Celebrating Dr. Murry N. DePillars

Remembering former VCUarts Dean, artist, scholar and arts advocate.

murry depillars

Murry N. DePillars, Ph.D. served as dean of VCUarts from 1976 until 1995, after having served four years as assistant dean. He cultivated a fertile period of development at the School of the Arts, which nearly doubled enrollment, reaching 2,400 students and emerging as one of the largest arts schools in the country under his leadership. DePillars is also credited with growing funding, including external funding and a sizeable increase in the endowment. But his greatest achievement may be elevating the professionalism of both the faculty and students, which raised the school’s prominence in all fields during his 20-year tenure.

As dean, DePillars was determined to use the arts to forge a bold, unified spirit in Richmond. Over the course of his 20 years of leadership, VCUarts flourished, growing to become one of the largest arts schools in America with expanded performing arts facilities, campus and city jazz festivals and high-profile fashion shows. These events — many organized largely by the dean himself — realized his goal of bringing a diverse public together.

Memories and Milestones: Celebrating the legacy of Dr. Murry N. DePillars

An advocate for the arts

DePillars believed deeply that the arts empowered communities, and wasn’t afraid to defend his principles. In 1992, the National Endowment for the Arts decided to withhold a $10,000 grant from an Anderson Gallery exhibition featuring photographs of human body parts. In protest, DePillars relinquished his seat on the NEA’s Expansion Arts/Arts in Education Initiative panel.

That same year, the dean spoke before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to argue that the NEA should receive maximum funding, despite years of calls by detractors to abolish it. In his testimony, he spoke to the importance of free speech and public support for the arts.

Where there is no informed discourse you can never have a resolution to a problem.

Dr. Murry N. DePillars
V C U arts fine arts building

Murry N. DePillars Building Dedication

The 114,000-square-foot Murry N. DePillars Building at 1000 W. Broad St. houses the Craft/Material Studies, Painting and Printmaking, Kinetic Imaging, and Sculpture + Extended Media departments.

murry depillars

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A renowned artist

DePillars was a professional painter and art historian whose artwork and research were exhibited and published throughout the country. A Chicago native, DePillars absorbed every element of the arts scene in the city. He was deeply influenced by the countercultural zeitgeist of the 1960s, becoming a lifelong lover of jazz and a member of the Chicago-based AfriCOBRA — the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists.

His affinity for the incredible history of Black artistry in the United States and abroad fueled his encyclopedic knowledge of African art history. His paintings incorporated a vast lexicon of cultural iconography, from the gyrations of hip-hop dancers to ancient Saharan petroglyphs. Even in his final years, he worked new materials into his art.

I have attempted to celebrate, affirm and present the augustness of the Black presence. It is my hope that one day we can acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the presence of all people.

Dr. Murry N. DePillars, as recalled by his wife Mary DePillars, in a story for WCVE News.

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