Simona and Jerome A. Chazen: A lifelong love for the arts creates a powerful legacy

May 6, 2005

“The arts and culture are the lifeblood of a university-we’re hoping to help UW take its rightful place as a great institution for the arts.” – Simona and Jerome A. Chazen.

Simona and Jerome Chazen have always been interested in the arts. For Jerry, it was a passion for jazz that began when he was a boy growing up in New York City. For Simona Chazen, it was always there-the product of a childhood spent in a Victorian home that her parents filled with objects from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries found in small, out-of-the-way antique shops and estate sales.

“I was raised with the idea that you live with beautiful things,” she says. “I remember thinking as a child that silver always arrived black, wrapped in newspaper. I was fascinated by the emergence of something wonderful simply with the application of a little silver polish.”

It was an art history course at the University of Wisconsin–Madison that first awakened Jerry’s interest in the visual arts. “I wouldn’t call it an epiphany, exactly, but studying the arts at the university raised my awareness in many ways and allowed me to become a different person than I would have otherwise,” he says. “It was very important to my development.”

The Chazens have fond memories of their time at UW–Madison. Both were attracted to the university’s reputation for academic excellence and the beauty of its campus. Simona remembers building strong leg muscles walking up Bascom Hill; Jerry recalls coming to the Midwest to “spread his wings” a bit and study economics. The two met through a mutual friend, eventually marrying and beginning a life together that has led to extraordinary accomplishments in the worlds of business, art, and philanthropy.

After earning his MBA at Columbia University and an initial career on Wall Street, Jerry spent many years in the fashion industry. He was one of four founders of Liz Claiborne Inc., becoming chairman and CEP. He also is founder and chairman of Chazen Capital Partners, a private equity firm in New York City. He is founder and benefactor of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for International Business at Columbia Business School. He is involved in numerous other prominent organizations, including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, which he chaired for many years. He is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Fashion Institute of Technology and a managing director of the Metropolitan Opera Association.

Throughout her married life, Simona Chazen has pursued her own passion for the arts and helping others. She is a practicing clinical social worker specializing in family issues of divorce and abuse. She is co-chair of the Collections Committee and board member of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City; she is a board member and supervisor of Volunteer Counseling Services of Rockland County; she is a founding member of the Rockland County Family Shelter, a founding member of the Law Guardian Committee of the New York State Appellate Division, and a former board member of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. Simona serves on the council of the Chazen Museum of Art and is a past board member of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Creative Glass Center of America.

The Chazens began collecting art with the purchase of a print more than forty years ago. Today their collection includes more than 500 pieces-prints, paintings, drawings, and sculpture by some 200 modern and contemporary artists. The Chazen collection is known for many important masterworks.

The landmark $20 million gift that created the Chazen Museum of Art comes from the Chazen Foundation, a private giving organization founded by the Chazens to support projects and causes important to them. Why the arts? “An appreciation and understanding of the arts are so necessary to civilization,” says Jerry. “Our hope is that the expansion of the museum can be at the forefront of realizing the chancellor’s vision for the arts district. A gift of this size makes a difference.”

To Simona, the gift represents the couple’s belief in the importance of arts education. “In recent years, the arts have been tremendously shortchanged in education. The gift and museum expansion allow for more art from the collection to be seen, and it will create a larger presence for the museum in campus and community life,” she says.

Tags: arts, learning