Portland Art Museum gets $10M gift from Arlene Schnitzer

Multnomah County

It's the largest personal donation in museum history

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Arlene Schnitzer is giving the Portland Art Museum another $10 million, the largest personal donation to the museum in its history and one of the largest to any Oregon arts organization. 

Schnitzer, who with her late husband, Harold, has her name on multiple arts venues across the state, is donating the money for the museum as the lead gift in the Museum’s ongoing Connection Campaign. The campaign is raising money to build the Rothko Pavilion and grow the museum’s endowment in support of access, exhibitions, and programs. This glass box-cum-entrance Rothko Pavilion will connect the museum’s two main buildings, giving it a post-modern look and reducing the need to the use the tunnel between them. Groundbreaking on the pavilion is expected next year. 

In a video message played during an announcement ceremony at the museum on Tuesday, Mrs. Schnitzer said she made the donation because she couldn’t imagine Portland without the Portland Art Museum. She said she was glad the museum was no longer elitist in its membership and was friendly to the community as well as to Northwest artists.

She also challenged people of means to donate to the museum, “You can’t just take in the fresh air, we have to be responsible. Put up or shut up. You have to show a community that you care about the community,” she said. 

Speaking of the famous abstract painter who lived briefly in Portland as a child, she called Mark Rothko “One of the greatest artists of our time” and said he used to sit on her father’s lap. 

She said the Rothko Pavilion “can only mean great things for the Portland Art Museum,” and that is “A very meaningful moment in my life in this city.”

Their son, Jordan Schnitzer, told the Portland Tribune that his mother has realized as she approached 91 on Jan. 10 that she wanted to see the new pavilion built in her lifetime. 

As a result, she increased the amount she already had promised to the museum from $5 million to $10 million. 

“The role the Portland Art Museum has played in our family is huge,” Jordan Schnitzer said. “When mom enrolled in the museum school it opened up a world of art for her, my father and myself. I can’t imagine my life without art.” 

Museum names 

In 2007, Harold and Arlene Schnitzer were named the first ever life trustees of the museum. The museum has devised exhibits based on their own personal collection of Asian art and Northwest paintings and sculpture.

In an appreciation included with the gift announcement, Brian Ferriso, director and chief curator, praised the “hard work and deeds of great individuals, citizens who selflessly give of their time, talents and hard-earned resources for the benefit of a community and its future generations.” 

He said Arlene and Harold Schnitzer are at the top of the list of those who “entered the life of the museum and led at pivotal moments, single-handedly altering the trajectory of the institution.”

Arlene Schnitzer studied at the Museum School in 1958, as the Pacific Northwest College of Art was known back then. She also founded the Fountain Gallery downtown in 1961, which was, for a long time, one of the only serious commercial galleries in town. Ferriso said, “Art viewing by Arlene and Harold and art making by Arlene were formative experiences that inspired their dedication to the cultural and educational life of our city and state.” 

She is credited with inspiring artists such as Louis Bunce, Michele Russo, Hilda and Carl Morris, Lee Kelly and Lucinda Parker to work in Portland rather than move to a bigger art city. 

With donations to the museum exceeding $21 million, the Schnitzers are the largest financial contributors in the museum’s history. They have given for capital campaigns, supported special exhibitions, membership, acquisitions, curatorships, exhibitions, publications and general operations, as well as donating art and time.

Their collections were showcased at the museum in the special exhibitions “Mysterious Spirits, Strange Beasts, Earthly Delights: Early Chinese Art from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection” in 2005, and “In Passionate Pursuit: The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Collection and Legacy” 2014. 

They also contributed major pieces of American and English silver and Native American beadwork, as well as provided funds over the years to support the purchase of numerous works in all areas of the collection.

History of giving 

Arlene and Harold Schnitzer inspired others to collect, including Deanne and Richard Rubinstein, Lila and Doug Goodman, Susan and Jim Winkler, and Barbara and Gerry Pratt, as well as their son, Jordan Schnitzer. He has three university museums named after him, in Portland, Eugene and Pullman, Washington, and is known for having the largest collections of postwar American prints in the world. 

“I am so proud of my mother, Arlene, and my late father, Harold,” he said in a press statement.

While his parents’ financial contributions have been important, Jordan Schnitzer said, “I believe their leadership and lifelong effort to enlist many others to support the arts is their greatest legacy. My late father often said, ‘You can’t have too many yellow school buses in front of the museum!'” 

They have donated more than $100 million to more than 570 nonprofits. Ferriso credited them with helping the museum stay solvent during the Great Recession of 2006 onwards. 

Arlene and Harold Schnitzer also donated to Cedar Sinai Park, Congregation Beth Israel, Lewis & Clark College, Northwest Academy, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Oregon Health & Science University, the Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Jewish Museum, Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Zoo, Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Portland Japanese Garden, Portland State University, and the University of Oregon. 

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

Outside of Oregon, they have been major supporters of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Palm Springs Art Museum; McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, California, where Arlene winters, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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