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Arlene Schnitzer
Associated Press
Published: 06 April 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Arlene Schnitzer, a philanthropist who gave away more than $150 million to thousands of civic projects in Portland and helped bring arts in the city to another level, has died. She was 91.

Her son, Jordan Schnitzer, said she died on Saturday after having some intestinal issues.

"In the end, at 91, I think she just decided she'd had a pretty amazing life," Jordan Schnitzer told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is named after her. She and her husband, Harold Schnitzer, who died in 2011 at age 87, helped establish the Center for Northwest Art, and a curatorial and awards program.

"Both my parents were proud Portlanders," Jordan Schnitzer said. "They were born and educated here. It was their village, they used to say. They felt if they didn't help build the institutions in this town, who would?

Bruce Guenther, former chief curator of the Portland Art Museum, said the Schnitzers transformed philanthropy by making large donations, and that other wealthy patrons began doing so also.

Harold and Arlene Schnitzer donated to a variety of causes. Recipients included New Avenues for Youth, community gathering places such as the Oregon Zoo, schools such as the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark College, Jewish cultural agencies such as the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, and arts institutions from the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Ballet Theatre to the Portland Opera and Portland Art Museum.

The couple's main way of donating was through the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, funded by the sale of the Claremont Hotel for $88 million.
"I think of her as a big wave," said Lucinda Parker, a painter who met Arlene when they were both art students in the 1950s. "She encouraged and embarrassed everyone to do what she was doing. She made her way. She had no fear."

Harold and Arlene Schnitzer met in 1949 and were married five weeks later after Arlene proposed.

From the Portland Art Museum

Arlene Schnitzer, with her husband, Harold, provided unprecedented leadership and contributions at pivotal moments in the Museum’s history. Their visionary leadership on the Board of Trustees made it possible for the Museum to grow and better serve the Portland community. Arlene’s passion for ensuring that everyone had access to art inspired all of those around her. She and Harold led the Museum through the 1996 and 2000 renovations and expansions of the Main Building and the prescient acquisition of the former Masonic Temple. 

Earlier this year, Arlene gave a historic $10 million gift to the Museum’s Connection Campaign, representing the largest contribution from an individual donor in the 127-year history of the institution.

“Arlene believed deeply in the transformational power of art, artists, and art institutions. She often said that the arts defined our lives and that she could not imagine Portland or Oregon without them,” said Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso. “Personally, I am forever grateful for Arlene’s steadfast faith in our beloved Museum and me.

"I know that many, many generations of Oregonians will benefit from her vision.”

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. 

robert colescott full"George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook" (1975) by Robert Colescott shows the painter's interest in exploring and reassessing history from a Black perspective. (courtesy of Portland Art Museum) The Schnitzers provided financial support for important acquisitions, exhibitions, and capital campaigns, and they donated their Chinese Han Dynasty collection and other works to the Museum’s collection. They also 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.

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. When she attended the opening of this exhibition on February 15, she was the last person to leave the Museum that evening after seeing the art and sharing joyful stories of her time working with the artist. Arlene’s legacy and impact on the arts in Portland and throughout the Northwest are undeniable.

“I am so proud of my mother, Arlene, and my late father, Harold,” Jordan Schnitzer said of his mother’s historic gift to the Museum in January. “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.”

When asked about what drives her philanthropy, Arlene herself said, “Enough is never enough giving back. And Harold felt it as strongly as I do. And that’s it.”

The Museum and larger art community grieves with Jordan and the family.

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