Schuyler Chapin, New York Crusader for the Arts, Dies at 86

News   Schuyler Chapin, New York Crusader for the Arts, Dies at 86
 
Schuyler Chapin, a steadfast cultural beacon who spent decades of time and energy ensuring the continued health of the arts scene in New York City, died March 7 at his home in Manhattan. He had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack in 2005, according to The New York Times. He was 86.

Mr. Chapin, who cut the archetypal figure of the Olde-New-York, social-register blueblood and could trace his ancestry back to the days of New Amsterdam, was a tireless champion of the performing arts. His most visible position was that of cultural affairs commissioner of New York City, filling that post from 1994 to 2001 during the Giuliani mayoral administration, but he also served terms as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera and dean of the school of the arts at Columbia University.

Dignified, tall and silver-haired, Mr. Chapin was known as a consummate behind-the-scenes man, a gentlemanly operator known and respected by nearly everyone in City Hall and in Albany. Coming from a now-lost world of Gotham aristocracy where public service was considered a social obligation and displays of heated public emotion were discouraged, he shied away from messy confrontations and rarely openly challenged his superiors. Artists and arts organizations trusted him as a man who loved the arts and had their best welfare at heart.

He was born Schuyler Garrison Chapin on Feb. 13, 1923, the son of Leila Howard Burden Chapin and L. H. Paul Chapin, an investment adviser and friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the inheritor of a family line that went back to the 1600s. He was named for distant relative Gen. Philip Schuyler, who was on the staff of George Washington and was Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law. Mr. Chapin was raised in a home on East 72nd Street with two brothers, and a host of servants. He attended the Millbrook School, but did not graduate from high school and never attended college. His father died when he was a teenager, leaving the family poor.

He was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. When he returned, he married Elizabeth Steinway, a member of the piano family, and a relative of the Philadelphia Biddles. They married in 1947.

He started his career in the arts as a page at NBC before the war, and continued there after coming home. In 1953 he went to work at Columbia Artists Management as tour manager for Jascha Heifetz and booking director for the Midwest, according to the Times. He also represented Van Cliburn. He joined Columbia Records as a vice president in charge of classical music and theatre in 1959. There, he worked with Igor Stravinsky, Glenn Gould and Vladimir Horowitz. Mr. Chapin was with Lincoln Center when it was in its infancy, serving as vice president for programming from 1964 to 1969, and helping to create the famous Mostly Mozart series. In 1972 he started at the Metropolitan Opera, first second-in-command to Goeran Gentele, and then, after Gentele was killed in a car accident, acting general manager and, finally, general manager. He left in 1975, after a tumultuous few years.

Despite his lack of a college degree, he was then offered the deanship of the Columbia University School of the Arts. He proved a good fundraiser and stayed for ten years.

By the time he became Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Mr. Chapin had held so many cultural positions in so many different organizations, he had achieved a somewhat legendary status in the artistic and civic halls of New York. He wrote several books about his experiences, including "Leonard Bernstein: Notes From a Friend," "Musical Chairs: A Life in the Arts," and "Sopranos, Mezzo, Tenors, Bassos and Other Friends." In the early 2000s, he served as a Tony Awards nominator.

In 2002 he was awarded France's Légion d'honneur. In 1920 his father at age 82, a WWI liaison officer between General Pershing and Marshall Foch, received the same honor.

The first Mrs. Chapin died in 1993. Mr. Chapin married Catia Z. Mortimer in 1995, with Mayor Giuliani officiating. She survived him, as do his children Henry, Theodore, Samuel and Miles.

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