Posted on February 8, 2002
Smithsonian Donor Withdraws $38 Million Gift
PND - Smithsonian Donor Withdraws $38 Million Gift
Businesswoman and philanthropist Catherine B. Reynolds has told the Smithsonian Institution that she will withdraw most of the $38 million that her foundation pledged to create an exhibit focusing on successful Americans at the National Museum of American History, the Washington Post reports. The move follows months of criticism from museum curators, who disapproved of Reynolds' close involvement in the creation of the exhibit.
When Reynolds announced the gift last May, she suggested that the 10,000-square-foot hall chronicle the lives of American Nobel laureates and Medal of Honor winners, as well as achievers such as AOL Time Warner chairman Steve Case, entrepreneur Martha Stewart, and ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Museum curators derided the emphasis on famous individuals and charged that the Smithsonian was placing more emphasis on raising money than on scholarly integrity. Throughout months of debate over the gift and Reynolds'involvement with the project, Smithsonian officials maintained that they would have final say over the nature of the exhibit a position that was reiterated after Reynolds withdrew her gift.
Reynolds' decision to withdraw the donation highlights a growing controversy over fundraising within the Smithsonian organization. Although the Smithsonian receives 70 percent of its budget from the federal government, it needs additional funds to help pay for a backlog in building renovations and the reworking of major standing exhibits. Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small has emphasized individual donations during his tenure and has raised more than $300 million in private funds for the Smithsonian over the past three years. The American History Museum, for example, has received $40 million from the family of inventor Jerome Lemelson for an inventors' center and $80 million from businessman Kenneth E. Behring to modernize several of its buildings and exhibits.
"This outcome is especially regrettable as our arrangement would have been a sterling example of the kind of private-public partnership that enables institutions like the Smithsonian to modernize and grow for the benefit of the public," said Reynolds in a letter to Small explaining her decision. "Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate that the notion of inspiring young people by telling the stories of prominent Americans from all disciplines would be so controversial."