Mimi Levitt, a philanthropist who made a significant impact on the regional arts environment, passed away at her home in New York on Jan. 6 at the age of 97.
Born Annemarie Gratzinger in Vienna, Austria, she moved with her mother to the U.S. at the beginning of World War II. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in French Literature from Pomona College in California, and her skills as a linguist – she was fluent in five languages – earned her a position as one of the translators at the postwar Nuremberg trials. In 1947, she became a senior assistant to Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
She married Mortimer Levitt, the clothier who founded The Custom Shop, in 1948. As a couple, the Levitts became prominent arts sponsors through the Mortimer Levitt Foundation (later renamed the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation), with a focus on transforming underused public spaces into performing arts venues. Their summer residence in Westport inspired them to create the town’s Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in 1974, which provided free outdoor music performances for the community. Additional Levitt Foundation venues were established in 20 more states. Levitt served on the Levitt Pavilion board and became president of the Levitt Foundation in 2005 following her husband’s death.
Levitt was also a benefactor of the Bard Music Festival at Bard College in Dutchess County, serving on its board of directors from 1998 to 2013 and underwriting the event’s annual opening night dinner. She also supported opera workshops in the Conservatory’s Vocal Arts Program, commissioning one-act operas and funding scholarships and the first endowment for the Bard Music Festival in 2005.
Levitt and her husband were also avid supporters of New York City’s cultural organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center’s Film Society. The Levitts’ philanthropy also stretched to Mercy College and the American Red Cross.