Early on, the Portons would only occasionally visit the museum. “We had friends who showed work in the Faculty Show, so we’d go every year,” Fraeda said.
Their passing familiarity with KAM changed when Gary, a professor of Religion and Jewish Studies who had been an early architect of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society, was asked by the Chancellor to participate in developing a leadership strategy for the art museum.
“That committee helped me to realize what a resource the art museum was. It had a great collection but was only being used by certain departments on campus,” Gary remarked. “We recommended that the university invest in a director who had specific art museum expertise, because professional leadership was needed to help Krannert Art Museum make a bigger impact on campus and the community.”
On the committee’s recommendation, the university hired Josef Helfenstein in 2001 as KAM director. Challenged by their friends who were already actively involved at KAM and sparked by Gary’s deeper knowledge of the museum’s work, the Portons decided to make a personal commitment to increase their involvement at the museum.
“Fraeda got involved in KAM Council and Petals and Paintings,” Gary explained. “We became annual museum members, of course, but we became more involved in art in general at that time. We felt that KAM deserved equal importance among the arts organizations we support.”
The pair got to know Helfenstein, and as KAM programs and exhibitions grew and changed, Gary and Fraeda began inviting their own friends and colleagues to get to know their campus art museum.
In 2008, Gary and Fraeda retired after 35 years at the University of Illinois. Now, even though they live in Chicago, their dedication to art and to KAM grows each year. “We love having so many museums close-by in Chicago, but when we think about what we can give and where our donations will make the biggest impact, we always think about KAM.”
The Portons have been longtime members of the museum’s Directors Circle and were among the first major gift donors to the $10M KAM Initiative that completed in 2018. In early 2020, they pledged to endow the Gary and Fraeda Porton Exhibition Fund to support the development and implementation of exhibitions at Krannert Art Museum.
This fund will impact new generations of students, faculty, and the community at the University of Illinois in perpetuity, forever linking Gary and Fraeda to KAM and the university.