The Portland Art Museum today announced a landmark gift of $10 million from philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer, representing the largest contribution from an individual donor in the 127-year history of the institution. This gift is also among the top gifts to the arts in the region, signaling to the community the importance of continued investment in the art and culture of Portland and our region.
The gift was announced at the Museum this morning by Jordan Schnitzer, Mrs. Schnitzer’s son, who like his mother is a noted collector and arts philanthropist. Gov. Kate Brown spoke of Mrs. Schnitzer’s extraordinary leadership to approximately 200 invitees, underscoring the importance of the Schnitzers and others investing in the arts in our state.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici brought additional good news to this morning’s event, announcing a $750,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of the Museum’s Connections Campaign. Through that campaign, the Museum will transform its campus by connecting its two buildings via the new Mark Rothko Pavilion and by growing its endowment in support of access, exhibitions, and programs.
The Schnitzer gift now represents the lead gift in the Museum’s ongoing Connection Campaign, which is currently in the quiet phase. An official announcement of the public campaign is anticipated in 2021.
“This extraordinary gift is a profound investment in our role as Portland’s museum for art and film, but also in the future of the arts in our region,” said Brian Ferriso, Director and Chief Curator of the Museum. “We are so grateful to the Schnitzer family for their leadership in continually reinforcing that the arts are essential for vibrant, equitable communities. This gift, and the gifts it will inspire, will shape the future of the arts in this community in ways we cannot foresee today.”
Arlene Schnitzer’s relationship with the Portland Art Museum began when she enrolled as a student at the Museum Art School. She and her late husband, Harold Schnitzer (1923–2011), along with their son, Jordan, have been close partners of the Museum for almost half a century. Their passion for art, and our city, led to leadership roles at the Museum. The Schnitzers have provided financial support of important acquisitions, exhibitions, and capital campaigns; donated their Chinese Han Dynasty collection and other works to the Museum’s collection; and made significant investments in furthering the scholarship of the curatorial team through endowments of Northwest and Asian art, whose curatorial positions are named in their honor. The Schnitzers’ vision and generosity led to the creation of the Museum’s Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art, celebrating the creative vitality of the region.
When asked about what drives her philanthropy, Mrs. Schnitzer said, “Enough is never enough giving back. And Harold felt it as strongly as I do. And that’s it.”
In recognition of their incredible commitment and contributions, in 2007 Harold and Arlene Schnitzer were named the first ever Life Trustees of the Museum. In 2014, the Museum showcased Arlene and Harold’s distinguished collection with the exhibition and publication In Passionate Pursuit: The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Collection and Legacy. That exhibition displayed artwork by many of the Northwest artists whose careers Mrs. Schnitzer nurtured through her Fountain Gallery, including Robert Colescott, the focus of the special exhibition Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott, opening February 15 at the Museum. The Schnitzers’ legacy and impact on the arts in Portland and throughout the Northwest are undeniable.
“It has been very exciting to see the Museum change and grow, and to watch interest in the art of the Northwest region blossom,” Mrs. Schnitzer said. “It’s what Harold and I envisioned.”
Today’s announcement event included a performance by the Lincoln High School Chamber Choir. Both Harold and Arlene Schnitzer attended Lincoln High, and the Schnitzer family has been strongly supportive of arts education.
“I am so proud of my mother, Arlene, and my late father, Harold,” said Jordan Schnitzer. “My mother recently said the reason they have given to the art museum was ‘You either put up, or shut up!’ It doesn’t get any more succinct than that!
“While their financial contributions have been important, I believe their leadership and lifelong effort to enlist many others to support the arts is their greatest legacy,” Mr. Schnitzer continued. “My late father often said, ‘You can’t have too many yellow school buses in front of the Museum!’”