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The UNM Foundation: Our Stories of Impact

The Art of Learning

Stephanie Bennett-Smith has multiple definitions of family—art education and appreciation will further thrive because of it

Stephanie Bennett-Smith thinks of The University of New Mexico like family. Not surprising when her own family has been a part of the school for generations. She attended UNM, as did her father, her grandmother, and several others from her illustrious family tree, and her mother even proudly worked at UNM.

Bennett-Smith has long been a supporter of the UNM community. Combining her dedication to UNM with a love of both art and education, her most recent gift, a $500,000 education endowment for the Harwood Museum of Art (a first for the museum), is a perfect blend of her dedication and generosity. The arts have long been important to her family as well. Her uncle William Kunkel co-founded the Albuquerque Orchestra and, as an early pioneer in arts education, was on the music faculty at UNM. For Bennett-Smith, the Harwood Museum has been an integral part of her life. Among the ways she’s been of service to the museum, she’s held various positions on the Harwood Governing Board and contributed in immeasurable ways during the years to the development of the museum’s education department. If pressed to choose, she admits Victor Huggins’ Winter Funeral to be her favorite Harwood piece. She wants the next generation to love art as well.  And learn from it.

While Covid created an interruption requiring revisiting its approach, the museum has perennially had vital art education programs, including Art in the Schools, which has provided more than 1000 two-hour visits to over 600 school children pre-K through 5th grade since commencing in 2007. Art exploration multi-day workshops have also been held during the summer and school breaks, bringing in guest artist instructors to enrich the children’s experience. “Art is like reading—it’s a language that allows you to look at the world differently,” says Bennett-Smith, who graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in English and a masters in English and History. “I want our community’s children to have the opportunity to understand how it works, how to create it if they choose or at least to be able to appreciate it from a place of knowledge.”

Bennett-Smith has long been linked to learning. Once a teaching assistant at The University of New Mexico, she eventually went on to be Dean at Westhampton College of the University of Richmond and later, to serve for more than 15 years as President of Centenary University. “I have seen education take people to places they never could have gone otherwise,” she says. “I would say the same for me. It has enriched my life in countless ways.”

Bennett-Smith believes in endowments because she sees them as an opportunity to strengthen an important chain. “Look at the museum and the school as work people have passed to others to improve their generation and the next generation and the next,” she says. “If we don’t provide support then so much can be lost and that would be a shame.”

She has long been known for her generosity when it comes to the University of New Mexico as well as her dedication to family, offering input from her experience in education. At the time of this writing, she is just about to leave for a trip to visit her granddaughter for her birthday. “I can’t wait to celebrate in it,” she says. “Family is so important.”

For Stephanie Bennett-Smith, her definition of family happily extends to The University of New Mexico and the Harwood Museum, therein bolstering the proud State of New Mexico.

Photo of Bennett Smith wearing a pink suit standing in front of a classic car
Stories of ImpactThe Art of Learning