Artful Generosity

University alumnus’ gift expresses his love of the arts and the U
Burris art
"Lecture at the High" by Michael Burris. 

Michael Burris is proof that it’s never too late to pursue a deeply rooted passion. Before retiring in his 50s, the 1971 graduate of the University of Miami’s Herbert Business School had a long and successful career in the private sector that included a partnership at Deloitte and the CFO for the restaurant company, Benihana.

Although Burris graduated from the Miami Herbert Business School, his passion for his first love, photography, never faltered. Soon after enrolling at the University, Burris was unsure if he should follow the path of the artist or enter the world of business – until he took his first photography class.

Burris “One time, after class, I was walking with the professor to his car,” Burris recalls. “He was driving an ancient, rusty Oldsmobile – and he had been a photographer for Life magazine! It was then that I decided not to try to make a living in the arts, but give accounting and finance a chance.”

In recent years, Burris began to reflect on what his long-term legacy might be. At the urging of close friends and fellow UM alumni, he decided to give back to the University by creating the Michael R. Burris Art and Art History Innovation Endowment.

“An endowment lasts a long time,” Burris says. “Making something that will be a marker of my existence 15 or 20 years from now is a wonderful thought to me.”   

The endowment combines multiple threads of Burris’s life and career, going back to his youth in South Florida as the son of a businessman father and impressionist-painter mother. Although photography became his hobby rather than his primary occupation, Burris took it very seriously. As early as his teenage years, Burris was making unconventional works of surreal, abstract photographic art rather than conventional portraits or landscape shots.

“I was never interested in postcard-type shots that could be purchased anywhere, and the film was expensive,” he says. “Instead, I’d take pictures of other objects or images that caught my eye. My work was more like street photography. Lately, I’m trying to do hybrid photography, surreal and abstract, translating 3D to 2D and back again, which I’m calling polymorphics.”

With his generous gift of $500,000, the endowment will support students and faculty in the Department of Art and Art History with “a wide range of exciting academic experiences,” says Burris. “Perhaps the endowment can help support an art trip somewhere or supplies for a new medium because technology is changing everything in the visual arts.”

“It is because of the generosity of donors like Michael Burris that the arts can continue to change, advance, and thrive at the University of Miami,” says Nathan Timpano, associate professor of art history and department chair. “Through this endowment, our fine arts students will have doors and opportunities open to them that would not otherwise be available.”