This week, Portland State University announced Jordan Schnitzer is giving $5 million to the fundraising campaign for the school’s new art museum.
Schnitzer is the heir to one of Oregon’s great philanthropic families. Jordan, his mother, Arlene, and his late father, Harold, are the top arts philanthropists in the Portland metro area. They’ve made substantial gifts in other parts of the state.
He spoke tearfully a a Thursday press conference about his father’s teenage years at Lincoln High School, just blocks away from PSU.
“These kinds of institutions go on far beyond us,” Schnitzer said, “but they need all of us during our time to do the kinds of things our forefathers and mothers did before us establishing these institutions.”
Schnitzer is widely known as an art collector. He owns thousands of works by emerging and big-name artists alike, including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg. His foundation regularly sends out exhibitions of this work for display at museums around the country.
- Midway through last decade he made a major gift to the University of Oregon's campus art museum. And the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art was born.
- Washington State University in Pullman decided to build a museum. With a $5 million gift from Schnitzer, it's scheduled to open next spring, also called the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
- The PSU museum is slated to debut in two years. That's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art no. 3.
- OPB learned this week he's in talks for a fourth Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Corvallis, at Oregon State University.
Alone, $5 million wouldn’t buy very much square footage in Portland’s go-go real estate market. But it’s $5 million toward a $70 million capital project PSU has been chipping away at for some time. The museum will take shape in a newly-renovated Neuberger Hall, adjacent to downtown’s Park Blocks, a stone’s throw from the Portland Art Museum and other institutions. The university convinced the Oregon Legislature to approve $60 million in public bonds to help.
PSU President Wim Wiewel noted this is one of several game-changing cultural gifts the Schnitzer family has made to the school. In addition to placing a cultural destination right on campus, with free admission and a staff curator, he says, this gift makes possible something larger.
“The Neuberger Building right now is a bit of a fortress,” Wiewel said. “It’s our workhorse building. It has 38 classrooms. The state gave us a lot of money, but we had to meet a $10 million match. This provides us with a very large part of that match. It’s absolutely critical to go forward to be able to renovate this building.”
Renderings from Hacker Architects show the unremarkable Broadway facade transformed with a major entrance and huge glass panels offering a look at artwork on view within. On the Park Blocks side, architects plan to renovate the entire facade.
Steve Moore is the executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, another major player in philanthropic giving in Oregon and Washington.
“We need to be thankful for the Schnitzer family,” Moore said. “They’ve invested in so many ways.”
He adds Schnitzer is making a smart and deliberative choice in forging sustainable partnerships with the universities for underserved areas.
“I think one of the things you see happening is that a lot of foundations have shifted away from capacity building,” he said, “like infrastructure and capital, and maybe focusing on a set of goals they determined are more strategic at the current time. It’s a real important space, I think, for him to be investing.”
Schnitzer is in a class by himself among Oregon cultural philanthropists. But he’s not terribly well-known. If you don’t go to art museums, you may know him from the legal case surrounding his youngest child.
The boy was delivered by a surrogate, and his biological mother is asking a court to grant her some visitation rights.
Jordan Schnitzer’s friends say art has been a transformative force in his life.
He says the interaction with regional universities is about making that transformation possible for others.
“While Portland State’s average age is a little bit higher than University of Oregon and Oregon State,” Schnitzer said, “the fact is [their students] are all still at a formative stage. And there are huge shifts going on in their values and what they want to do and who they want to be. This is the perfect time to have an art museum that can be part of that formative process.”
As these new museums take shape, you’ll have a lot of choices about Jordan Schnitzer Museums of Art to visit. It’s a good problem to have, but still something of a problem. All these museums share the same name. But they all are different institutions, with different missions.
“We’ve already been talking with Washington State about how to differentiate ourselves from them, and them from us,” said Jill Hartz, director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
“With at least potentially two more coming online with the same name, we’re going to have to be working with our colleagues to work out something that’s consistent, in recognizing Jordan’s great generosity, but also in knowing which one you’re talking about,” she said.
Watch for the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU opening in 2019.
Full disclosure, the Schnitzer family has given to OPB.