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MIT arts council marks 25 years of philanthropy

John Kunstadter graduated from MIT in 1949 with a physics degree in hand -- and a deep love of music, painting and literature in his heart. He began a career as a scientist and went on to significant accomplishments in business, but today, at age 69, Mr. Kunstadter counts as one of his most rewarding accomplishments his eight-year chairmanship of the Council for the Arts at MIT and his ongoing contributions to its ambitious charter statement: "to foster the arts at MIT, to act as a catalyst for the development of a broadly based highly participatory program in the arts."

Founded in 1972 by President Jerome B. Wiesner, the Council for the Arts at MIT is a volunteer group composed of up to 100 alumni/ae and friends who contribute time, money and ideas to the Institute's arts programs. In the last 25 years, members of the Council have contributed more than $18 million to MIT performances, exhibitions, arts facilities, collections and co-curricular programs.

The Council has played a significant role in the development of MIT's outstanding permanent collection of nearly 2,000 paintings, prints and sculpture; awarded 37 prizes for artistic achievement to artists both within and outside MIT; and enabled thousands of MIT students to visit, free of charge, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and attend performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other Boston-area cultural events.

Now based within MIT's Office of the Arts, the Council is self-sustaining and operates as a miniature arts foundation within MIT, said Council Director Susan Cohen. "As far as we know, the Council is the only program of its kind in the country," she said.

The Council is perhaps best known on campus for its Grants Program, which has awarded more than $1 million since 1974 to more than 1,000 arts projects created by MIT students, staff and faculty. Grants range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Recent awards have gone to MIT's costume shop for the purchase of new sewing machines; for rubber boots worn by members of the MITCAN African performing ensemble in a traditional "gumboot" dance; for a new harpsichord for MIT's music section; and to fund a student-produced poetry slam.

Council members range widely in age, occupation and geographic location, said Ms. Cohen, but they share an interest in helping the Institute carry out its commitment to the arts as an integral part of an MIT education. "Their work is truly a labor of love," she said.

Mr. Kunstadter, who resides in New York, NY but returns to MIT several times a year for Council business, agreed. "There is nothing more exciting and rewarding than to help a young engineer mount an exhibition of his stunning watercolor paintings, or to enable a biology student to fulfill her dream of starting a student dance company," he said.


On Thursday, Oct. 23, in honor of its 25th anniversary, the Council for the Arts at MIT will hold a Silver Anniversary Ball at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts as part of its annual meeting. The event will feature a performance by actress, singer and arts administrator Kitty Carlisle Hart of her one-woman show, My Life on the Wicked Stage. A member of the Council for the Arts and active arts advocate, Mrs. Hart completed 20 years as head of the New York State Council on the Arts in 1996.

Other events during the Council's 25th annual meeting include the awarding of its Eugene McDermott Award to video artist Toni Dove; the presentation of the Gyorgy Kepes Fellowship Prize to Stephen A. Benton, Allen Professor of Media Arts and Science and a distinguished researcher in the field of holography; and the dedication ceremony of MIT's new Endicott World Music Center, funded by Council members Brad and Dorothea Endicott to support MIT's growing involvement in the study, performance and presentation of international music.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.

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