Phillips Collection Receives Largest Gifts Ever, Endowment Reaches $38 Million

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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008

The Phillips Collection is expected to announce today that it has received $23.5 million for its endowment in the last nine months, including two of the largest single gifts in the museum's history.

The Phillips's endowment has hovered around $18 million, but dropped to approximately $14.5 million during the recent market downturn, according to the museum. With the latest donations, the endowment stands at $38 million.

The gifts include a grant of $10 million from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, a Chevy Chase fund, and an anonymous gift of $8 million from a trustee, which are the museum's two largest single gifts. Bonnie Burke Himmelman, the president of Sherman Fairchild, is also a Phillips trustee. She declined to comment on the gift.

Fundraising at the Phillips has often been complicated by the public perception that the family of Duncan Phillips, the founder of the gallery, left a sizable endowment, in addition to the priceless art collection. "The Phillips family was about the art. They supported the art, bought the art and gave it a home. There was never a fortune," said Dorothy Kosinski, the gallery's director.

"This signals a new phase in Phillips history," said board Chairman George Vradenburg. The Phillips of the future, he said, will be more involved in "the living art of today," will explore younger artists and hopefully increase the numbers of younger patrons, and will develop more international partnerships. "We understand the integrity of our collection and will become more active in collecting," he said.

The Phillips has an annual budget of $12 million, with the endowment contributing 7 to 8 percent. "We are knocking on doors every year," said Kosinski.

The museum cut its budget by 4 percent for the fiscal year that started in August and is not filling empty positions, Kosinski said. "We had to back out of an international exhibit and anticipate another round of [budget] cuts," she said. The exhibit was planned for 2010, and the Phillips would have been a venue, according to the museum.

Officials at the Phillips acknowledge that they are sharing the tough times facing many cultural organizations, mainly due to increasingly tight state budgets. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif., is cutting its budget by 20 percent and may raise its admission fee, according to the American Association of Museums, and historical sites in Illinois and Ohio are considering temporary closures. The Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton has decided to close on Mondays from Jan. 5 to March 15.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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