The Man Who Made it Real

Scientist Arthur M. Sackler Believes in Art

If it hadn't been for the dream of Fine Arts Professor Seymour Slive, the idea to build a new art museum at Harvard might never have been conceived, but if it hadn't been for the generous support of philanthropist Arthur M. Sackler, Slive's dream would probably never have become reality.

Sackler, a New York physician, scientist, medical publisher, and art collector, has given vast quantities of time and money to institutions and museums around the world, including $10.5 million to the Harvard University Art Museums.

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum here at Harvard is the fourth institution to bear his name, the other three being the Arthur M. Sackler Sciences Center at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Arthur M. Sackler Health Communications Center at the Tufts University Medical Center in downtown Boston.

But the fact that this isn't the first of Sackler's major projects doesn't make it any less thrilling for him. "I feel like a student who's about to receive his first degree," Sackler said in an interview last week.

"I think the excitement remains because each of the projects has a distinctive character of its own, even though they all are linked--they're linked in terms of my conviction that the arts, sciences, and humanities must work together," Sackler said.


Sackler said he enjoys helping both scientific and non-scientific institutions because "I have come to the conclusion that science without humanity is cold, unscentient, technology and that technology without an understanding of social problems and the solutions to social problems can be as great a threat as technology, when used correctly, can be a promise."

With respect to the museum, Sackler's recognition was that it "would provide a wonderful environment for teaching, study, and research; for the opportunity of handling objects at close range and for the potential of seeing objects in relation to each other, both in the formal setting of an exhibition, and the informal one of a seminar room."

Sackler especially likes helping institutions that are involved with the young. "I see the future in the hands of our young people, who must be committed to trying to understand the problems that society must address," Sackler said. "I believe that their ability to address these problems is enhanced by the recognition that primitive man was not so primitive. Physiological evolution is a very slow process, and we must not confuse technology with intelligence. The average adult caveman probably had superior reflexes and was sturdier than the average adult now."

But Sackler does not see giving money to an institution as a means for influencing the institution's actions. "As a donor, I have been very sensitive to the fact that when I was a student, I objected to outsiders influencing decisions just because they had donated money," he said. "I believe that a donor should 'done', so to speak. He should be as constructive as possible without intervening with the students, faculty, or institution in any way."

According to Slive, Sackler did indeed live up to his ideals. "He was the perfect benefactor--always supportive, but he never interfered in any way."