When Harold Schnitzer was a student at MIT, he rarely had time to visit a museum or attend the symphony. But his interest in art was piqued when, in 1961, his wife opened an art gallery in Portland, Oregon.

Through the gallery, the arts community, and the local symphony, Harold and Arlene’s interest in the arts deepened. Harold also recognized the value the arts would have brought to his MIT education in making him a more well-rounded graduate, so the couple created the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts at MIT. The prize recognizes and supports students working in the visual arts, including drawing, painting, sculpture, video, and photography.

“The arts are an important part of the education process to help expand the mind,” Schnitzer says. “As a young person goes through the education process, particularly as they mature during the university years, they also ought to partake in the world around them and try to enjoy life, seek some kind of activities that appeal to them, particularly in the cultural fields of music and the arts, and the visual arts.”

The Schnitzers believe involvement in the arts is important to developing students who will become leaders in their communities and the world.

At MIT today, with programs run by the Office of the Arts, and student music and theater groups, the arts play a larger role than they did when Schnitzer left in 1944. Students compete for the Schnitzer Prize annually, submitting their visual artwork to a panel of judges. The winners receive a cash award and their work is exhibited in MIT’s Wiesner Student Art Gallery. During a recent visit back to the Institute, the Schnitzers especially appreciated the increased emphasis on the arts.

“I was almost overwhelmed — the space, the people involved, and what’s going on. It’s wonderful,” Harold Schnitzer says. “We believe in developing people coming out of MIT who will play a part in developing and improving the arts in their communities. Music, art, and, of course, athletics, are all important to develop the whole human being. MIT should be an institution that develops national leaders who not only excel in the fields of engineering and chemistry, but who are well-rounded humans. That’s why the visual arts are so important.”