and the lives I’m fortunate to be able to touch. Business and the arts are very personal to me. They’ve been an important part of my life, and this is my way of giving back to society, to my community, and to Illinois.”