Campbell, Mary Schmidt 1947–
Mary Schmidt Campbell 1947–
Educator, administrator, curator, art historian
Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU), Mary Schmidt Campbell has been an effective advocate for the role of the arts in public life and a vital participant in New York City’s cultural scene. Crain’s New York Business selected her as one of the city’s 100 most influential women in 1999, and she is a reliable presence on advisory committees and boards of directors serving many of the city’s top cultural institutions. Campbell came to her high-visibility educational post after a long and varied career that has included work in the field of visual arts and a position as a public arts administrator.
Campbell was born in Philadelphia on October 21, 1947, the daughter of Harvey N. Schmidt and Elaine Harris Schmidt. As a young girl she was enthralled by the world of film, and would often spend the entire day at her neighborhood movie theater. “A friend of our family’s took me and her children to see The King and I,” Campbell recalled in an interview on the Kodak website. “When the movie was over, she said, ‘Mary, it’s time to go.’ I absolutely would not move. So we sat through the whole film a second time.”
Campbell attended prestigious Swarthmore University in suburban Philadelphia, and married George Campbell, a physicist in training, in 1968 while she was still in school. The family took up residence in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, and the couple had three children over a period of 20 years.
Campbell graduated from Swarthmore in 1969 with a degree in English literature, and took a job for two years teaching English to refugees in the African nation of Zambia. She described on the Kodak website that she still became “completely and psychologically engaged” when the weekly film delivery arrived from the United States. But after she returned home to the United States, Campbell began to pursue another interest, that of art history. She enrolled in graduate school, earning a master’s degree from the University of Syracuse in 1973. She was awarded a Ford Fellowship that year to pursue further art-related historical research. During this period, Campell also wrote about art for the Syracuse New Times and curated several museum exhibitions.
In 1977 Campbell was hired as executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, building it over the ten years she spent there into one of New York’s premier cultural institutions. By the time she left the Studio Museum in 1987, Campbell had completed a Ph.D. at Syracuse University. She submitted as her dissertation a study of the African-American artist Romare Bearden, a work that would later become part of a book of essays co-written with another author.
Campbell has also written numerous articles on the arts. Some of those articles were focused on the subject that occupied Campbell during the next phase of her career: that of public arts policy. In 1987, at the invitation of Mayor Edward Koch, Campbell accepted the post of commissioner of cultural affairs for the City of New York. In that capacity, Campbell oversaw budgeting and capital improvement outlays for some of the largest and most important cultural institutions in the world—the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Carnegie Hall, among others. She also supervised the
Born on October 21, 1947, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Harvey N. and Elaine Harris Schmidt; married George Campbell (a physicist), 1968; children: Garikai, Sekou, Britt. Education; Swar-thmore College, BA, 1969; Syracuse University, MA, 1973; PhD, 1982, Politics: Democrat.
Career: Syracuse New Times, art editor, 1973-77; Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY, curator and guest curator, 1974-76; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, executive director, 1977-87; City of New York, commissioner of cultural affairs, 1987-91; Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, dean, 1991-.
Selected memberships: Tony Award nominating committee, member, 1996-98, 2000-02; Brooklyn Museum of Art, member, board of trustees, 1999-2002.
Selected awards: Ford Fellowship, 1973-77; Rockefeller Fellowship in the Humanities, 1985.
Addresses: Office —721 Broadway, 12th floor, New York, NY 10003.
awarding of block grants to more than 500 arts groups in the city, ranging from the famous to the fledgling, in an effort to help the department serve a wider range of New York’s population.
Campbell, however, was presiding over the division of a shrinking pie, as federal and municipal arts budgets shrank during the recessionary years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The cultural community, Campbell lamented in a Back Stage interview, had not been successful in convincing the public and power brokers that “culture is an essential part of the civic infrastructure. We know that fire and sanitation and police are, but we’re always questioned when it comes to culture.”
After she left city government for academia once again, Campbell continued to hammer away at this theme during her numerous public speaking engagements. Imagination, she told a Hawaii audience in 2002, is a muscle. She was quoted by the Honolulu Advertiser as saying, “If you don’t exercise it, it gets saggy and atrophies. When we take the arts out, we remove the opportunity for students to use their imagination. That, over time, will have an adverse effect on the way we conduct business and finding new ways of doing things.”
When she took the job of Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU) in 1991, Campbell was in some ways returning to her first love, that of film. The school comprised three separate institutes, two of them concerned with film and one with the performing arts in general. The school’s alumni included such prestigious industry figures as Spike Lee, Martin Scorcese, and Billy Crystal. Campbell boosted the school’s enrollment and funding, and drew on her expertise in the public arena to establish a new Department of Art and Public Policy, and subsequently served as the department’s chair.
Campbell’s general educational philosophy in her work at NYU grew out of her ideas about the relationship between the arts and the wider society, but that philosophy was also shaped by contemporary events. She was quoted on the Kodak website as saying, “We’re training [students] to be citizens, to go out and have some responsibility towards the world, to understand that they have a role in the world, and to make sure that they have the intellectual capacity, along with their creative and imaginative capacity, to be able to speak to that world, and speak about that world.”
Campbell found that the events of September 11, 2001, lent a new urgency to her efforts to forge links between creative artists and the public. “September 11 brought home the idea that we can’t cloister ourselves,” Campbell told Kodak. “That event has made our students incredibly intense and focused and serious.” It seemed sure bet that another generation of America’s creative students would be influenced by the contributions and work of Mary Schmidt Campbell.
Back Stage, August 2, 1991, p. 1.
Honolulu Advertiser, October 13, 2002, p. D11.
“Interview with Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell,” Kodak, www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/students/deans/campbell.shtml (December 30, 2003).
“Mary Schmidt Campbell,” Center for Arts and Culture, www.culturalpolicy.org/archive/networks/listing.cfm?ID=2749 (December 30, 2003).
“Mary Schmidt Campbell,” History Makers, www.thehistorymakers.com/historymakers/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=152 (December 30, 2003).
“Mary Schmidt Campbell,” New York University Office of Public Affairs, www.nyu.edu/publicaffairs/leadership/academic/campbell/campbell.html (December 30, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
"Campbell, Mary Schmidt 1947–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/campbell-mary-schmidt-1947
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