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The cultural dimension.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Supporters of higher education have learned to describe universities as engines of economic development, places where students learn skills that will qualify them for good jobs, and where research lays the foundation for new industrial technologies. The description - tailored to appeal to legislators and donors who expect to see an economic payoff from investments in higher education - is accurate, but insufficient. A real university not only puts bread on the table, but also lays a flower alongside it.

The vital cultural dimension of higher education was highlighted this week with the announcement that the University of Oregon Museum of Art would be renamed in honor of Jordan Schnitzer, whose donation of unspecified but substantial size is allowing the UO to complete a $14.3 million renovation.

When it opens in October, the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art will be twice the size of the old museum, with room to display the UO's art collections and to host traveling exhibitions. What began as a study center will be redesigned to display artworks, with nine galleries, an events hall and even a cafe.

Schnitzer, a 1973 UO graduate, is president of a property investment company in Portland. His family name is closely connected to cultural and philanthropic organizations throughout the state. Before Schnitzer stepped up, fund-raising for the museum remodeling was in danger of falling short of levels that would allow the UO to obtain $6.4 million in state bonds. Schnitzer had given financial support to the art museum before, but this time he made what UO President Dave Frohnmayer called "a transformative gift." The renaming is deserved; Schnitzer rescued the museum project.

People who give multimillion dollar gifts to art museums obviously believe art is important, even essential, and Schnitzer said so at a ceremony Tuesday in his honor. Then he said something else: "The importance of art in our lives - and especially for students and children - is that art is nonjudgmental... . When you come through these doors and see the paintings, sculpture, prints and antiquities, each individual is given the freedom to like the work or dislike the work."

That freedom, the freedom to form individual responses to art, is part of what makes the museum important. Art engages the mind and the soul in ways that enlarge both - a process that might be called learning. No less than any other building on the UO campus, the art museum will be a place of learning that will contribute to a well-rounded education. And just as with the learning that occurs in the law school or a science lab, the learning that happens in the art museum will be of unpredictable but incalculable value.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; UO's new art museum central to its purpose
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 6, 2004
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