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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Arthur M. Sackler was educated in the arts, sciences and humanities at New York University. These interests remained the focus of his life as he became widely known as a scientist, art collector and philanthropist, endowing institutions of learning and culture throughout the world.
He felt that his fundamental role was as a doctor, a vocation he decided upon at the age of four. After completing his internship and service as house physician at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, he became a resident in psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital. There, in the 1940s, he started research that resulted in more than 150 papers in neuroendocrinology, psychiatry, and experimental medicine. He considered his scientific research into the metabolic basis of schizophrenia his most significant contribution to science, and served as editor of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychobiology from 1950 to 1962. In 1960 he started publication of Medical Tribune, a weekly medical newspaper which reached over one million readers in 20 countries. He established the Laboratories for Therapeutic Research in 1938, a facility in New York for basic research which he directed until 1983.
As a generous benefactor to the causes of medicine and basic science, Arthur Sackler built and contributed to a wide range of scientific institutions: the Sackler School of Medicine established in 1972 at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel; the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Science at New York University founded in 1980; the Arthur M. Sackler Science Center dedicated in 1985 at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts; the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, established 1980, and the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Health Communications, established in 1986, both at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts.
His pre-eminence in the art world is already legendary. According to his wife Jillian, one of his favorite relaxations was to visit museums and art galleries, and picking out great pieces others had overlooked. His interest in art is reflected in his philanthropy; he endowed galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University, a museum at Harvard University, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art in Washington, DC. True to his oft-stated determination to create bridges between peoples, he offered to build a teaching museum in China, which Jillian made possible after his death, and in 1993 opened the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University in Beijing.
In a world that often sees science and art as two separate cultures, Arthur Sackler saw them as inextricably related. In a speech given at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Some reflections on the arts, sciences and humanities, a year before his death, he observed: "Communication is, for me, the primum movens of all culture. In the arts… I find the emotional component most moving. In science, it is the intellectual content. Both are deeply interlinked in the humanities." The Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia at the National Academy of Sciences pay tribute to this faith in communication as the prime mover of knowledge and culture.