Michael Haga has one prevailing hope for art history students at the College of Charleston. As he prepares to retire from a 26-plus-year career with the School of the Arts, he wants to see his students go away, too – if only for a semester or so.

To clarify, Haga hopes students all get the chance to venture to far-flung places to further their studies while enrolled at the College. He wants them to head off to Paris and gaze up at the Notre Dame Cathedral, to London to study the Elgin Marbles, or to Rome to walk through the Colosseum and the Pantheon. He hopes they land on distant shores, where they will gain a new perspective on both their studies – and their lives.

Michael Haga with School of the Arts Dean Valerie Morris at his retirement party last month. (Photos by Reese Moore)

Thanks to philanthropy, Haga’s wish is poised to come true with a new scholarship for art history students. The Michael W. Haga Endowed Art History Award provides funds to students who have demonstrated success in art history through coursework, research and/or contributions to the community.

“Being in Notre Dame Cathedral is not anything like looking at images of Notre Dame on the screen,” says Haga, who has served as both associate dean of the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts and as an art history professor, teaching Art History 101 for 20 years. “Research is so important to our students, especially if they can do it abroad.”

Travel is particularly beneficial to those students, many from South Carolina, who have never been outside of the country, says Haga.

“It’s so important to broadening their horizons,” he says.

Established in 2016, the award was the brainchild of Nina Liu, a renowned Charleston gallery owner, as well as a friend of Haga, who wanted to honor his contribution to the College by creating the endowed award in his name.

“I was humbled and very honored,” recalls Haga, who regards Liu as a remarkable woman who is always giving of her time and her resources. “That was a very gracious and kind thing for her to do.”

Haga shares a hug with Yvonne Evans, incoming president of the School of the Arts Council.

Working with Liu, Haga came upon the idea of directing the fund to his chosen field of art history, supporting majors in that area so that they can travel for research or engage in a formal study abroad program.

And, while the support focuses on academic pursuits related to art history, Haga sees the long game as well. He points out that students with the critical thinking skills afforded by a liberal arts background are increasingly valued by companies seeking good candidates, and are primed for successful careers.

“We provide them with the training that allows them to be nimble, and to change with the changing world,” says Haga.

Now, an anonymous donor has stepped forward with a $15,000 matching gift challenge to garner further support for the award in honor of Haga’s retirement from the College.

Haga adds, “No matter how sophisticated you may be through reading and interacting with people from other parts of the world, until you physically are elsewhere yourself, you simply cannot understand what a transformative thing travel is. It changes your world.”

To learn more about the Michael W. Haga Endowed Fund, the $15,000 matching gift, as well as Haga’s time at the College, visit the College’s Giving website.