The Smithsonian Institution has embarked on a major campaign to raise $1.5 billion and increase private support for the world's largest museum and research complex to fund programs in history, science, art and culture.
The Smithsonian's Board of Regents announced the goal Monday and revealed more than $1 billion already has been raised in a quiet phase since October 2011. This is the first institution-wide fundraising effort and the largest campaign in history for any cultural institution, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said. The campaign will continue through 2017.
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Several large gifts were previously announced for large projects. David H. Koch donated $35 million for a major renovation of the Smithsonian's dinosaur hall. Boeing is giving $30 million to overhaul the central exhibition showing the milestones of flight at the National Air and Space Museum. Oprah Winfrey donated $13 million to build a new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"Our campaign is about creating a larger base of support for the Smithsonian from people across the nation," Clough said, adding that 60,000 people have already made contributions to the campaign, gifts both large and small.
Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are honorary co-chairs of the campaign. Additional supporters include Ralph Lauren, George Lucas, actress Eva Longoria, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Smithsonian historically received federal taxpayer funding for about 70 percent of its annual budget for staff salaries and building maintenance, but that amount has declined to about 60 percent. The complex still needs about $100 million a year for maintenance, officials said, though federal appropriations have fallen below that mark. Most exhibits and programs are privately funded.
The public-private funding model dates to the Smithsonian's founding in 1846, when a British scientist's bequest established the institution. Now the Smithsonian includes 19 museums in Washington and New York City, the National Zoo and nine research facilities around the world.
Washington philanthropist David Rubenstein is co-chairman of the fundraising effort. He serves on the Smithsonian board and has made major gifts to the Kennedy Center, numerous historic sites and to restore the Washington Monument.
No other federal government entity has ever launched such a fundraising campaign, he said.
"The Smithsonian has an emotional attachment to people because in some sense it represents their country," Rubenstein said.
Shirley Ann Jackson, the board's vice chairwoman and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said if the Smithsonian is to continue for another 168 years, it needs to have better financial footing.
Of the approximately $1 billion already raised, $293 million has been devoted to long-term endowments. Officials hope to distribute 30 to 40 percent of the total campaign to endowments.
About $180 million has been raised privately for construction of the new African-American history museum. Another $80 million is devoted to overhauling exhibits at the National Museum of American History, and $20 million has been raised for the National Zoo.
Private funds are also funding major renovations of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City and the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery near the White House. Other projects are spread across the various museums and research sites.
Museum consultants Barry and Gail Lord, the co-presidents of Lord Cultural Resources, said the Smithsonian campaign is large and comparable to those pursued by top universities.
The campaign aims to create new endowed museum positions and to bring new donors to the Smithsonian so that its donor base represents all 50 states, organizers said.
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