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Biography of Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.

Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
Dean Emerita, Tisch School of the Arts
Professor, Art and Public Policy


For over thirty five years, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell has been a leader in the cultural life of New York City: she has served as Curator, Museum Director, Cultural Affairs Commissioner for the city of New York, Dean for over two decades at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Associate Provost for the Arts at NYU.  While Dean, she held the voluntary public positions of Chair of the New York State Council on the Arts and Vice-Chair of the U. S. President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Her career in New York started at the Studio Museum in Harlem where she served for ten years (1977-1987) at a time when the city of New York was on the verge of bankruptcy and Harlem was in physical decline. Under her leadership the museum was transformed from a rented loft into the country’s first accredited Black fine arts museum with a permanent collection, major publications, exhibition and artists-in-residence programs. She personally curated a number of groundbreaking exhibitions and wrote catalogue essays for world-renowned artists such as Bettye Saar, Sam Gilliam, and Melvin Edwards and organized group exhibitions all of which are now regarded as landmarks in the literature on Black art and American culture.

During her Studio Museum tenure, Dr. Campbell established her reputation as mentor to women and people of color. More than a half dozen staff who worked under her at the Studio Museum went on to become either museum directors or heads of not-for-profit cultural institutions. When she departed in 1987, SMH was widely recognized as a lynchpin in the economic revitalization of the 125th street corridor and a major visual arts center.

In 1987, the late Mayor Edward I. Koch invited Dr. Campbell to serve as the city’s cultural affairs commissioner. She continued to serve under Mayor David Dinkins, when he succeeded Mayor Koch. As Commissioner, Dr. Campbell was responsible for New York City cultural policy, as well as the capital and operational development of major city cultural institutions. She quickly gained a reputation as an indefatigable advocate for the arts in New York. When she left city government, the New York Times praised Campbell observing that she made her department heard by “seeing that it served the full range of New Yorkers, and was especially successful in bringing minority artists into mainstream public programs” (August 11, 1991).

After four years of public service, Campbell returned to the private sector becoming Dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall of 1991. In her over two decades as dean, Tisch has vaulted to the top echelon of university art schools as she infused it with her own intellectual daring and entrepreneurial spirit: inventing new fields of study, fostering collaboration across disciplines, increasing the diversity of both the faculty and the student body, and lowering financial barriers to a Tisch education for the most talented students in the world. A sampling of accomplishments during her tenure include:

•    Establishing a leadership role for NYU in the downtown media revolution with the expansion of the Tisch School’s world-renowned new media division, Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and the establishment of a multi-school Game Design Department at NYU’s new Multi-School Game Center ( MAGNET ) in Brooklyn.  The Game Department, administered by Tisch, is a collaboration among Tisch, Steinhardt School, NYU/Poly and Courant and was launched while Campbell served as Associate Provost for the arts at NYU, a post she held during her tenure as dean.

•    Reinforcing the school’s role in the performing arts by doubling the size of its one of a kind musical theater writing and composing program and founding the New Studio on Broadway, the school’s first in-house acting studio designed exclusively for performance in musical theater productions.

•    Founding a unique set of new disciplines and departments, rare in schools of the arts including a moving image archiving and preservation program, Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, a dual degree MBA/MFA with NYU Stern School of Business and a department of Arts and Public Policy with an MFA in Arts Politics.

•    Encouraging collaborations among Tisch's unique blend of  performing and cinematic disciplines and its top ranked scholarly as well as conservatory programs.


During her tenure at Tisch, Dean Campbell gained a reputation for graduating artistic trailblazers. Tisch students, faculty and alumni have won virtually every major award in the arts including the Oscar, Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, Grammy, Emmy, Peabody, Golden Globe, Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Medal of the Arts, National Medal of Humanities—to name a few. During Campbell’s tenure, Tisch emerged at the top of the rankings in most of the disciplines represented at the school.

Under her leadership, the school experienced an increase in the minority student population of nearly 200% and faculty diversity increased almost tenfold. During that same period, Tisch experienced dramatic improvements in the average GPA and SAT scores of incoming freshman and in the retention rates of its continuing students. In the process, Tisch became one of the most selective schools at NYU.

In recent years, Campbell has taken on a problem of national significance. Responding to recent studies that show that an increasing number of high performing/high need students—some of our best high school students—are not enrolling in elite colleges or, in some cases, not applying to college at all, she launched an aggressive talent scouting program at Tisch.  Named the Talent Identification Program or TIP, the program conducts talent scouting trips to Centers of Excellence across the country in search of outstanding talent who would not be able to afford a Tisch education without substantial financial support. Under Campbell’s leadership TIP eligible students might attend one of the school’s preparatory summer or spring high school programs or enroll in the four year academic program. Support for TIP comes from a rapidly growing endowed scholarship fund to support Pell eligible students who are top ranked academically and artistically.
Having renovated and expanded over 2/3 of the  Tisch School’s instructional space, Campbell has led the school and university in the planning for a major performing arts center in lower Manhattan. Tisch partnerships with cultural institutions cultivated during Campbell’s tenure range from The Public Theater, Harlem School of the Arts, and Classic Stage to the American Museum of Natural History, Montefiore Medical Center, and New York City Ballet. 

During her tenure the Tisch School established a major presence in the international arts community, including a graduate campus in Singapore, Tisch Asia, and offers undergraduate students advance studies in the arts in several sites abroad. She currently holds the position of Chair of Tisch Asia.

In September of 2009, Dean Campbell was appointed by President Barack Obama as the Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a non-partisan advisory committee to the President of the United States on cultural matters. In her role as Vice-Chair, Campbell has taken an active role in re-affirming the arts as one of the ingredients essential to effective public school education.  

Before coming to New York City, while a graduate student at Syracuse University,  Campbell was a co-founder of the Community Folk Art Gallery in Syracuse, New York (Now the Community Folk Art Center, and a formal part of Syracuse University); a regular contributor to the Syracuse New Times; and Assistant Curator at the Everson Museum of Art, where she curated her first exhibition, “Mysteries: Women in the Art of Romare Bearden” in the fall of 1975.

She has served on the boards of a number of NYC cultural institutions. Currently, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and sits on the boards of The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival.  She holds honorary degrees from The College of New Rochelle, Colgate University, City University of New York, Pace University, Maryland Institute College of Art and Swarthmore College and is the recipient of a number of awards and honors. She lectures widely around the country and around the world and has authored many papers and articles on a range of subjects including African American art, urban cultural policy issues, leadership and arts in education.

She is co-editor of Artistic Citizenship: A Public Voice for the Arts, (New York: Routledge, 2006 and co-author of Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987) and Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987 (New York: Oxford University Press & The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1991). She is close to completing on a book on Romare Bearden for Oxford University Press.

Campbell received a B.A. degree in English literature from Swarthmore College, an M.A. in art history from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. in Humanities, also from Syracuse. She is the mother of three sons, the grandmother of five grandchildren, and the spouse of Dr. George Campbell, Jr., President Emeritius of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.