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Forever remembered: Art gallery gives late philanthropist permanent place at College of DuPage

Barbara Wiesen, director and curator of the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery at College of DuPage, discusses the collection Feb. 14.
Barbara Wiesen, director and curator of the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery at College of DuPage, discusses the collection Feb. 14.

GLEN ELLYN – After years of supporting the arts at College of DuPage, late Glen Ellyn philanthropist Cleve Carney will remain there for years to come through the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery.

Located in the recently renovated McAninch Arts Center, the construction of the gallery was funded through a $700,000 donation made by Carney before he died from a rare brain disorder in July 2013 at 74 years old.

In addition to the monetary donation, the college also will receive part of Carney's personal art collection.

"We're so fortunate to have this gift," said McAninch Arts Center Director Diana Martinez. "Without Cleve Carney, there absolutely wouldn't be this gallery and the art that's filling it."

College officials will have first choice of Carney's collection after it is finished being appraised, which is how Carney wanted things, his brother, Rick Carney, said. The appraisal process is expected to be completed this month, he said.

College of DuPage will receive 40 percent of the value of the collection, which includes about 800 pieces, some of which are currently on display at the gallery as part of its inaugural exhibit.

Once the artwork is chosen, Carney's donation to the college is expected to exceed $1 million.

Rick Carney attributes the love he and his brother had for the arts to their parents, who were actors. The two grew up in Wheaton, where their parents were involved in dance and drama clubs.

Although Cleve Carney took a few art classes as a college student at Dartmouth, he received a bachelors degree in economics, and later, a masters degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

Carney put his education to good use, as the owner of the largest roofing company in Illinois and later the owner of a suburban bank, the sale of which allowed him to retire on his 50th birthday, Rick Carney said.

His early retirement gave him more time for his many philanthropic pursuits.

Over the years, Carney served on the boards of several organizations and was named "Philanthropist of the Year" by the West Suburban Philanthropic Network in 2006.

McAninch Arts Center Marketing and Development Coordinator Roland Raffel remembers Carney coming to the center for as long as he's worked there.

Carney often would attend performances and visit exhibits at the previous art gallery.

"He was a person who just loved to see art, show people his collection," Raffel said.

Barbara Wiesen, the curator of the former gallery and now the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery, first met the art collector at an auction.

She was a practicing artist herself at the time and bid against Carney for a piece by a Chicago artist. Carney ultimately won the artwork, but years later, Wiesen saw the piece again when he gave her a three-hour tour of his home after they got to know each other through her role at the McAninch Arts Center.

Filled to the brim with art, his Glen Ellyn house is more like a museum, Rick Carney said.

"He's got it in every square inch of the house," he said. "There's not much furniture. It's all art."

Carney's love for the arts never ceased, even as he grew ill.

In 2006, he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disease that causes a loss of motor functions.

During the next seven years, Carney continued to be in the community as much as he could.

"Cleve was an incredible fighter," Raffel said.

Although Carney may be gone, his presence at the college continues. It was important to share his art with the community, and having an art gallery at a community college was the perfect way to do that, his brother said.

"He wanted College of DuPage to have the best, so he could share it with everybody," Rick Carney said.


If you go

What: Cleve Carney's Art Collection featuring contemporary work by local, national and international artists

When: Through March 29

Where: Cleve Carney Art Gallery, McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn

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