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J. Mark Schuster, urban studies and planning professor, 57

J. Mark Schuster
J. Mark Schuster

J. Mark Schuster PhD '79, a professor of urban studies and planning, an expert on arts funding policies and respected leader of First Night and other Boston cultural events, died Feb. 25 of complications from melanoma. He was 57.

"Schuster helped develop the field of urban cultural policy and showed how it could be a vital part of the practice of city planning. He showed how to integrate the world of urban design and the world of government policy-making, to the great benefit of both," said Lawrence Vale, professor and head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

A native of Meriden, Conn., Schuster joined the MIT faculty in 1978, becoming an assistant professor in 1984 and a full professor in 1999. He held the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Professorship from 1988 to 1990.

He quickly gained international prominence in the field of cultural policy, winning a Fulbright Scholarship in 1990 and serving as a consultant to national and international cultural institutions, including the National Endowment for the Arts and National Public Radio.

Schuster also gained early and steady recognition for his teaching, winning the Graduate Student Council Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1983 and his department's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006.

"He held his students--and his colleagues--to the highest possible standards and attention to detail. It was a special pleasure to co-teach with Mark because he knew the perfect balance between total preparedness and willingness to respond to unexpected opportunities," Vale said.

Last spring, when Schuster missed part of the semester due to illness, his students folded 1,000 colorful paper cranes into a floor-to-ceiling mobile for him, in an expression of support and hope.

Known for his delight in city festivals, Schuster participated as a trustee or board member in numerous arts, cultural and civic organizations. In 2006, he participated in the Northeast Mayors' Institute on City Design, held at MIT. In February 2008, he received Special Recognition for Contributions to First Night Boston from First Night International, in which he had been involved for many years.

A longtime resident of Cambridge, Schuster received his BA from Harvard University in 1972.

Schuster is survived by his wife, Charlotte Harrison; a son, Luc; a daughter, Leigh; a stepdaughter, Alison Watkins; a brother, Neil; and former wife, Devon Davidson.

A memorial service at MIT is being planned. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to First Night Boston,

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 2008 (download PDF).

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