A Shared Love of the Arts

May 12, 2014

Mark Diker (Harvard Class of 1988, MBA ’96) and Chuck Diker (Harvard Class of 1956, MBA ’58). Father and son have each made generous gifts, for a modern and contemporary gallery and curator’s office, respectively, to honor their experience at Harvard.

One of the first galleries visitors will see when they come through the Harvard Art Museums’ historic Quincy Street entrance in November will be the Diker Gallery, an exciting new exhibition space devoted to mid-century abstract works from the museums’ modern and contemporary art collections. As with all the permanent collections galleries, the objects on view in the Diker Gallery will provide visitors with a foundation for independent exploration and enjoyment of original works of art. On the third level of the new facility, a modern and contemporary curator’s office will bear the Diker name as well. Charles (Chuck) M. Diker and his son Mark N. Diker have each made generous gifts, for the gallery and curator’s office, respectively, to honor their experience at Harvard—an experience that formed the basis of their professional and personal interests.

Chuck (Harvard Class of 1956, MBA ’58) and Mark (Harvard Class of 1988, MBA ’96) have a lot in common: they share not only an alma mater but a business, and both are deeply involved with art and philanthropy. A closer look at father and son, however, reveals two very different men who charted their own paths—routes that have at times diverged, and other times intersected in both business and art.

After graduating from Harvard College, Chuck went directly to Harvard Business School. From there, he dived headfirst into his career and began working for the founder of Revlon. Chuck was very involved in the aesthetics of packaging, display, and advertising at the company and simultaneously became interested in art and collecting. He found that the visual literacy required for his position helped him look at art in a new way, and he cultivated a deep, symbiotic relationship between art and business. “There’s a lot more to life than accumulating wealth or being successful in any company or fund that you’re managing,” he explained. “The visual and intellectual aspects of art give you a fulfillment that business doesn’t; it helps you replenish your soul with what you’re looking at when you come home or go to galleries and museums.”

When Chuck and his wife, Valerie, started their personal art collection in 1960, they gravitated toward contemporary then modern art. Before long they began adding historic Native American art. Chuck noted that he saw aesthetic connections between these two seemingly disparate genres, in what he described as “a continuum in the art world going back 3,000 years.” Their collections are now renowned; their Native American art has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and will be featured in the upcoming traveling exhibition Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, organized by the American Federation of Arts.

In the midst of building their esteemed collection, Chuck and Valerie were also raising a family. Mark, the couple’s youngest son, was surrounded by art and artists and developed an early fascination and interest in both learning about and creating art. This early exposure was further developed when he attended Harvard College, where he enrolled in a number of art history, architecture, and studio art courses, while concentrating in government. His courses in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies allowed Mark to attend lectures by such photographers as Sally Mann and Robert Frank. “Listening to them and studying their work was instrumental for me,” he said. “As a practicing photographer since grade school, I learned how to identify and capture formal spatial relationships on a picture plane and apply this to my own documentary and abstract photography work. In terms of my Harvard experience having played a part in developing my life, that experience was major.”

After college Mark moved to Japan and had a fast-moving career at Bankers Trust Company. As vice president of its Japanese equity derivative group, at 24 and fluent in Japanese, Mark was their youngest VP. He returned to Cambridge six years later to attend Harvard Business School, graduating as a Baker Scholar, a distinction that honors the school’s top students. Following a successful decade-long run in private equity, in 2002 Mark and his father joined forces and founded Diker Management, an investment management firm in New York City.

While both men forged their own ways before arriving at their current partnership, art and philanthropy have always been a shared interest along the way. In addition to supporting the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard Business School, Chuck is a trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. He is also the founding chairman of New York’s National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, and a trustee of radio station WNYC. Mark’s interests have focused on arts education; he now serves on the boards of such organizations as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts education program that promotes individual skills through learning dance in New York public schools. At the Harvard Art Museums, Mark has been involved in the Fellows program for many years and is currently the chair of the Modern and Contemporary Collections Committee. Mark and his wife, Deborah Colson (JD ’95), collect photography, painting, and sculpture, informed by their appreciation for minimalism, abstraction, and documentary perspectives.

Chuck, a former member of the Harvard Art Museums’ Visiting Committee, pointed out that it was his son’s enthusiasm for the museums that piqued his interest to reengage. “The Harvard Art Museums are going to be more than just a college museum,” Chuck said. “They’ll be world-class—from their physical structure, to their collections, to their forging connections between the teaching mission of the museums and the university overall.”

Looking forward, Mark described how it is his hope “that the use of the museums across disciplines will accelerate and become pervasive as a key pedagogical resource for the university.” The Dikers’ support of the transformative renewal of the Harvard Art Museums will help make Mark’s vision a reality.