The Story Behind Santa Clara Alum's $12M Arts Donation

For someone who claims to have cared little for art for much of his adult life, Ed Dowd sure is giving a lot of money to help promote the study and practice of it.

Ed recently pledged twelve million dollars to Santa Clara University to help build a new art and art history building on campus, one that will bear Ed's name. Even Ed marvels at the twists his life have taken to lead to this point.

"I look back on it," Ed wonders, "and geez, how did that happen?"


While Ed's love of art is a relatively new thing, his relationship with Santa Clara is not. 

Ed grew up in Salinas and enlisted in the Air Force in the 1960's. During his four year stint, Ed bristled at the notion of always having to salute officers. His solution? Become one.

"I realized," Ed say, "that all I had to do was go to college, get a degree, then I could return to the military as an officer."

The military career, however, never materialized. Instead Ed embarked on what turned out to be a very successful career in real estate. Ed's company, EMD Properties, now manages 1,000 rental units in the South Bay.

Ed's life took another turn with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 47. As the disease progressed, and Ed's physical condition deteriorate, he began delegating more and more of his work responsibilities to others. 


That left Ed, for likely the first time in his life, time on his hands. At the urging of a colleague, he began filling that time with art. It was a world that, before then, was foreign to him. "I knew nothing," Ed says. "I had never been to a museum. I had never been to a gallery before then."

Ed, it turns out, was a quick study. He began collecting paintings and sculptures with which he filled his San Francisco home. When the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where Ed received his treatment for multiple sclerosis, asked for a donation, he knew just what he wanted to give them.

One stipulation of the four million dollars Ed donated to PAMF was that they install a sculpture by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly in the new building's foyer. Ed's thinking was that such an iconic piece would help attract world-class medical talent to the facility.

He honestly says he wasn't thinking about the patients. 

But when dozens of them began writing cards, letters and emails thanking him for the work of art, he was stunned. "I had no idea," Ed says, "that it would have a benefit."

 Letter writers shared how seeing the two-piece, two-story, floral sculpture made from blown glass, would make their arrival for less-than-pleasant medical procedures, a little more pleasant.

Ed says he was so touched by the response, he dedicated himself to finding other ways to share the power of art. A place where art could be created, studied, and taught seemed like a perfect fit.

Santa Clara University hopes to open the Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building in 2016. One stipulation of Ed's donation, naturally, is that a Chihuly sculpture be installed right inside the front entrance.

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