In a Style story last month about John Colonghi, the recently appointed national campaign director of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian, Colonghi stated that he had secured a $500,000 gift for Eastern Washington University when he was director of the school's Indian studies department in the early 1980s. At this time the gift has not been received nor does the university have a statement of intent, but the then-provost of the school, who now is a professor of psychology there, said last week that he believes the school will get the money. At the Smithsonian, Alice Green Burnette, who recruited Colonghi and is overseeing fund-raising for the museum, said fund- raisers often talk about gifts as "committed" or "received" when they agreed upon orally. The story, written from an interview with Colonghi as well as statements on his resume, also said that he played for several professional football teams. Colonghi tried out but never actually played for the teams. (Published 11/15/90)
Amid all the recent turmoil surrounding the Smithsonian Institution -- the firing of its longtime undersecretary and the appointment of a new one, the abrupt departure of its treasurer, the promise of more organizational changes and major financial worries -- one project has remained above the fray: the yet to be built National Museum of the American Indian.
Empowered by the aura of a good cause -- not to mention an act of Congress -- planning for the museum is on schedule. Although the building is not yet on the drawing board and is not expected to open until 1998, the recent naming of John L. Colonghi as its national campaign director brings that goal one step closer to fruition.
Colonghi, 42, will take up his post on Jan. 1. Currently the director of development for the Medical Center and Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, Colonghi will be responsible for raising one-third of the construction cost of the Mall museum, which is projected at $106 million overall. (The legislation, which was signed by President Bush on Nov. 28, 1989, calls for the remaining two-thirds to be provided by the federal government.)
Most observers agree, however, that by the time it is built, the museum will cost considerably more than that over-a-year-old estimate, which was arrived at by multiplying a generally accepted cost of museums by the square footage provided for in the legislation.
But the 400,000-square-foot Mall museum, which will be built at the foot of Capitol Hill east of the Air and Space Museum, is only one part of the project. It also includes a collection, study and conservation facility in Suitland (expected completion, 1995) and an exhibition and education center at the Custom House in lower Manhattan (expected opening, 1992).
The Smithsonian is convinced that Colonghi, a skilled fund-raiser and former football player, will be able to raise the required $35 million before the scheduled start of construction in fiscal 1994.
"We would have made John up if he didn't exist," says Alice Green Burnette, the Smithsonian's assistant secretary for institutional initiatives, who is overseeing the new museum. "He has real leadership quality. There is nothing phony about him. He is substantial, well informed, terrific under pressure and committed to what the museum is all about."
Colonghi, a Californian who is half Aleut Indian and half Italian American, initially studied psychology and social work. Raised in San Diego, where he was "the darkest kid in the neighborhood and treated that way," he sought out sports as a way of achieving excellence and gaining acceptance. After college, he tried to make a career in football, and played for the Portland Thunder, the New York Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive back. When the World Football League collapsed, he made the decision to move on.
"Football taught me a lot about how far I could push myself," says Colonghi. "Eventually you learn how to divert that energy into something else."
A few years later, he became a fund-raiser by accident. While director of the Indian studies department at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., he befriended a homeless woman who was taking courses there at the $5 rate offered to senior citizens. "She asked me what I'd need to secure the Indian studies program, and I said an endowed chair," he recalls. "She said she'd like to help and asked me to come with her to her bank."
When the bank manager came out to meet them, Colonghi was stunned. The woman, who had been a teacher for 20 years and worked for the Army Corps of Engineers for another 20, was the bank's single largest depositor. She donated half a million dollars to the school's Indian studies program, earning Colonghi the reputation of a major fund-raiser. "It was the single largest gift the school had ever received," he says with pride.
These days, gifts of such magnitude may be harder to come by, but Colonghi remains optimistic. "There is an uncertainty in the air," he admits. "But corporate funding has changed, and hopefully to our benefit. Donors are now more focused on specific programs, and as difficult as the task will be, we think we'll succeed because there is significant interest around the country in the Indian people."
No matter how much money Colonghi and the development team he will soon be hiring are able to raise, the project will be an expensive one, involving money he is not responsible for. This includes: A $2.3 million package that has been budgeted for the cost of the first year of the fund-raising operation, as well as a donation by the First American Bank of more than 2,600 square feet of office space in Rosslyn for that fund-raising effort. An $11,618,000 federal budget request for salaries and expenses for the National Museum of the American Indian for fiscal '91; as well as estimates of $16,118,000 for fiscal '92 and $17,118,000 for fiscal '93. A federal budget request of $8,130,000 for construction of the Custom House facility, design of the Suitland storage area and planning for the Mall museum for fiscal '91; additional construction money will be requested as required. The final costs for these facilities, which are projected at $25 million for the Custom House (of which $8 million will come from New York City and $8 million from New York state, with the federal government providing the remainder) and $44 million for the storage facility in Suitland. Administrative costs and salaries for the existing Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation and its staff (now a part of the new museum complex) of about 50 at 155th Street and Broadway in New York. (That building will remain open at least through the end of 1991.)
An additional $850,000 that has already been okayed by Congress for the construction of a temporary facility in the Bronx, N.Y., that will be used to pack objects in the Heye Foundation collection to prepare them to go to Washington.
The National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian's 15th, will occupy the last existing space on the Mall. Still homeless is the African American "presence" that has been under study by the institution for the past year.
"The decision to do one museum before the other was a programmatic decision, an administrative decision and in this case a decision of the Congress," says Burnett. "I firmly believe that the campaign for the Indian museum will help the Smithsonian develop a depth in its ability to attract support in the private sector for all its programs -- the ones that exist now and those that will exist in the future."