October 30, 2023

Case Study: SMU’s Spirit of Peruna

How a donor recognition sculpture combined storytelling and placemaking to showcase Southern Methodist University's proud history and reinforce its culture of philanthropy

The plaque that decorates the base of SMU’s Spirit of Peruna reads, “This sculpture, composed of individual pieces of metal bonded together permanently, reflects the essence of the pride and strength of Mustangs when we come together on the Hilltop to build, to win, and to shape world changers.”

Donor recognition plaque that sits on the base of the Spirit of Peruna sculpture.
Image of the plaque on the Spirit of Peruna sculpture taken during its installation

As donor recognition continues to evolve, PDG recognizes the importance of "Thinking Beyond the Wall.” The Spirit of Peruna, a donor recognition sculpture created by PDG for Southern Methodist University, is a perfect example of this. The sculpture incorporates two key elements that propel donor recognition towards success. The sculpture serves as the foundation for SMU’s culture of philanthropy, and the use of placemaking makes the recognition more meaningful and relatable, enabling donors and visitors to connect emotionally with the recognition.

SMU approached PDG with the desire to create recognition focused on a small group of 12 top-level donors for the construction of its new multipurpose Indoor Performance Center. The IPC would certainly be an athletics-oriented facility. Still, it was also conceived for broad-based use by the general student body and alums, so this particular donor recognition installation was going to receive a lot of exposure.

Working with SMU leadership during the project's discovery phase, we learned about their desire for the recognition to be adaptable to future additions. This foreshadows SMU’s belief that it would inspire additional major donors. We agreed as we refer to this as R.O.E. – Return on Experience – where the experience and resulting contributions of a single individual can bring about transformational change.

The design for the display needed to work within a confined yet commanding space at the intersection of three paths of travel, to be seen and grasped from whichever direction the viewer approached it. The allotted space in the Indoor Performance Center ultimately promised much more, allowing us to move well away from the wall and collaborate with SMU to create a statement piece. One that emerged from SMU history and culture and then added a new chapter. Art, beauty, generosity, history, leadership, legacy, passion, strength, and tradition were all desired visual subtexts combined with the metaphorical message of Mustangs gathering together in a unified effort.

Rendering of SMU's Indoor Performance Center and future location of the Spirit of Peruna

Finally, the recognition needed to be anchored securely and built of durable materials to see it through unavoidable handling and cleanable to sustain its image as artful, elegant, suitable and commensurate recognition for an elite group of donors.

Donor recognition sculpture concept sketch by PDG for Southern Methodist University
Concept sketch of Spirit of Peruna donor recognition sculpture

After several rounds of renderings and continuing dialog with PDG, SMU leadership narrowed the focus to a metal sculpture and a top-level donor recognition piece inspired by their live miniature Shetland Pony mascot, Peruna. The result is the SMU Spirit of Peruna, a life-sized, welded steel sculpture that embodies spirit, strength, and forward-charging movement. The surface appearance is primarily reflective chrome, made up of many small parts (mainly recycled and repurposed materials) describing a greater whole. Similar to a team, each individual part of the sculpture does not call attention to itself as a unique piece but instead exists in service of the whole integrated form.

Close up view of donor recognition sculpture Spirit of Peruna by PDG for Southern Methodist University.
“Thank you for working with us to create a unique and stunning display that hit the mark on surprising and delighting our donors.” - Rachel Kimball, SMU

Just behind the Peruna sculpture, in large lettering, sits the names of the major donors who made the SMU Performance Center possible. The base of the sculpture platform incorporates reclaimed wood from the location. Black tile that once marked the lanes of the original indoor pool surrounds an engraved plaque that tells the history of Peruna, its significance to the university, and the idea to inspire SMU spirit with a sculpture.

Donor recognition sculpture, Spirit of Peruna by PDG for Southern Methodist University.

The non-traditional donor recognition sculpture created for the Indoor Performance Center at SMU was thoughtfully and purposefully designed to combine storytelling and placemaking to share their proud history and reinforce SMU’s culture of philanthropy. The IPC is a shining example of the unifying spirit of the generous Mustangs who championed this game-changing facility.

"Think Beyond the Wall"

Let's work together to create donor recognition that deepens donor loyalty and inspires future giving.

Contact Us

Related posts