Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story contained a photograph misidentified as Roger Sant. This version has been corrected.

Sants Donate $15 Million to Smithsonian

Roger Sant
Roger Sant
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

Roger Sant, chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's governing board, announced yesterday that he and his wife, Victoria, are giving $15 million to a new initiative about oceans at the National Museum of Natural History.

The gift is the Sants' second to the ocean project, bringing their contributions to $25 million. The 23,000-square-foot space will be called Sant Ocean Hall. It opens Sept. 27.

"We started scuba diving about 15 years ago," Roger Sant said yesterday. "From that time onward we realized the deterioration of the oceans. It became a personal interest because we saw firsthand what was going on, and we tried to get the word out to other people. We feel oceans have been a neglected part of the environmental story." Sant is the chairman of the Natural History Museum's board, a post he is relinquishing later this year while remaining on the advisory panel.

Last year Sant objected to a promised gift of $5 million from the American Petroleum Institute because of the industry's questionable practices in the world's waters, and eventually API withdrew the money. Sant, who co-founded the power company AES Corp., an API member, said his gift was not a replacement: "Not directly, it wasn't motivated by that at all. In this case our gift is an endowment and can be used broadly by the museum." The API gift had been targeted for a multimedia Web site.

Victoria Sant is president of the Summit Foundation and the Summit Fund, Washington-based charities founded by the Sant family; president of the National Gallery of Art board; and honorary chairman of the Phillips Collection.

The Sant gift was an item on a ballot the Smithsonian Board of Regents approved by fax and e-mail on June 13, and Roger Sant did not vote.

Sant Ocean Hall is the largest renovation ever undertaken at the 100-year-old museum, costing $49 million. The work on the hall is finished, and now the exhibits and films are being installed.

The construction team took the hall back to its early-20th-century look, restored the skylights and opened up eight second-story balconies. Some look directly into the eyes of Phoenix, a 45-foot-long model of a North Atlantic right whale. The vast space, developed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will examine oceans, from whales to squids to the tiny life in the beach sands, as well as other explorations in the marine science field.

Sant said he hopes the science in the hall will make visitors aware of the ocean's impact on their lives. "I am hopeful that more than just giving background, it will give people a sense of what they can do. We hope they will buy sustainable caught fish and change their own behavior in the ocean," he said.

Several of the prominent spaces at Natural History are named for benefactors, such as the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, the Samuel C. Johnson Imax Theater, the Harry Winston Gallery, the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, and the O. Orkin Insect Zoo.

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