In Memoriam: Paul Gunther (1956-2022)
December 1, 2022
By Randall Bourscheidt
I met Paul in July of 1978, when both of us started working at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Paul had graduated from Yale one month earlier, but all of us at the department quickly appreciated how brilliant he was, as well as being charming and amusing. We realized that nothing was just a job for Paul — he wanted to dig deeply to understand the history of everything we were doing.
Talking to Paul about the business of the department often led not only to his questions
about how its history had evolved but how it could be enhanced in terms of positive social, educational and economic effect. He loved the whole idea of institutions — cultural ones, like those the City was providing financial support for, and educational and social ones, which complemented and enhanced public access to the arts. It became apparent that Paul’s interest extended to urban planning and architecture. This interest led quite naturally to Paul’s interest in historic preservation — of neighborhoods, waterfronts, parks, buildings, and monuments.
Paul’s career led to important roles in a number of New York organizations devoted to preserving and enhancing its architectural and cultural life. At the Municipal Art Society, he developed two projects of lasting civic importance: Adopt-A-Monument, and Adopt-A-Mural. After a time running the American Center in Paris — reflecting a life- long interest Paul had in France — he went to the New-York Historical Society, where he coordinated public programs. Then he spent a decade running the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, where he effectively advocated for the preservation of architecture in this tradition and its continuing influence on public art and architecture. Finally, he became the director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, where he not only kept the home of New York City mayors intact, but developed a program of art exhibits and public programs celebrating the legacy of the city’s history but also the strength and diversity of its contemporary cultural life.
Randall Bourscheidt serves as director of the Archive of New York City Cultural Policy at the New York Public Library. He previously served as deputy commissioner of cultural affairs for the City of New York.