David M. Rubenstein has resuscitated some of this city’s icons with multimillion-dollar gifts to the Washington Monument and the National Archives. He has shaped the region’s cultural life as chairman of the Kennedy Center and the National Book Festival.
And now the billionaire financier is taking on another pivotal role in the nation’s capital with his election as chairman of the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution.
With his newest duties, Rubenstein — whose day job as co-founder of the Carlyle Group has him steering one of the country’s largest private-equity firms — will oversee both of the city’s major cultural institutions. He succeeds Smithsonian Board of Regents Chairman John McCarter, who must step down at the end of his three-year term.
“I love the museums, and I love the learning. It keeps me young,” Rubenstein said after the board’s annual public meeting Monday.
Rubenstein joined the Smithsonian board in 2009 and co-chairs the museum system’s joint fundraising campaign. He also is chairman of the board of Duke University, is a trustee of the University of Chicago, is on the Lincoln Center board and will join the Harvard Corp. next year.
That’s not all. He’s co-chairman of the Brookings Institution, vice chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and president of the Economic Club of Washington.
Rubenstein is also a board member at the National Gallery of Art and head of the James Madison Council, the Library of Congress’s advisory and fundraising group.
Just last week, he debuted “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg TV.
Rubenstein was matter-of-fact when asked how he will have the time for another leadership position.
“I don’t play golf. I don’t drink alcohol, so I’m not going to bars,” the 67-year-old said. “At this point in my life, I only do the things I want to do. This isn’t work. This is pleasurable.”
In addition to Rubenstein, the Smithsonian regents elected AOL co-founder Steve Case as vice chairman and Risa J. Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as the third member of the executive committee. They will begin their three-year terms Jan. 31.
The regents also announced the Smithsonian had reached the $1.5 billion goal for its first joint fundraising campaign a year ahead of schedule. Regent Barbara M. Barrett said the campaign, the largest undertaken by an American cultural institution, is now $60 million over its goal. Launched in 2011, the campaign will continue until the end of 2017 as planned.
“It’s an extraordinary demonstration of American generosity,” Barrett said. “Now we need to think about what’s next.”
Case outlined plans being developed for the Arts and Industries Building, including the opening of an American Latino gallery, an innovation center and a conference center that he described as “a merger of the 92nd Street Y and the World Economic Forum.” The Smithsonian has hired a design firm to begin work on the gallery and center, and it has assembled a committee to explore programs.
“It’s early in the process, but we are excited about a reenergized, revitalized and reanimated Arts and Industries Building,” he said.
Next to the Castle on the southern edge of the Mall, the Arts and Industries Building is the second-oldest Smithsonian structure. Several members of Congress have pushed for it as a possible site for an American Latino museum, but a bill formally authorizing the museum hasn’t gained traction in recent years.
More than 430,000 donations have been made in the first six-years, including 135,000 donations totaling $320 million to the newly-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. Some 397,000 donors have given $100 or less, and 40 percent are first-time donors to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian raised $295 million during fiscal 2016, setting a record for the most successful year, Barrett said. The campaign has added $366 million to the Smithsonian’s endowment, funded 52 curatorial positions and created six new education centers inside various museums.