Harvard University announced Wednesday that Susan Shallcross Swartz, an artist and social and environmental activist, and her husband, James R. Swartz ’64, have donated $10 million to Harvard Divinity School (HDS). The gift will establish the Susan Shallcross Swartz Endowment for Christian Studies, which will fund new professorships and support fellowships and programming in the classroom and in the field.
Harvard President Drew Faust praised the Swartzes for supporting not only HDS but also the broader University community. “The Divinity School plays a key role in the work and mission of the wider University,” said Faust, “and Susan and Jim’s gift — one of the largest in HDS’s nearly 200-year history — helps solidify the study of religion’s place at Harvard. We are most grateful.”
Swartz, an American landscape painter whose work explores the intersection of spirituality and art, became involved with HDS in 2005, when she was invited to become the School’s artist-in-residence. Her involvement has continued over the years through service on the HDS Dean’s Council, thanks in large part to the Swartzes’ relationship with former Dean William A. Graham, whose legacy the gift also honors.
“From the beginning of my association with HDS, I was impressed with the leadership of Bill Graham and with the Dean’s Council’s commitment to keeping the oldest divinity school in the country a vibrant place of scholarship and reflection,” Swartz said. “This gift will allow Dean [David N.] Hempton to take the School into the future, and to improve the currency of the leadership that HDS exercises. My hope is that the endowment will inspire scholarship and reinvigorate debate, service, and teaching for generations to come.”
“Without question, Susan and Jim’s extraordinary gift will advance teaching and research in Christianity, one of our core strengths, well into the future,” said Hempton, who is also HDS’s Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies and John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity. “The Swartz Endowment will expand our ability to assemble the leading scholars and thinkers in the field — and to draw the talented students that they attract. We are deeply grateful to Susan and Jim for their generosity and for their continued faith in our mission.”
Founded in 1816, HDS was the first nonsectarian theological school in the country and the second professional school established at Harvard. (Harvard Medical School was founded in 1788.) The School has a distinguished history of fostering scholarship and critical thinking, as well as supporting service and ministry. HDS faculty are among the world’s leading scholars in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist belief and practice.
HDS offers four degree programs that educate students who assume leadership roles in ministry, education, journalism, government, public service, and many other fields. The HDS campus welcomes students from 30 denominations, who reflect a broad spectrum of academic interests and backgrounds.
Trained in watercolors and oils, Swartz now works primarily in acrylics. Her “profoundly abstract landscapes and nature scenes” are in private and corporate collections around the world, as well as in several permanent museum collections. She has received numerous honors and awards during a career spanning more than 40 years.
In addition to serving on the Dean’s Council, Swartz is on the boards of the Utah Film Center and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and on the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She cofounded the Christian Center of Park City and is a founding member of Impact Partners, a documentary film organization.
Swartz has worked closely with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Louie Psihoyos, and Jane Goodall on a number of environmental initiatives, and she has supported film projects — including the Sundance Film Festival and Academy Award-winning films — focused on social and environmental injustice.
The Swartz gift will support HDS and Harvard’s long-term mission as planning continues for an eventual University-wide capital campaign. Harvard expects a late 2013 launch.