One of the most popular places in Washington for a swank, black-tie event is the National Building Museum. On Wednesday night, the museum decorated tables in its Great Hall with heavy purple damask, enlisted a few dancers to wiggle through the crowd and hired the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village group to send some Big Easy sounds through the cavernous main floor.
This night the Building Museum reserved the space for itself. Each year, for the last 25, the museum holds an Honor Award evening where an individual or group is cited for advancing the building arts and improving their communities. To mark the quarter century, David Rockwell, the award-winning designer and architecture, talked about the value of play in building all environments. He invited the 600 guests to push on iPad-embedded pedestals and design a skyline on a huge suspended lamp-shade shaped screen.
It’s the museum’s most important fund-raiser of the year, said Chase W. Rynd, the president and executive director. And it brings in new supporters, highlights achievements of its members and shows off the Great Hall . Rentals of the historic space account for 25 percent of the museum’s annual budget, which this fiscal year the budget is $8 million. The take from this year’s fund-raiser was more important than ever.
When Rynd addressed his guests, he reminded them of the impact of the loss of the National Capital Art and Culture Affairs program money. The museum had received $369,000 in fiscal 2010. In a move that caught many local groups off-guard, Congress cut the program from $9 million to $2 million in the final 2011 numbers. As a result, this year the museum is getting $105,000, Rynd confirmed.
“One thing that hasn’t quite registered is the notice about this tremendous reduction in those grants happened in the mid-budget year,” said Rynd, noting the 20-plus groups effected are all having to scramble to make up for the shortfall.
“This is the most important kind of money, and in many ways the hardest to raise, the unrestricted needs. It is so much easier to raise money for specific projects, like youth education. But if you don’t support the infrastructure you can’t have the other programs,” he said. For example the museum received a $60,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this week but that can only be used for a specific exhibition.
After learning of the Capital Art fund’s reduction, Rynd said the staff put all its energy into the Honor Award fund-raiser, setting a goal of $1 million. As of Wednesday they had $816,000. “I think there were people who were more generous because they knew of the National Capital fund loss and they are people who understand the value of the cultural community.”